How Employee Engagement Surveys Can Hurt Morale

How Employee Engagement Surveys Can Hurt MoraleEven the best intentions for understanding employee engagement can go south without the right strategy and execution.

That’s what the Department of Homeland Security learned. According to an article by the Washington Post, it has the lowest morale of any large federal agency. Like any concerned employer, it started studying the problem. But once it got results, it didn’t take any action. Instead, leaders sent more surveys.

In my view, this is a perfect example of how employee engagement surveys can actually hurt morale. The DHS broke a primary rule about surveys: Ask only if you’re ready to receive hard answers and take action to fix what’s broken. Here’s what you can do to make sure your engagement surveys improve morale.

Commit to the Process

If you’re going to implement an employee survey, you have to have a process to address the results. Take what you know and distribute that information with an action plan to the people inside the organization who can make changes. Ensure your strategy examines the issues different departments may have and establish a clear, nimble process for decision-making to keep the plan moving.

Surveying works when you have a plan to do something with the results. Employees can often tell if you’re asking questions simply because you feel you have to, or if you’re ready to build a quality employee experience — and if they don’t know, they soon figure it out depending on what you do after the survey.

Be Accountable

Employee surveys can put employers in a difficult position: When the results are bad, it requires an enormous amount of accountability to step up and own it. Too often — as in the DHS example — organizational leaders tend to hide bad results and try to move on. But there’s no point in doing that. If morale is low in an organization, employees know it. After all, they’re the ones who told you about the problems in the first place. Pretending they didn’t is insulting and simply makes matters worse.

Part of committing to the process is being accountable to what employees tell you. Acknowledge that morale is down or times are tough. Make it clear that you’ve heard their concerns. Then, ask for input on ways to make it better. If employees could have done it on their own, they would have. Asking them for their input can help identify roadblocks to self-driven solutions or opportunities for leaders to provide support.

Be Patient

Even small changes can help you make progress when improving engagement. Commit to making changes that add up over time, such as communicating more often and more effectively. Keep employees informed about the changes you’re making, even if the progress seems slow. If employees can see that their leaders have dedicated resources to improving internal morale issues, they’ll have more confidence that those efforts will actually work. They don’t want to be kept in the dark.

Learn more about creating an employee-approved engagement program. Download our guide:


Download our guide to employee engagement


Talmetrix is an employee feedback and insights solution that helps organizations better attract and retain talent to achieve business goals. Our solution makes it easy for organizations to capture employee feedback (feelings) and organizational data (facts) to discover actionable insights. With a unique combination of software, content, data, and advisory support we can help you measure and improve your employee experience. Contact us today to learn how your company can start achieving better business results.

Leave A Comment