Posted by: rayseghers | October 6, 2010

The 7-point survey scale?

I just read an ad for an employee survey company.  (Hey, you’ve got to know what the competition is up to.)  Anyway, their headline was that 5-point survey scales don’t work.  They went on to say:

“Employees who really hate their workplace have quit already. So a 5-point scale survey pool is positively biased – you’ll never get as many people rating a 1 as you will a 5.”

Their solution?  A 7-point scale.  That’s great until someone comes up with a 9-point scale.  Actually, over the years there have been numerous arguments about the number of points that a response scale should have.

But let’s go back to what they actually said.  Their two points are quite valid.  Disgruntled employees may have already left and yes, you almost always get more 5s than 1s. (Though I had a client once that would have killed for that.)  But what does that have to do with a 5-point scale and how does a 7-point scale solve the problem?  In short, it doesn’t.

It is an interesting tactic to make an assertion, throw out some irrelevant facts, and then claim that you have proven your point.  Remember, you can lie with statistics (or without them.)

Posted by: rayseghers | October 2, 2010

Reducing Employee Stress

Workplace stress is synonymous with having a job. Too much stress, however, can have serious impacts on employee wellness as well as organizational performance.

While there are several readily available stress surveys, I feel that it is important to measure more than just the level of stress.  To effect meaningful organizational change it is necessary to determine the causes of employee stress and to have an eye on potential improvement plans.  Stress reduction plans can entail both individual (e.g., EAP and wellness programs) plans as well as organizational (e.g., staffing and restructuring) plans.

The recommended approach starts with a customized employee questionnaire that is based on a model of organizational effectiveness augmented with an Employee Stress Module.

This model is fairly simple and yet quite comprehensive – it looks at macro (organizational) issues as well as micro (group and individual) issues and puts the pieces together like a finished puzzle.

To this we add the Employee Stress Module that measures three key dimensions of stress,

  • Emotional Exhaustion
  • Depersonalization
  • Lack of Personal Accomplishment

Plus Resilience – the ability to bounce back or cope with periods of stress.

A survey based on the general model with the stress module will give you the critical intelligence that you need. The key is that this model is not just a string of categories; it is a cause-and-effect look at organizational issues and behaviors and how they interact with employee stress.  It shows that action plans must start with the very values that guide the organization and must have an impact on the critical outcomes that determine the success or failure of the organization.

Posted by: rayseghers | September 24, 2010

A New Study…

… from Modern Survey. Minneapolis, MN, September 22, 2010 – As the U.S. economy continues its slow recovery from recession, Modern Survey’s latest study on employee engagement in the U.S. workforce reveals that while engagement on the whole is trending slightly upward, employees’ willingness to put forth an extra effort may be reaching its straining point.

The report goes on to say “It appears that a substantial number of U.S. workers have adapted to the new reality of our economy…”

Sad, but true.  In an earlier post I ask whatever happened to mutual commitment.  Obviously, the recent economic woes have destroyed that concept.  Will it come back?  I suspect in some sense yes, but I also think that employees will bring a little “street smarts” with them.  Employees will work hard and help the organization succeed but they will remember what happens when things get bad.  They will most likely keep an eye on job boards and continue to network for that next job.

Posted by: rayseghers | September 22, 2010

Cause and Effect

When designing questionnaires, I am a strong proponent of building them upon a strong foundation of a cause-and-effect model of organizational effectiveness.

Without measuring the effect, it is like watching a football game, recording yards gained, number of first downs, sacks and not recording the score.  All of those other measures are most useful when they can be related to the bottom line.

If a questionnaire has 50 questions, all 50 should be (and usually are) related to organizational effectiveness in some way.  But, some of these are going to be stronger than others for any particular organization and situation.  If I knew which ones they were, I wouldn’t have to conduct a survey.  The survey results will give me the answer if I include the right questions.

