Should You Take Your Company’s Employee Satisfaction Survey?

Employee Satisfaction Survey

You get to work one day and notice that the company is encouraging everyone to take the yearly Employee Satisfaction Survey. “Tell us how we can improve!” they proclaim, “We want to honestly know how we are doing with making our employees happy! All your answers are anonymous, we promise!”

You immediately get leery, after all, you and everyone else knows there is a LOT to be desired.  You start remembering what your mom told you about “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

You try to ignore the incessant email notifications to take the survey, but as the days go by you begin getting pestered more and more about why you haven’t completed the survey. What was apparently optional seems to almost become mandatory. The company may even begin to incentivize and reward employees to complete the survey (pizza parties, gift cards, so on and so forth). You really don’t want to take it, but what if you have to? You don’t want to fake satisfaction and lie on the survey, but you fear voicing your real feelings about the company may potentially put you in a risky spot. What is a person to do?

I sympathize with any of you in this predicament. These surveys are just plain awful, and I’ll tell you now that rarely anything good comes from them and you have every right to be leery of them.

These surveys can potentially work in a company that is already good, but my very own counter-argument would be that no good company would ever even consider giving one of these surveys to employees in the first place. They wouldn’t need to!

A good company and a good management team already have a great handle on what’s good or bad about their company, and they strive and work actively to improve any deficiencies. That’s one of the points of being in management anyway. If a company truly needs an employee satisfaction survey to find out what is wrong with the company, that company and their management are frankly doing a terrible job at well, doing their job, or they simply don’t care.

The true motive behind these surveys in most cases is simply that the company is fishing for any good comments at all they can gather and present to shareholders as some fancy metric or graph on an annual report or something, just to brag how great their work-place is so they can ultimately attract more investors and perhaps highly qualified employees (all while conveniently forgetting about all the negative responses). However, I’m certain that in some cases companies will use the results to analyze their workforce and weed out any disgruntled or unsatisfied employees, regardless of their performance. Sad, but true.

That being said, I want to tell everyone that unless you truly love your company and want to rave about them, the best action you can take is to simply not complete these surveys at all if they are indeed optional. Ignore them! If you’re happy with the company, by all means go ahead with the survey and give them a glowing review, but unfortunately, I don’t think the majority of people are in that situation.

However, there may be times these surveys are mandatory, or you’re severely coerced into taking them (I recall one company that gave employees free food and gift cards if their department achieved 100% participation – so any stragglers were always harassed by the rest of the team…), and you have no choice but to sit down and face the questions. Considering this, I want to address a few key points regarding these surveys, and why it’s important to be very careful with our answers to the questions.

How To Tackle The Employee Satisfaction Survey like a Pro!

First off, companies will usually claim these surveys are 100% anonymous. NOPE. NEVER. NADA. This is the age of the Internet and technology after all, so any surveys completed online or on the computer are ALWAYS traceable in some way. Sometimes the computer surveys even require unique hyperlinks and/or login pins to access the survey, which makes them even more traceable.

Even handwritten surveys can usually be traced back to employees based on the writing styles, the pattern of answers, or other identifying information. It really only takes an ounce of brainpower to do some simple analysis of the facts and one can make a fairly good guess who completed a survey.

I honestly can not think of a single way I would ever feel confident that my answers were truly 100% anonymous, and I think the closest you would ever get would be having some type of outside audit committee perform and manage the survey – even then corruption may occur. There are just so many ways the information can be traced back to a single user. It may not always be super easy to identify survey takers, but if someone really wants to know, I guarantee they will find a way and that it will be possible.

So now that we know these surveys are not really anonymous, let’s get more into the surveys themselves.

These surveys are most generally taken online via your computer and usually consist of questions that address your satisfaction with the company, your manager, your work environment, and any other aspects you may either like or not like about your job with the company. The questions could be things such as, “Do you feel your manager resolves your issues or concern effectively?”, “Do you find your work responsibilities engaging or fulfilling?”, or even “Are you currently looking for new job opportunities with other companies?” The questions are usually answered with yes or no type answers or a selection on a sliding scale such as strongly disagree on one end to strongly agree on the other.

Unfortunately, a lot of the questions really are tough ones that are uncomfortable to answer if you have a less than stellar opinion of your company and/or job. Could you imagine answering “yes” to a question like “Are you currently looking for new job opportunities?”! You might as well walk over to your manager now and give them a resignation. There are too many potential negative consequences that can come from answering negatively. You may get selectively “laid off”, management might pass on you for a promotion, or it might even eliminate or reduce a manager’s bonus for the year because your low score made them “look bad” and now they are going to make your life hell. Like I said, there’s more harm than good that comes from these surveys.

