How to Overcome Common Barriers to Employee Satisfaction Surveys

Article by Pat Fiorenza, Research Analytics Manager – RMS

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics collects troves of data on market activity, working conditions, price changes, and productivity in the U.S. economy. One of their data sets is the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). This data set gives an incredible window into American’s daily life. For example, the Bureau reports that we spend about 1.78 hours of our day on household activities, 1.18 hours eating and drinking, and 5.19 on leisure and sports. The Bureau also reports we spend about 8.84 hours a day sleeping.

The last data point from ATUS I wanted to share is the number of hours working per day for employed persons. The magic number they report is 7.62 hours (for 2019), with a low of 7.48 in 2009 and a high of 7.75 in 2014.

When we think about this number as a yearly total and do some estimates, we quickly see how much time we invest into work life. As leaders, HR managers, CEOs, and supervisors, we also hold a responsibility to do everything to make sure the work environment is inclusive, supportive, safe, intellectually stimulating, and empathetic.

I feel passionate that Employee Satisfaction Surveys can be a tool to shift cultures. Even in the most toxic cultures, data can find positive attributes to highlight, giving an organization a jump-start towards its change initiatives by focusing on a strengths-based approach.

As much as I advocate for collecting and using data to drive strategy, I am not naïve to the pressures and barriers to conducting quality research and surveying employees. Rarely do we find organizations are against being data-driven. I selected four barriers to employee satisfaction surveys and offered some solutions to consider.

Barrier 1:  “We aren’t ready to enact change. We know there are issues, but we think doing this and not acting is worse than doing nothing.”

Solution: Don’t Boil the Ocean. There are plenty of small-scale activities you can do post-survey. The first item is to hold a listening session, share the report’s key findings, and ask individuals what was missing or if the analysis missed the mark. You can even re-survey individuals and keep this process anonymous if additional follow-up is needed to clarify issues. You can also develop sub-committees or groups to look at the data and task them with implementing changes and recommendations. The big lesson is communicating what you’re doing and providing routine updates for improved transparency. You don’t need to rush to implement recommendations. Be thoughtful with your approach and next steps. An essential short-term activity is letting your staff know you’re listening and changes are on the way.

Barrier 2:  “We can’t afford to do this right. We can’t invest right now.”

Solution: The budget is always an issue, but you’re also kicking the can down the road. Surveys, although an investment, don’t need to break the bank. You can scope the study down and re-work it to fit within your budget. Employee satisfaction surveys also have additional benefits. The data collected may help you understand retention better, as new initiatives can help keep staff and avoid the need to recruit hire. Employee satisfaction surveys work best when connected to larger HR and corporate strategies, not just as single one-off projects.

Barrier 3:  “These never work. If an employee isn’t happy, a survey isn’t going to keep them.”

Solution: At RMS, we think of ourselves as storytellers first, then analysts. Our priority is to bring the data to life, identify trends and themes, and identify the story in the data. The analysis isn’t always hard work. It’s the conversion of data to insights and strategies. This process is recursive, and we work hand in hand with clients to ensure there is the value from our work.

Barrier 4: We can never get honest feedback.”

Solution: A third-party vendor can often work through those issues and solicit better employee feedback. A vendor will secure anonymity and protect employee confidentiality. At RMS, we have implemented several measures to protect employees’ information and privacy, particularly aggregating data so that supervisors or managers cannot put the pieces together to identify staff members.

The world is changing, and so are the employees’ expectations of the workplace. We know that happy employees mean happy clients. So to remain competitive and build healthy cultures, employee satisfaction is an excellent tool for your company to explore. Our employee satisfaction surveys focus on six constructs: direction, execution, connection, supervisors, work, pay and benefits. You can learn more about them here.

Interested in conducting a market research project with RMS?

Contact our Vice President of Corporate Development, Sandy Baker at or call 1-866-567-5422.

About RMS

Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc. (RMS) is a full-service market research firm in Central New York. Formed in 2002, RMS helps organizations that are looking to know more about their customers and/or potential customers. They conduct surveys, focus groups, mystery shopping, studies and analysis. Each project is customized and gets personal attention by the best in the business. RMS has a reputation for getting results and offers an independent means to conduct telephone, on-line and mail surveying, In-depth interviews, intercept interviews, and participant recruitment as well as focus group hosting through QualiSight, its onsite call center and focus group facility. Taking advantage of the region’s reputation for being a great market study barometer, RMS recruits and moderates for focus groups, community forums and town meetings.

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