Overcoming Negative Employee Survey Responses

Properly administering and evaluating employee surveys can uncover deep insights for an organization that would otherwise be left hidden. While it can feel reassuring to receive positive comments, there will often be negative survey results as well. Instead of viewing unsatisfactory feedback as a disaster or a permanent problem, the most successful business leaders view it as an opportunity for improvement. Overcoming negative employee survey responses takes a dedication to fully understanding the feedback and requires appropriate action.

Don’t Ignore or Obsess Over Results

A surprising 52% of managers review their survey results but don’t take action. While it can be tempting to write off negative feedback and assume employees were just having a bad day, thinking in this fashion undermines the entire purpose of conducting a survey. Those that ignore negative feedback may be viewing surveys as a method for appeasing employees with no intentions of actual improvement. Alternatively, many managers do want to improve their operations, but may lack the time and resources to dedicate to new initiatives.

Gallup research has proven that employees expect and need resolution to the workplace surveys they participate in. While it’s important to address negative employee survey responses and strive to improve, it is likewise essential to avoid becoming consumed by every negative comment. Even the best business leaders cannot effectively “fix” a dozen different issues at once. Attempting to do so will ensure that nothing receives the full attention it needs. Proven success strategies suggest determining the most imperative and actionable 3-5 items to address and focus on first.

Find the root causes

Many negative employee feelings can often be attributed to a small number of root causes that may be tainting their whole viewpoint, seeping into opinions on every aspect of the company. Identifying these specific underlying issues is the first step to addressing and alleviating them. Doing so requires strong communication and opening a dialogue with employees. Staring at data or responses on paper is not enough to discover the level of insights needed.

Whether it’s in groups, via informal check ins, or one-on-one, talk to the employees about the survey results openly and in a comfortable setting to spark a conversation that can reveal the root causes. Do they have hard feelings toward management for a specific reason? Are amenities in the breakroom constantly running out, employee bathrooms not cleaned regularly, or do employee benefit packages fail to meet their needs? Does staff feel consistently overworked? Making assumptions that one of these is the problem could have you spending time and money on fixing something that isn’t broken. It’s good business practice to understand that any issue important to employees must be treated just as importantly by management, even if it seems like a minor factor at the higher level.

Take Transparent Action Quickly and Effectively

When surveys produce negative responses, there is a danger that employees are losing trust in their employer. The worst thing management can do after receiving negative feedback is to indefinitely use vague phrases like “we’re working to fix this” without any specifics. Transparency moving forward instills confidence in a workforce that you are genuinely trying to improve. Early on, let them know that you’re taking action based on the feedback as well as what the goals and next steps are. As the process continues, keep them updated by sending out formal communications at regular intervals.

Asking for feedback often throughout the weeks and months after a survey is essential. Consider holding a digital “comments box” where employees can provide further feedback that arises. Your employees are on the front lines, and those encountering a problem often think of a solution on their own but may not feel comfortable expressing it to management. Keeping them in the loop and part of an ongoing conversation ensures them that their opinion is valued and they will be more likely to share their ideas.

Survey Again

It’s wise to remember that surveys are not meant to be one-off items on a list to be completed once every decade. Employee surveys are most effective when they are regularly conducted so results can be compared to the past in order to discover trends. After all, once you take action, how will you know if you’ve effectively alleviated the issues that caused negative feedback? When unsatisfactory results are received, the next survey becomes even more critical. Instead of waiting a couple years for the next survey, try and hold it within 6-12 months to get the most accurate understanding if the issues have been resolved or if there is more work to do.

Overcoming Negative Employee Survey Responses

On the bright side, negative results serve as a golden opportunity to improve operations for those managers with the resources and knowhow to proceed appropriately. However, many business leaders simply do not have the time and capabilities to turn negative feedback into positive results. In these situations, turning to survey experts can be the answer. Not just for survey creation and dissemination, employee survey analysis is one of the most important parts of the process that experts can quickly and effectively accomplish on your behalf.

To learn how employee survey results were successfully evaluated for a leading tech firm, click here for the case study.

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