True, some of the effects cannot be measured directly by an employee survey (e.g., financial results, turnover, production), but we still need to measure engagement, perceived productivity, service to others).  And yes, we really should measure those other external variables and statistically relate them to the survey results.

Posted by: rayseghers | August 20, 2010

The Rise or Fall of Unions?

We’ve read about the decline in union membership over the last few years and some may have thought that this was a good thing figuring that workers were saying that they didn’t need the support of a union.  Maybe employers were actually listening to and taking care of their workers directly with no need for a union.

Well, the recession has put that theory to the test and it seems that mutual commitment between workers and employers is dead and it’s “every man for himself.” Does this signal a rebirth of labor unions in America?  It might or it might signal the final death of unions or at least a drastic restructuring.  Why?

We also hear that America is becoming a society of contractors that go from company to company over the life of their careers.  Can we have a society composed of 200 million sole proprietors?  Would there be a union for contractors?  Would it take care of employees?

Obviously, I don’t have the answers to these questions so I supposed that we will just have to wait and see how things play out.

But my advice for now to:

  • employers is to properly value your workforce properly, treat them as an investment and not as an expense.
  • workers is to learn everything you can, keep your skills fresh and keep looking for your next opportunity.

In a perfect world these two sets of advice are contradictory, but in our world it makes perfect sense.

Posted by: rayseghers | August 17, 2010

Mutual Commitment: What happened?

When the Loyalty Institute launched its employee survey business in early 1997 it was a “buyer’s market.”  Companies were scrambling to attract and retain employees.  We talked about the “Battle for workforce share,” exhorting companies to create work environments that were conducive to long-term employee development.

Our new survey was entitled the Mutual Commitment Survey.  The idea was simple.  Organizations needed to give commitment in order to get commitment.  People talked about a win-win situation where workers were happy and productive and organizations were profitable.

Of course, 10 years later the economic situation was very different.  It was a “seller’s market.”  Now companies were scrambling to stay afloat.  Attracting and retaining employees was not only not a priority, companies were cutting employees left and right.  Creating an employee friendly work environment was long forgotten.  Even the Loyalty Institute didn’t survive.

What will the economic recovery bring:  mutual commitment or mutual distrust?  I suspect that at first it will be neither.  Companies are going to be desperate to rebuild their workforce and employees are going to be desperate to get a job and put food on the table.  After that, I’m not sure.  I hope that companies will start thinking about long-term employee relationships but I think that employees will have to remain at least a little skeptical.   Burn me once, shame on you.  Burn me twice, shame on me.

Of course, maybe it’s a moot point.  Younger workers don’t expect employment for life anyway so they will take care of themselves first.  Organizations will need to understand that and prepare accordingly.

Posted by: rayseghers | August 6, 2010

It Still Matters!

As a survey consultant, one sometimes wonders whether it still matters.  Well, recent research confirms that it does.

I just saw the WorkatWork Engagement Study 2010 – The Impact of Rewards Programs on Employee Engagement. The bottom line: The study confirmed that total rewards structures, programs and policies influence employee engagement. That’s fantastic.  It confirms that rewards are still a valuable tool in motivating and retaining employees.  However, the study goes on to say that the majority of compensation professionals do not necessarily consider how total rewards programs affect employee engagement in the design of rewards structures, policies and programs.  Well, hey, you don’t really have to know the mechanics of it, right?

I also just saw a report from Gallup showing the relationship between employee engagement and business metrics such as:

  • Productivity
  • Employee turnover
  • Profitability
  • Customer satisfaction

Surprised?  I hope not.  Survey practitioners have been preaching this for 50 years.  So, you see, it still matters after all.

Posted by: rayseghers | July 28, 2010

5. Did you see…

the recently published study — Financial Sector Sees Massive Drop in Employee Engagement — from Modern Survey?


