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Doing a Written Survey

If you have a larger number of employees, or if you have a few employees who tend not to express themselves in meetings, a written survey or opinion poll on employees' job satisfaction may be a better option. It can be in paper or electronic format and it doesn't have to be long and involved, but it gives your employees a chance to think about what they want and to express themselves more effectively. Doing a written survey has several advantages:

  • It allows employees to take their time and think about their responses.
  • It allows them to be more candid and possibly to be anonymous.
  • It takes up less work time, as employees will often complete surveys when they are on break, at lunch, or at home.
  • It allows you to standardize the information that you get. Face-to-face meetings tend to give you different information on a variety of topics that is hard to summarize.

If you choose to do a written survey, be sure to:

  • Give the employees adequate time to compose thoughtful answers.
  • Ask everyone to complete the survey in order to get the most accurate information. If left to voluntary completion, only those employees with strong negative or positive feelings will complete it.
  • Assure everyone that responses will be taken seriously and kept confidential.
  • Respond to the survey results within 30 to 60 days. This is the tricky part, as you may find that employees want something you can't provide. It will be important to make at least a first-step response that addresses their concerns. For example, if a common complaint is not enough vacation time, you might offer to give them an extra day off if certain productivity goals are met.

Questions to ask. In a written survey, you'll want to keep the questions clear and easy to answer. The more difficult the survey is to complete, the less care employees will put into completing it. To simplify it, use multiple choice, true/false, and comparison questions.

Open-ended questions will allow employees to give more detail but may also make it more difficult to get a clear idea of the overall feeling on a particular issue. In small businesses, some employees may fear that you'll recognize their handwriting but will not be afraid to mark boxes or circle their choices. A mix of question types may help ensure that you get at least some response from every employee.

Interpreting and dealing with the results of the survey. Studies indicate that between 10 to 30 percent of employees will be dissatisfied with their jobs at any given time. If you find that a larger number of employees are unhappy, try to find patterns in the areas of dissatisfaction.

If, on your survey, certain questions were answered in a negative fashion by most of your employees, it might be wise to start with those issues. Not only will that have the biggest effect, but you'll be pleasing the largest number of people. Try to follow up on the survey with some type of action within 30 days.

Keep your options open for solutions. Be creative and solicit employee input in addressing some of the problems that you decide to tackle. You might also check with other business owners to see if they have come up with any creative solutions to similar problems.

Sometimes there won't be much that you can do. For example, the consensus may be that pay is too low, but you may not be able to afford to give everyone a raise. Maybe you can look at trimming benefits and giving higher pay raises, or offering bonuses for exceptional performance. If there don't seem to be any solutions, talk with employees and explain your position. Maybe they can offer solutions or suggestions. At the very least, acknowledging them and their concerns lets employees know that you care enough to be honest with them. Don't just ignore the problem and hope that employees will forget — they rarely do. Giving them the brush-off will only damage morale more.

Once you've determined whether you have a morale problem and where it originates, you can get to work on trying to solve it.