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Work surveys are such a fucking joke

You ever work at a place that does the old annual survey deal, reports the results three months later, there’s maybe 1 day where people discuss the results, and then no one thinks about it for 13 months until there’s another “annual” survey?

Of course you have. We’ve all worked at those places because what I just described is normative.

Maybe a few joints (Silicon Valley!) these days are into “micro-pulsing” or whatever with NPS, whereby you get a survey each week about whether you like your work, your co-workers, and your manager.

That’s supposedly very progressive to do those “pulses” but the thing is, it’s still a survey.

And surveys are still a wreck.

Don’t believe me?

OK, let’s go to the professionals.

Surveys are a joke

A consultant, writing in Harvard Business Review:

When employees are asked to complete surveys, their responses can be shaped by social desirability bias—the impulse to present themselves in a positive light so their bosses will think well of them. The survey becomes an exercise in “impression management” rather than a tool for change, because respondents don’t want to suggest that they personally have a problem or can’t handle their work. Even when workplace surveys are administered by third parties, as they often are, studies have found that anonymity does not completely erase the social desirability response bias. That’s in part because people don’t want to think of themselves in a negative light.

I honestly thought we all knew this by now. The last full-time gig I had, the employee survey was third party. There was something like a 87 percent favorability rating for the place overall. I worked there day-in and day-out. People did like working there — the tenure was pretty long on average — but it wasn’t no 87 percent. If you ever talked to people about that survey, they all went positive because they feared it wasn’t really anonymous — like the execs were looking. All of this caused me to write this post back in the day.

Surveys are a joke, Part II

From same article above:

Consider this example: Some organizations ask people whether the executives are great role models for employees. But many employees don’t have enough access to the executive team to form an accurate judgment. If that’s not one of the options in the survey, people who feel that way may simply select “agree” or choose a “neutral” response. And that’s not telling you anything meaningful about role-modeling in the organization.

First off, that’s the biggest handjob question of all-time. “Hey, are the execs doing their thing? They big pimpin?” God. But I’ve also seen it on every work survey I’ve ever taken. Who has access to these guys? Maybe 7-10 other people? So what the hell would you possibly say? If the place is a trash heap, I guess you could say negative stuff, but it would still at base be an assumption. You don’t have enough access to the execs to know what they’re doing to make it a trash heap. So the survey essentially accomplishes nothing with this question except to create confusion over who owns the flaming bag of feces you all reside in day-to-day for 10 hours.

So what’s better than surveys?

Let me blow your mind here for a second. This applies to customers and also employees:

How about just talking to employees? Maybe even about how they feel about their careers? GASP!!!!

Bottom line: none of this is fucking rocket science, but we love to over-complicate every possible thing associated with work. Why’s that, you ask? Work has nothing to do with productivity or accomplishment. It’s completely about what you control. Once you own/admit that, everything else becomes a little bit easier and more rational. Call it “zero fucks” if you want.

But look, as long as workplaces are still made up of humans, the way you learn what’s happening is by talking to people. Surveys are a joke. It’s another example of people trying to “scale” communication instead of going 1-to-1 with it.

Don’t do that. Talk to people, baby!

Ted Bauer

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