Minneapolis, MN, July 20, 2010 – Over the past twelve months, employee engagement has dropped significantly across the U.S. workforce. In March 2010, Modern Survey released the results of a comprehensive study depicting a precipitous decline in the degree to which U.S. workers are psychologically invested in their work. Now, nearly six months later, a new study focused specifically on the financial services industry shows the same trend of declining engagement, only magnified to a startling degree.

While employee engagement had trended upward in the U.S. financial services sector from 2008 to 2009, over the past year, the industry has experienced a tremendous decline. Most alarmingly, the number of disengaged employees has skyrocketed from 11% of the population in 2009 to 29% in 2010, a statistically significant increase of eighteen percentage points.


While this is not surprising, it is nonetheless very scary.  Organizations in all sectors must examine their people strategy to ensure that they are doing everything they can to create a workplace environment that builds engagement and encourages an ethic of teamwork and service to others.

Well, you know my bias as an employee survey consultant…

Let’s face it.  Employee survey projects are a lot like diet programs.  The problem is not with the design or even with the intentions.  The problem is with the follow-up.  Things start off great but then life/business gets in the way.  But they don’t have to fail.

When most HR managers start thinking about conducting an employee survey, their thoughts tend to jump to questionnaire selection or construction.  Then they start brainstorming how data collection should happen.  Whoa!  It’s great that HR managers want to be action oriented and get things done, but they need to make sure that they are getting the information that they really need.  They should begin with the most basic question of all – Why survey?  What data do I need?  How am I going to use it?  Sounds simple, right?  So many tend to focus on the tool and not on the goal.

Now some might get scared by the idea of building a model of organizational effectiveness.  Sounds like something from one their college classes that they hated.  They know that the model ought to include things like leadership, communications, team work, engagement, etc., etc.   But which comes first?  What causes what?  This is where the model comes in.

The good news is that Workplace Stars has already done the hard part for you.  Workplace Stars has built the Workplace Excellence Model of organizational effectiveness and even has a 60 item questionnaire measuring each aspect of the model – the Workplace Excellence Audit.

The Workplace Excellence Model

The model focuses on three key dimensions – Stewardship, Engagement/Passion, and Service.

Stewardship – Listen to Your Marketplace

Doing the right things to protect the long term viability, financial health and well-being of your organization and your people.

Engagement/Passion – Listen to Your People

The internal climate necessary to encourage deep personal connection and ignite the effort required to continuously renew one’s professional skills and capabilities. Where everyone at your organization strives for excellence in everything they do, beyond just doing a job.

Service – Listen to Your Customers

An authentic commitment cascading down from senior management to the frontline for being in service to each other and customers.

This model is fairly simple and yet quite comprehensive – it looks at macro (organizational) issues as well as micro (group and individual) issues and puts the pieces together like a finished puzzle.

The key is that this model is not just a string of categories; it is a cause-and-effect look at organizational issues and behaviors.  It shows that action plans must start with the very values that guide the organization and must have an impact on the critical outcomes that determine the success or failure of the organization.  The model will be your Guiding Star to organizational success.

For more information, please visit

Posted by: rayseghers | July 6, 2010

Performance Appraisal – A Review

I received a copy of The Essential Performance Review Handbook by Sharon Armstrong and decided to review the book given my previous comments on performance appraisals in this blog.

She captures the essence of the issue in the first line of the Introduction (“It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way …”): “Performance appraisals can be one of the most anxiety-provoking aspects of work life – for both supervisors and employees.”  Ain’t it the truth!

The good news is that she examines the issue from both sides and provides concrete directions to get the job done and to get it done right.  The book would be useful whether your organization has a formal appraisal process or not since most of the problems really happen directly between the supervisor and employee.

If your organization does not have an appraisal form then you are really in luck since she provides 10 very detailed sample forms.  This alone would save you hours of valuable time.

Of course she deals with legal issues as well as compensation issues.  She even covers telecommuting issues.  One of the most interesting sections (Chapter 9) explains the different ways to handle Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y.

Bottom Line:  If you are involved with performance reviews from either side of the table, this book will help you get through it easier.

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