Jun 282018

Feedback Overload and Confusion – a Guide for Commenting on Employee Surveys

We run a massive employee survey every year or so called The Loop, which is powered by Culture Amp.  We are big fans of Culture Amp, as they provide not only a great survey tool but benchmarks of relevant peer companies so our results can be placed in external context as well as internal context.

The survey is anonymous and only really rolled up to large employee groups (big teams, departments, offices, etc.), and we take the results very seriously.  Every year we run it, we create an Organization Development Plan out of the results that steers a lot of the work of our Leadership team and People team for the coming year.

I just read every single comment that employees took the time to write out in addition to their checkbox or rating responses.  This year, that amounted to over 1,200 verbatim comments.  I am struggling to process all of them, for a bunch of reasons you’d expect.  Next year we may give employees some examples of comments that are hard to process so they understand what it’s like to read all of them…and we may reduce the number of places where employees can make comments so we try to get only the most important (and more detailed) comments from people to keep the volume a little more manageable.

But I thought it might be useful to give some general advice to people who write comments on anonymous surveys.  Your company may have every good intention of following up on every last comment in an employee survey (we do!), but it’s difficult to do so when:

  • The comment is not actionable.  For example, “The best thing about working at Return Path is…’I can afford to live nearby.'”  That doesn’t do much for us!
  • The comment is too vague.  For example, “I’m not the engineer I was a year ago” – we have no idea what that means.  Is it a plus or a minus?  What is behind it?
  • The comment is likely to be in conflict with other comments and doesn’t give enough detail to help resolve conflicts.  40 positive comments about the lunch program in an office and 40 negative comments about the lunch program in the same office kind of get washed out, but “Lunches are good, but please have more gluten-free options” is super helpful.
  • The comment lacks context.  When the answer to the question “What would be the one thing we could do right away to make RP a better place to work?” is “Investing in some systems,” that doesn’t give us a starting point for a next step.
  • The commenter disqualifies him or herself.  Things like “Take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt…I’m just an engineer and have no real idea of what I’m doing” that punctuate a comment are challenging to process.
  • The commenter forgets that the comments are anonymous.  “I have serious problems with my manager and often think of leaving the company” is a total bummer to hear, but there’s not a lot we can do with it.  I hope with something like this that you are also having a discussion with someone on the People team or your manager’s manager!

We’re doing everything employees would expect us to do – reading the ratings and comments, looking at trends over time, breaking them down by office and department, and creating a solid Organizational Development Plan that we’ll present publicly and follow up on…but hopefully this is useful for our company and others in the future as a guide to more actionable commenting in employee surveys.