Co-authored with Melissa Arronte, People Analytics Lead – Medallia
In our first blog, Are you really listening? Four pitfalls of a broken employee listening strategy, we explored why getting your listening strategy right is so important and some of the reasons why the annual engagement survey is dead. Employee listening is not just an emerging trend, it’s quickly becoming integral for success in today’s increasingly dynamic work environment.
Over the past 18 months, where changes to our working practices have made it increasingly difficult to stay well connected with employees, companies have surveyed their staff at a record level to try and gain insights to help shape both immediate action and the longer path forwards. In particular, without the face-to-face connectivity of pre-pandemic working, leadership teams are becoming heavily reliant on employee feedback channels to stay well connected to their people (Workify, 2021).
“But aren’t employees sick of surveys?” we hear you cry, “Is asking them for feedback really worth it?”
This is a very important question. What we’re talking about here is survey fatigue, and it is absolutely a risk. Survey fatigue is essentially lack of motivation to participate in a survey or assessment, which leads to respondents either answering the survey without real enthusiasm and therefore not wholly accurately (e.g., using the same answer for all the questions, skipping questions), or not completing the survey altogether. Now, if you’re seeking feedback and not getting the engagement you need, then you’re also at risk of basing decisions on the little insights you gain, which aren’t representative.
So, what’s causing survey fatigue?
This is where you’ll find a common misconception. We often jump to assume the greatest driver of survey fatigue is length and the number of surveys being deployed. Whilst this is a contributor, recent studies show the number one driver of survey fatigue is the perception that the organisation won’t act on the results (McKinsey & Company, 2021).
If the participant can’t see a clear line of action that will come from taking the time to share their views, the purpose of doing so is lost, taking any motivation with it. Along with knowing their feedback will be listened to, the topics asked about must matter to participants, so they feel confident about influencing action on things they care about.
Thankfully, if your listening strategy is designed effectively, you can avoid the perils of survey fatigue and gain rich feedback from your people. Coupled with other operational and performance data, you can paint a full picture of your employee experience. So how do we inspire and entice employees to participate? This is where behavioural science and our understanding of behavioural biases can help.
Understanding how our brains work to boost your listening success
As humans, we make over 30,000 decisions a day, and the vast majority of those are made subconsciously through our ‘fast thinking’ systems, where they are hugely influenced by our cognitive biases. Nudge Theory (“Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness“; Thaler, R., 2008) took advantage of that and showed us how to use an understanding of our most common cognitive biases to influence (or ‘nudge’) certain behaviours. This is really useful when designing something like your employee listening strategy, as we want to encourage people to participate, to be honest, to share ideas and to share the accountability for action.
As you can imagine, the human psyche is extremely complex and influenced by hundreds of biases. To help simplify this, we’ve used the EAST framework (BIT, 2014) to shape some immediate recommendations. This framework suggests that if you want to encourage a particular behaviour, you must make it E - Easy, A - Attractive, S - Social and T - Timely (EAST). Let’s look at each part in some detail and how it could apply to your employee listening strategy.