Employee Satisfaction Research – a Starting Point for Reducing Staff Turnover

According to an Aon Hewitt report, the voluntary staff turnover rate in China in 2012 was 18.9%. The figures for the retail, high-tech, FMCG and healthcare industries appear more unsettling, reaching 31%, 26.6%, 19.5%, and 19.2% respectively.

High employee churn causes significant financial losses to a company. According to the AMA (American Management Association) survey findings, the cost of employee turnover is around 130% of an employee’s annual salary. What is more, the employee turnover cost of managers and sales employees can be as high as 200%–250% of their annual salary. With statistics like these it’s only natural to ask, “What can be done to reduce employee turnover?”

A common – and perhaps short-sighted – answer is that a pay rise would work. However, seasoned managers all know how short the effect of such a solution can be. In fact, staff well-being and their level of satisfaction have been found to directly impact on employee turnover. A staff satisfaction programme for understanding, monitoring, and improving employee satisfaction is therefore becoming increasingly important to companies in China.

What is an employee satisfaction survey?

A typical staff satisfaction programme involves five steps: identify issues; measure issues; create an action plan; implement actions; and re-dontevaluate. Employee research is the first step when undertaking a programme to improve the working experience of staff. It gives employees a “voice” and thus allows areas of dissatisfaction to be identified. Common approaches to employee research use a combination of qualitative and quantitative research designs. While a number of “off-the-shelf” employee survey packages are available for purchase, most companies choose a personalised programme conducted either by an external agency/partner or the in-house HR team.

Qualitative research methods tie in closely to the social sciences and are frequently used during early consultations with staff so as to identify those issues of greatest importance (to employees and to management alike) that should be measured. Key to this initial consultative stage is that employees are able to honestly and openly express their views about their organisation, both in terms of their experiences and their ambitions/desires, and that the survey must be reflective of this. Internal focus groups, online groups/forums, and in-depth, face-to-face or telephone interviews are all approaches that can be considered at this stage.

Following on from the initial qualitative research, there would normally be a phase of quantitative research. Designed to expand upon and develop the issues arising in the initial consultative stage, the quantitative research involves a much larger sample size and aims to quantify and measure opinion. It is usual for this to take the form of a census survey comprising mainly closed questions. All employees would normally be invited to participate, with an e-survey being the most common method used nowadays.

What would an employee satisfaction survey cover?

The areas that commonly impact on staff experience and thus tend to be covered in an employee survey include the following:

  • Company leadership/direction
  • Line management
  • Company communications
  • Opportunities for staff development
  • Working environment, facilities and conditions of service
  • Company culture

The challenges of employee research, and how to overcome them

One of the greatest challenges when carrying out staff consultations and surveys can be getting “buy-in” from employees. Poor response rates, unclear or insufficient questionnaire responses, or a failure to use the survey results to drive actions and make improvements are just some of the frustrations reported.

In order to improve response rates and participation, the following actions should be considered:

  • CEO involvement and support for the survey should be made clear. It is a good idea for the invitation to participate to come from the CEO.
  • More generally, management should demonstrate its support for the survey.
  • There should be publicity and information distributed prior to the survey (e.g. email alerts and team briefings in advance).
  • During completion of the survey, support should be readily available.
  • Incentives (e.g. prizes) can improve response rates dramatically.
  • There should be the promise to share headline results (e.g. bullet points about the principal issues emerging) very shortly after the close of the survey.

If external agencies are used for the design and delivery of the survey, there are certain actions they too can take to ensure a higher response rate:

  • Clear use of a recognisable logo in association with the survey
  • Help in composing an inviting introductory letter/email
  • Ensuring that the survey looks attractive and that answering the questions will be enjoyable
  • Paying attention to the wording and length of the questionnaire
  • Sending reminders to complete the survey (targeted only at the non-respondents)
  • Management of a survey helpline
  • Provision of a “Stop and Save” e-survey option – that is to say, a survey that does not need to be completed in one go

In summary, employee research is the starting point in understanding the needs and perceptions of the workforce and a vital first step in reducing staff churn. The findings of any employee research can – and should – be used to develop a strategy for building a committed workforce who will contribute to the well-being and future security and success of the organisation.

Author, Daniel Sun, B2B International

First published in Asia Research Magazine, Q1 2014