Surveying Employees Right Now: Optimizing Feedback Programs in the New Normal

In a time where nothing about work is ‘business as usual,’ communication between organizational leadership and employees is more critical than ever. Soliciting feedback from employees – and acting upon that feedback in a meaningful way – is critical to employee well-being, overall performance, and, ultimately, an organization’s success. Yet traditional employee surveys can feel out of touch; organizations need to look at their survey content through the lens of the current climate, adapting the programs to address the issues most important to employees.

We’ve seen clients adjust their surveys in a wide variety of ways, as the most effective surveys are ones that are strategically designed and unique to the organization. Yet there are some key trends we’re seeing:

Shorter, more frequent surveys

Our world is changing week to week, and so the reality of our workforce changes week to week. Rather than a large, event-based survey such as an annual engagement survey, we’re seeing more frequent, short surveys to check in on how employees are doing with changes, such as adapting to remote work, and returning to the office. Beyond providing organizations with up-to-date data on employee well-being, it also sends a powerful message that leadership is listening during times of great change. This is especially true when the results of a survey are turned into action and employees can see that their opinions matter.

Timely, topical items

A year ago, employee experience was the latest buzz. Engagement, experience, and other employee-centric topics are always relevant, but employee well-being issues like confidence to return to work, safety climate, and re-onboarding effectiveness are rightly taking priority. Issues of mental health, inclusion, and equity are rightfully more pressing right now, and consideration must be given to these issues.

Strategic samples

Just as organizations are planning phased re-openings, first with essential employees, followed by the remainder of the workforce in a strategic and safe manner, so should surveys follow suit. To best capture what your employees are facing in a timely manner, survey employees as their work situations change. This likely means constant survey activity for your organization as a whole, although each individual employee is surveyed only at milestone events, helping keep data fresh and relevant. This might look like surveying all employees on overall well-being and stress, and surveying specific groups on safety climate and safety resources as they return to work.

Focused assignments

Often with traditional surveys, reports are driven down to the manager level, and each manager is encouraged to discuss results with their team to develop an action plan. With these focused, topic-specific surveys, this often isn’t the case. When the surveys are focused on senior leader communications or confidence in returning to work and safety, the results are mainly for senior leaders and centralized groups like HR or employee relations who need the results to help manage the processes. This also helps manage the amount of change we ask front line managers to deal with.


Most of all, we are seeing surveys change quickly. Content cannot be locked and loaded a month in advance, because the world changes in a month’s time. More than ever, survey practitioners need to be flexible, and ready to shift the mechanics and content of their surveys to be able to gather the data their organizations need the most.

Continuity counts

While it’s critical to adapt to these new challenges, it also makes sense to deploy any annual census survey that you would normally have administered if not for the pandemic. These surveys secure yearly trend data, which is just as important now. While you might look at this data through the lens of the pandemic, it’s just as valuable now. Plus, it offers employees a measure of comfort and consistency at a time when both are much needed.

The extraordinary global lock-down occurred swiftly, and in ways most people could not fathom one year ago. Organizations were quick to respond, and overall, the feedback from employees showed appreciation for and confidence in leadership, especially in the organizations that prioritized the health and well-being of employees. Scores on trust and confidence were at an all time high for many organizations, even admist high levels of stress and uncertainty. Now, with the ebb and flow of schools, work, and stores reopening, closing, and reopening again, organizations will make different choices and take different paths. Only through thoughtful and strategic surveying can organizations understand how their employees continue to cope, gather the data needed to succeed during these challenging times, and instil continued confidence in their employees.

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