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Analysis

How do your employees really feel about work?

Unlocking powerful conversations with your employees through anonymity.

Research

Photo by @innu_asha84 via Twenty20

Unleash Your Performance Management Formerly of Halifax and RBS, Donna Hamilton FCIPD has specialized in employee engagement, organizational capability, and culture and behavior change. She shares her experiences with employee feedback.

  • Getting to the bottom of employee feedback to make actionable, strategic decisions can be difficult, especially when anonymity for employees is so crucial to opening up.
  • Oftentimes, Focus Groups have been presented as the answer, but in reality, these often struggle to get insights into how employees really feel about their work.
  • So how can you improve employee experience and accelerate organizational effectiveness, whilst providing psychological safety and the level of engagement in your feedback insights that you need?

Research shows, time and again, a clear link between employee engagement and increased business performance (including increased customer satisfaction). Employee engagement can unlock productivity and transform the workplace for its people.

Traditionally, the annual employee engagement survey has been the staple go-to tool for understanding how happy employees are in their job. But it’s no longer enough.

Is the traditional employee engagement survey dead?

Rewind several years and Donna Hamilton was working in HR in large, FTSE organizations, which undertook annual, anonymous employee feedback surveys. The survey asked a lot of questions, it took a month to get feedback, and then another month or two to share the results around the organization.

From time to time, the survey would throw up some surprising feedback or identify a problem. Oftentimes, the business would swerve the issue – the question is badly worded, the survey results are out of date, we were restructuring / going through pay awards / there was an unpopular manager, but they’re gone now – sound familiar?

But sometimes a business would be genuinely concerned and would want to understand more about the feedback they had been given. The problem? They might know that 25% of employees provided negative feedback but they didn’t know who said it or why they said what they did. The solution… focus groups.

At an individual level, providing a place of psychological safety where people raise really important things, has allowed them to get help that can be life-changing.

Gaynor Morris, Executive Director of Organizational Development, Pobl

Now focus groups work well in some circumstances, but in Donna’s experience, they didn’t work for getting to the bottom of how employees really feel about work. How do you know that you have the right people in the room? Are they representative of how employees really feel? Will the loudest voices dominate? Can they even remember how they answered the survey and why? And crucially, will they feel safe to speak up?

There is a place for anonymity in the workplace; there is an innate power imbalance in the employee/ employer relationship. Even employees who work in the most
open and positive cultures still feel the need to provide feedback anonymously.

So what’s the problem?

  • The employee engagement survey may tell you what your people are thinking, but not why, so it’s difficult to take action.
  • Traditional surveys are way too slow, given the need for follow-up meetings and focus groups (which are more often than not, not inclusive) to actually be able to fully understand survey responses with actionable outcomes.
  • The lag time from the initial survey to actionable insights can cause frustration with employees and a feeling of not being listened to. This can lead to a lack of trust in leadership and a reduction in future participation rates.
  • Often, there is so much information, it’s hard to know where to start. Equally, surveys are often managed centrally and it takes time to cascade results throughout the organization.
  • Focus groups and follow-up meetings will help, but they are labor-intensive, expensive, difficult to document, and not inclusive since they only involve a cross-section of employees. And, of course, employees may feel uncomfortable about expressing how they really feel in a face-to-face setting and fear potential repercussions.
  • Finally, we keep talking about “action” off the back of the survey findings, but what do these actions look like, and how do you take action? Are managers engaged enough and do they have the right knowledge, skills, and support to take action and enact meaningful change?

From feedback to action – Anonymous follow-up conversations reveal more

Anonymous conversations let us drill down to get a deeper understanding of what’s really going on with our people and what’s on their minds.

Nynke Hagen, Culture and Engagement, VodafoneZiggo

Peachy Monday’s Targeted Anonymous Dialogue solution:

The Peachy Mondays platform enables organizations to ask anonymous follow-up questions based on employee feedback. Feedback can be gathered through surveys
– for example engagement, pulse, onboarding, exit, diversity & inclusion, or wellbeing surveys – or through always-on feedback channels and employee comments.

For example, imagine 5% of employees in a wellbeing survey have indicated that they are currently experiencing an issue with managing their levels of stress and anxiety whilst working from home. A simple click of a button enables an administrator (with the appropriate user admin rights) to send a message to everyone who has answered the question that way. Messages are highly configurable and can be used to understand what the issues are, signpost available organizational resources, and ask what other support they might need. The message is one-way anonymous. The employee knows who is asking the question, but the administrator has no idea who the employee is – unless they choose to reveal themselves during the conversation. All conversations are managed within the platform’s secure mailbox which protects the anonymity of employees. Responses can be analyzed by theme and sentiment within the platform.

A solution in action:

Let’s say you’re the HR director of an organisation that’s going through a period of transformation. Your employee engagement survey shows that 20% of employees are dissatisfied with the change communications they have received. So, you work with key colleagues in your HR and internal communications teams to initiate anonymous conversations with those dissatisfied respondents.

Your head of internal communications conducts the follow-up…

Hi, I’d like to ask a question to help me better understand your initial response. Your anonymity is maintained. Could you explain a bit more? How could we improve our change communications?

The respondents receive an email indicating that they have a new, anonymous message from your internal comms rep. They can access their message on the platform at a time and place that suits them and choose whether to respond or not. (In Peachy Monday‘s experience, around 40% of employees will take the time to answer). Your comms rep can read all of the responses in their conversation inbox within the platform and, the anonymity of respondents is maintained unless they choose to share their identity, which some employees do.

In this example, the comms rep learned that employees were looking for more frequent, factual communications, and it was important that communication deadlines were met. She also learned that employees valued face-to-face communications from leaders, together with the opportunity to ask questions. Some employees also did not have access to the communication channels that were being used to share information.

This means that you are able to close the feedback loop by being able to act on issues that are raised, thereby maintaining, or, more than likely, improving your employee satisfaction.

The follow-on conversations make a huge difference, quickly putting things in perspective. You cannot get that from a flat survey

Abi Mawhirt, Head of HR and OD, Dundee and Angus College

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