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5 Ways to Evaluate Employee Happiness

By Liz Sheffield

According to a 2015 study conducted by WorkplaceTrends.com and Saba, almost half (49 percent) of HR leaders agreed that retention was a top talent management priority but admit retention is an ongoing challenge.

To retain talent, business leaders and HR directors must have a clear understanding of what inspires and motivates employees. But, according to the survey responses, many organizations aren’t asking employees the questions to find out what matters most to them. Unfortunately not having a clear understanding of what is important to employees is the breeding ground for the dissatisfaction that ultimately drives people to leave an organization.

Addressing employee satisfaction isn’t as simple as having pizza delivered for lunch or providing a pool table in the break room. Satisfying employees involves understanding general feelings about the company—from the employee perspective. Engagement, as well as overall job satisfaction, is tied to many things:

  • Organizational culture
  • Workplace environment and flexibility
  • Management practices
  • Training and development opportunities
  • Career advancement options
  • Rewards and recognition
  • Compensation package (salary, health care, retirement investments, etc.)

The last item, compensation, is the most difficult to get true feedback on. Because compensation is so tied to personal performance and evaluation, it can be tricky to have employees be upfront about their true feelings about compensation.

If you’re looking for ways to find out what employees want, start by asking questions. There are several ways to elicit employee input about your organization:

One-on-one conversations

Managers and leaders should be having regular one-on-one conversations to gain insights into their teams, as well as understanding individual employee needs. These discussions also provide an opportunity to gather informal feedback about what the organization is and isn’t doing well. Perhaps an employee is struggling to find quality time with his kids, but there’s no formal policy about flexible work. Similarly, a new employee might mention during a one-on-one conversation that she’s disappointed there isn’t a retirement investment plan.

Every conversation provides managers with an opportunity to identify items that the leadership team should discuss (e.g., flexible work options, or a 401(k) plan) that might help retain top talent.

Pros: Consistent, requires limited effort, informal

Cons: Potential for individual bias, fear of retaliation

Focus groups

A focus group involves gathering small groups of employees—either at random, or by classification (e.g., department, job level, or role)—to have a conversation about the workplace. The focus group concentrates on a particular topic, such as rewards and recognition. During the discussion an unbiased facilitator helps create a safe place for open dialogue among employees, and can ask follow-up questions during the conversation. In a focus group setting, employees are generally willing to provide constructive feedback, and they often share positive testimony about advantages to working for the company (e.g., team camaraderie, motivating goals).

A focus group creates a dialogue, and a sense of being heard, that may improve employee engagement.

Pros: impartial, cross section of employees, opportunity to ask follow-up questions

Cons: fear of retaliation, hesitant participants

Employee surveys

Employee satisfaction surveys measure employee views, attitudes and perceptions of their organization. Organizations may choose to conduct surveys at various times, including during the onboarding process, annually, or even as part of the review process. An online employee survey can reveal information and provide precise data and measurement about employee perceptions. Asking for feedback via an online tool allows for anonymity and data collection from all staff, regardless of location. The survey data may indicate that management practices in one department aren’t supporting the culture you want to create.

Employee surveys capture data that leaders can use for benchmarking and improving employee satisfaction within the workplace in a way that helps you find patterns as opposed to reacting to individual pieces of feedback.

Pros: confidential, anonymous, ability to collect data

Cons: restricted questions, time to administer

Exit interviews

Some people may think having an exit interview is a waste of time. In some ways, they’re right. The exit interview probably won’t convince an employee who is leaving to change their mind. However, the answer to the question, “Why are you leaving?” offers the company an opportunity to address dissatisfaction before the same issue causes more employees to leave. There may be issues that affected the employee that’s leaving that will continue to affect current employees, and it’s best to get concrete, honest feedback from an employee that isn’t as concerned about negatively affecting his or her own status at the company. That’s valuable information for a company that is struggling to retain employees.

Pros: honest feedback, personalized

Cons: limited questions, given the premise of the interview

Leader roundtables

A discussion with the senior management team allows employees to ask questions and perhaps hear a new perspective about the company and how it operates. Likewise, leaders can gather insights from the conversation about what will satisfy employees. Leader roundtables help all levels of the organization establish a valuable sense of connection that improves employee engagement with the company.

Pros: creates connections, establishes trust

Cons: potential us vs. them mentality, defensive responses

As the methods described above illustrate, finding a way to ask the questions isn’t all that difficult. But a word of caution—asking the questions without being prepared to listen and take action sends a negative message. So before you begin the process of gathering feedback about what employees want, be sure everyone—including senior management—is ready to hear employee’s responses.

The fact that an organization is asking questions about what employees need in order to be satisfied sends a positive message to the workforce: employee opinions are valued. When your organization asks the questions and takes action to respond to employee feedback, you’ll see retention rates improve and productivity increase. Most importantly, you’ll feel reassured knowing that employees are satisfied.

Image credit: Jeshu John