Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

Ask your employees what they think

I was at a meeting of a CEO group that I participate in last month and one of our members talked about an employee survey he had just conducted. He was not the CEO of a large company with a lot of employees, but an employer of eight people. He wanted to know their opinions on some things and gauge their understanding of the company’s mission.

My friend asked 38 questions ranging from whether salaries were satisfactory to whether the employees consider the communication within the company adequate. Responses were anonymous and analysis was done with an Excel spreadsheet.

This was a crude way of doing a survey. He used it because it was quick and because of the number of questions he wanted to ask.

The Internet has made all kinds of surveying easy. I looked at the website of one of the most popular online survey companies and was, first, surprised to learn that its basic service was free. The company is Survey Monkey and it has four service levels, aptly named Basic, Select, Gold, and Platinum.

Basic is free and the other three require a monthly fee ranging from $17 to $65. Results are real-time and tracked with bar graphs.

The free service requires only a minimal amount of sign-in data and allows a 10-question survey with up to 100 responses. This should be more than adequate for a first employee survey.

So ... What do you want to know? As always, I will not recommend an absolute, as each company has its own needs, but I will recommend some basic information that you might want in a survey. If you are using the basic (free) Survey Monkey service, you can schedule more than one 10-question survey to learn all that you want to know.

Some areas I would consider for a survey:

• Attitudes toward salary (e.g., is it adequate?)

• Attitudes toward benefits

• Attitudes toward “soft benefits” (e.g., paid holidays, vacation time, paid time off)

• Do employees consider that they have been adequately trained?

• Do employees believe that their supervisors are adequate and deserving of their respect?

• Do employees understand the mission of the company?

• Do employees feel respected by the company?

• Do employees respect their supervisors and company ownership?

This leads to a body of knowledge about you and your style as a manager and about the manner of communication, supervision, and compensation. The next question, then, is, What are you going to do with this information?

A survey must be a catalyst for change. Presenting a survey to make yourself look good or to calm your employees in a time of crisis is a useless exercise.

Ask the tough questions. For example, do your employees consider that you are paying them a livable wage? Can they buy a home on their wages? Do they consider themselves part of the American Dream by working for you?

Is your company their ideal career choice? Do your employees see room for upward career moves, or are they just in a holding pattern waiting for the next opportunity?

Are your employee benefits — both the soft and the hard benefits — adequate for their needs?

Above all, are you willing to change your style of managing and compensating people based on the results of the survey? Certainly, people understand struggling management. When I was first in business, every raise I gave, every increase in benefits I offered came directly out of my pocket, and sometimes my own take was meager. But some of this stuff is free. Better communication, softer management, and opportunities for further training and upward mobility are not costly.

One important thing, though — you must be sincere. •

Dave Mount is the founder of Westaff in Burlington.

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