Ultimately, there’s simply no room for constructive criticism or critical honesty on these types of surveys, no matter how much the company tries to make you believe that they really want to change and they need your help to do so. Like I said at the beginning of this post, most companies know where their downfalls are. Good companies fix them, but bad companies ignore then but then usually come up with surveys like this to make it seem like they are fixing them.

It’s honestly deceitful… they lead you to believe that your voice will finally be heard and that things WILL change, but the only thing that often changes is the removal of the people who expressed displeasure with their companies. A shame really, as I tend to feel that the people actually brave enough to provide their honest critical feedback are the ones that could (and would) actually change the company for the better. Instead, they are often gotten rid of.

In the end, if you find yourself in a situation where you have to complete these surveys, or they are mandatory, be cautious with how you proceed. If you don’t feel so great about your company or job, you’re certainly in a difficult predicament. Some people are just OK with blatantly lying and giving all glowingly positive responses (regardless of their true feelings), but that doesn’t work for me and I don’t think that’s the best solution. Instead, I URGE you to be gentle and graceful with your answers. Buff up your answers a bit, and just for a second pretend you like the company or job a little bit more than you really do. Questions that you might answer with strongly disagree bump up to a slightly disagree or neutral answer.

Pinpoint the “hot water” questions where negative answers would reflect poorly on you or your employment prospects and simply avoid answering them negatively at all. These are often questions such as “Would you recommend our company as a good place to work?”, “Do you feel your job has value to the company?”, or “Are you currently looking for new employment opportunities?”, among many others that could really compromise your employment. If there’s a question where a negative answer would make it look like you were unhappy or disgruntled, stay far away from giving a negative answer! That being said, it is OK to have some negative responses, but once again, identify which questions would be “safe” to answer negatively and focus on being gentle with your responses.

I hope if anything this post has helped inform you a bit more on these types of surveys and the best approaches you can take should you have to complete one. It’s never a fun time, but it may just be another unfortunate or crappy part of your job that needs doing. Whether you take the survey or not, I hope that the information here will help you make the right choice for your situation so you can move on, feel good about how you handled the survey, and then wait for next year’s survey where the madness happens all over again.

Yours Truly,
– Mr. Happy Work

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Emily Leary
5 years ago

I never used to fill mine out at work because I didn’t feel like it would have any real impact and instead tended to just talk to my direct manager if I had an idea or concern, but looking back, I totally understand why it would have been valuable if more of us had filled it in.

5 years ago

I never take our surveys because I honestly don’t believe them when they say they are anonymous.,

Elizabeth O
Elizabeth O
5 years ago

I think it’s fine to take the satisfaction survey, its a good way companies can get to know any employee issues, however I would worry about the anonymity

Pujarini Mitra
Pujarini Mitra
5 years ago

Unfortunately, I don’t completely agree with you. I have worked with large organisations where employee satisfaction surveys are run annually. The feedback provided is assessed through external companies and hence remains anonymous. Most companies use the feedback and trends to develop programs to improve employee satisfaction. So if employees shy away from filling up these surveys there it would be difficult to hear each other’s voice in a large organisation.

5 years ago

Taking a satisfaction survey is just a part of working for most companies. I think they do help and let the company grow better.

5 years ago

I always feel so conflicted when I get these yearly emails. On one hand, I want to be able to express my view (both good and bad) in an effort to make change. On the other hand, I want to keep my job. I usually opt to ignore. 🙂

Scott Gombar
5 years ago

I almost always refused to take the surveys even when I worked for large corporations. There is no way to truly no if it is anonymous as there are ways to track it.

Cristina Pop
Cristina Pop
5 years ago

I work in a small company, and they don’t even do these surveys. Sometimes we seek changes to be made, but we don’t manage the process formally with a survey like this.

5 years ago

I work for a large organisation in the Uk in HR and we have an annual staff survey. It is administered by an external company and is paper based. It is impossible to work out who has answered in what way, the results report trends rather than individual answers. We also look at both positive and negative trends and draw up action plans with departments to address concerns. I can totally understand that people are wary of staff surveys though, particularly in smaller organisations

5 years ago

Totally agree with everything you’ve said! The company I work for is a small one, so I am certain they can work out where the answers came from. That said, I was the only one who refused to take part in the last ‘survey’ a few years back, and as far as I know, they never found out it was me. It turns out most of my colleagues gave the same sort of replies I would have (had I done it) anyway, and one of the managers later said he was quite disappointed that we felt our opinions were being ignored…and guess what?! They carried on ignoring all our suggestions and grievances in the survey! What a pointless exercise!

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