RPO & StaffingTalent Acquisition

The Power of Pulse-Taking

 Investing to gain knowledge of your workforce almost always pays off.
By Brenda Kowske
When times get tough, it’s tempting to cut costs by eliminating employee surveys. Supposed reasons include: the assumption that employees can’t find another job so we’ll catch up with them next year; the belief that it’s pointless because employees are feeling negatively; and the calculation that cutting the expense of conducting the survey can save employee jobs.
However, it’s precisely at this time—during a period of uncertainty and change—that having updated information on which to base just-in-time decisions creates important competitive advantages. For leaders attempting to navigate a turbulent economy, a clear understanding of financial metrics, production numbers, accurate sales projections, and an up-to-the-minute report of employee and process functioning is critical. Since new directions or a shift in strategy might affect employee performance, engagement, and commitment, it is important that organizations measure metrics designed to support employees’ contributions. Regardless of the economy, important questions about employees’ performance levels, team members’ goal commitment, and organization-wide goal alignment cannot go unanswered.
Knowing is half the battle. Using data as their guide, leaders identify areas of weakness in the workforce in order to patch them for the short-term and strengthen them for the growth to come. A well-informed HR group can use surveys and workforce data as a means to align strategic HR activities with valued business outcomes, and managers can use feedback to improve their own and their direct reports’ performances. Whether in times of plenty or during an economic downturn, data should be used to drive organizational decisions, planning, and change.
HR leaders know that employee surveys support employee engagement, but they might be surprised to learn to what extent; if an employee survey has been administered in the last two years, 62 percent of employees are engaged, compared to only 43 percent if no survey was conducted. We also know that employees’ engagement is related to customer satisfaction and that, as such, engagement is even more critical during a downturn.
When a downturn hits, all employees need to pull together, and managers need to use their direct reports efficiently and effectively. In organizations that survey their employees, 60 percent of workers report that their organization motivates them to work hard and put in extra effort when needed. Without surveys, only 42 percent report that their organization’s workforce is motivated: a significant difference when workforces are lean but production goals remain lofty. Employee surveys can help managers use their team more effectively. In a surveyed workforce, 44 percent say the workload is divided fairly as compared to only a third of workers in non-surveyed workforces. 
Organizations that innovate through tough times will emerge as stronger competitors, whether through innovative work solutions for survival and recovery or in terms of products and services. By the very nature of asking for employee opinions, surveys give management access to good ideas and the impetus to act upon them. In organizations that survey, 58 percent of employees report that management makes use of employees’ good ideas, as compared to only 41 percent that don’t survey. 
The benefits of employee surveys and the data they yield likely outweigh the cost when all factors are considered. In any economy, the bottom line is that solid data means better business decisions, and better decisions ensure a brighter future for employees and employers. 
Brenda Kowske, Ph.D., is a research consultant for the Kenexa Research Institute. She has successfully tailored online survey processes for workforce insight; created valid performance measurement systems and metrics that differentiate employees, and conducted talent analytics for compensation, promotion, and development decisions.

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