The traditional employee research model, which for many years has revolved around an annual employee engagement survey, often conducted by an external HR consultancy, is beginning to change. Now an increasing number of organisations are seeing the advantages of moving to a more flexible model which uses technology to collect employee feedback throughout the year, often in real-time, driven by events such as promotions, training, office moves and pay changes.

Newer approaches rely on technology platforms that make it easy to collect personalised feedback from staff through the channels that work best for both staff and the organisations they work for.

There is a need to bring together the whole range of staff feedback, such as annual engagement exercises, scheduled pulse surveys, research after management or structural changes, along with real-time feedback collected at induction sessions, after training programmes, reviews and appraisals and at exit interviews. By maintaining this in a single place, it allows the data to be easily analysed and compared. The goal is to create an ongoing dialogue that ensures a detailed understanding of the events that are most influential in engaging (or disengaging) employees and uncovering key business insights that can drive change.

Here are the five key factors that are driving changes to the way employee research is conducted:

1. A demand for company-specific employee insights and data to drive action

Many large organisations rely on external HR consultancies to carry out annual engagement surveys, providing the chance to benchmark against similar companies. However, this necessitates using the consultancy’s framework, which has standard questions and benchmarks that aim to measure whether a workforce is engaged or not.

This standardisation makes it difficult to drill down into specific areas that match actual business needs. It is difficult to link results to specific business questions, such as how well an organisation is coping with change or entering new markets, reducing the usefulness of the entire exercise. Many organisations want more tailored employee insights and data that can help them address challenges and boost engagement within the context of their specific situation. And that is more effectively provided when feedback is collected continuously with questions tailored to the company’s business priorities and challenges.

2. The call for faster, more responsive employee research

Annual surveys consume a great deal of time. Rolling out surveys globally throughout a large multi-site organisation and collecting the results can take months, meaning that any issues raised or opportunities uncovered risk being missed until it is too late.

In today’s competitive markets waiting for 12 months to understand what your employees feel is simply too long. Companies want to create an ongoing dialogue with employees that allows business leaders to view up to the minute trends and insights. This can help decision making, allow them to address problem areas in good time and take advantage of opportunities. Speed is of the essence – and that is one of the key benefits of automated feedback collection systems that provide high-level, real-time dashboard views of the data for senior managers.

3. The desire to integrate employee data with other business data

Whatever sector they operate in, companies increasingly rely on data to drive their businesses. They need the ability to integrate information from a wide range of sources – such as sales, HR, customer feedback, and market research, in order to gain a holistic view of their operations and where they can improve competitiveness. In many cases the traditional employee survey is conducted entirely independently of other data collection initiatives, with control of the data remaining with an external HR consultancy, making it difficult to integrate easily, or cost-effectively. Organisations need to have ownership of their data, giving them the power to drive change.

4. Employees want to give feedback more often

Employees, particularly the millennial generation, are more vocal and more willing to give feedback, but standardised, annual surveys fail to provide the platform for their voices to be heard. Indeed, they might even have the opposite effect – demotivating employees who feel their concerns are not being addressed and who will consequently take their skills elsewhere. By contrast, creating a continuous dialogue with employees generates a more open culture in which employees feel their opinions matter. It also increases the chances for receiving more authentic feedback as employees have numerous opportunities to provide their views rather than having to wait for the once-a-year survey, by which time some comments or opinions maybe less fresh in their minds.

5. The push to make employee research more cost-effective

Annual engagement surveys represent a significant investment. Traditionally, organisations work with HR consultancies who project manage the data collection and reporting, interpret the findings and make strategic recommendations based on the results. Often it is unclear how much of the research budget is being spent on day to day technical project management, and how much is for value-added consultancy. Given their skills, and the budgets involved, it makes sense for HR consultancy time to be focused on high level insight, rather than data collection. HR departments and internal communications teams have to live at a time of shrinking budgets, with cost pressures meaning they have to do more with fewer resources. An employee feedback platform automates much of the collection process and drives more efficient allocation of the research budget.


Employee research has to change if companies are to win the war to gain and retain talent and keep staff engaged and motivated. Moving away from the old annual survey model creates an ongoing dialogue with staff. This delivers strategic insight that underpins business change, while adding flexibility and reducing costs.

Technology has evolved and can enable change – increasing the amount of time and resource that companies dedicate to strategic insight rather than data collection or consultancy management. By tapping directly into what employees are thinking, the business has control of its own data and can integrate it with customer and market research to uncover powerful insights that underpin increased business competitiveness.

Given the maturity customer insight has reached – with daily feedback, social media integration, sophisticated segmentation, targeted offers, communication, etc – can businesses still hope to get real employee insights from an annual ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach?

This blog was first posted on HR Zone on 10th June, 2015.


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