Skip to navigation
Employee taking an employee feedback survey
7 Min Read

Everyone Hates Surveys

User Default Avatar
Ian Illig

Let’s start with the C-Suite. You hate surveys. Why?

It began with a business problem at the top and a strong intention to solve it. Sales started suffering. Clients started jumping ship. Everyone started feeling like the same strategy that got us where we are today won’t get us where we want to go tomorrow. 

You begin to explore your hunches… is it the new layer of managers we promoted too fast? Or those two departments that don’t understand each other? Or the remote employees? Or those damn millennials?

You’re not a bad leader, you just need more data points. With every other business problem, there’s been a spreadsheet to back up your gut decisions. With this one, you’re relying entirely on anecdotal feedback through the grapevine of your direct reports and a few bold employees who took advantage of your “open door policy.” You decide to ask employees what they think. You have the HR team run a survey.

Fast forward 3 months. You’ve confirmed a few hunches and uncovered a few blind spots. You can’t believe how much input you received from employees but are overwhelmed with the wide range of topics the feedback covers. You especially hone in on the open-ended responses…

“If the leadership team wants better leaders, maybe they should promote from within.”

“I work too hard to NOT have liquor at the holiday party.” (Yes, this comes up for everyone.)

“Everything is great! No complaints!”

“My manager is verbally abusive.”

“Every time someone quits my team, my job gets twice as hard.”

You’re paralyzed and pissed off. Between the good, the bad, and the ugly, there’s also a lot of random complaining and expensive ideas. You need to decide where to start and somehow recap survey results for employees. Instead, you start questioning the validity of the survey itself. 

Did we ask the right questions? Did enough employees respond? Should we have waited until after the holidays? How do we compare to others in our industry? 

Meanwhile, you feel the pressure of coming up with a response to employees. To buy some time, you have HR send a watered-down message recapping the long-past survey. Employees get a big “THANK YOU” for participating in a survey they forgot about 2 months ago.

Sales are still suffering. Clients are still jumping ship. You hate surveys. 

Next, HR Leader. You hate surveys too.

You’re not supposed to hate surveys. But deep down, you do. You’ve been around the block and know that swatting the beehive without a plan is a recipe for disaster.

You’ve been tasked with running a survey to improve employee retention, develop managers, fix performance issues, and help departments collaborate. By the look on your CEO’s face, this stuff is costing the organization millions of dollars. Yet, somehow you still feel like a second-class citizen at the exec table and are asked to make this happen on a tight budget.

The headache sets in. You select a survey platform on a budget that checks all the right boxes. The results looked really nice and simple in the sales demo.

Then your survey results came in… how the hell are you supposed to know where to start??

I am not a data scientist. This is not my job

You analyze the survey results for weeks, action plan for more weeks, and present the findings to the exec team. Well, some of the findings… you leave out the part about your CEO not being an authentic leader and the fact that there’s a tenured executive wreaking havoc on an entire department. You’re not about to put your career on the line.

The exec team starts to scrutinize. Did we even ask the right questions? Did enough employees respond? Should we have waited until after the holidays? How do we compare to others in our industry? Meanwhile, you know the clock is ticking and with every day that goes by with radio silence employees are getting more and more impatient. The point of the survey was to improve communication, give employees a voice, and build trust. Ironically, it’s doing the opposite.

Meanwhile, you have payroll to run, employees to onboard, enrollment to prep for, and a million other plates spinning at once.

You hate surveys.

Lastly, frontline employees. No one even questions whether you hate surveys or not. 

But you’re past the point of active hate. You’re passive. Jaded. Phoning it in. Last time you took a survey, nothing changed. You can’t imagine this time will be any different. Nevertheless, you take time to write a paragraph in the comment section and even share an idea to fix a process that could save the company a bunch of money. After months, HR sends out a “non-update update” summary of the survey findings and you actually laugh out loud. Half of your team has turned over already and you have a whole new set of problems.

Meanwhile, you browse LinkedIn for open positions down the street. You don’t want to leave, but you’re getting pretty sick of the toxic atmosphere on your team and others taking recognition for your work. Soon, the straw will break the camel’s back and you’ll quit. To avoid burning a bridge in the exit interview, you’ll tell HR that compensation was your reason but you’ll leave out the part about your dysfunctional team. You might, however, share a nice little Glassdoor review on your way out. Every company has skeletons in the closet and you intend on sharing the greatest hits on your farewell tour.

That survey really twisted the knife.


What’s missing from all these scenarios?

They all forget the people who are the linchpins of your strategy. The people at your company who have to manage both performance below them and expectations above them. The people who create a strong or toxic culture on a team. Managers.

If you don’t believe me, think of an all-star employee who is engaged in their work and you’ll find a manager giving them direction, recognition, autonomy, feedback, and trust. Now think of a bored, checked out employee and you’ll find the opposite.

Don’t get me wrong, poor executive leadership makes it impossible for a great manager to stay great. Managers have bosses too. But the same is NOT true in the opposite direction. Excellent executive leadership doesn’t guarantee that bad middle managers will magically get better at managing. There are a handful of corporate initiatives that you can and should put in place to steer the ship from the top, but the #1 goal of any survey should be to make things easier for your middle managers. Not after a few months of analysis. Not after a few weeks. Immediately.

High performing organizations have discovered this key ingredient in the feedback loop: if your middle managers feel empowered by survey data rather than threatened, they’ll take ownership of their own team’s engagement. Do this, and you’ll organically improve communication, give employees a voice, and build trust.

Curious how other organizations are using employee feedback to work for them rather than against them? Schedule a demo with us.