New employee engagement tools replacing annual surveys


Mission Health System devoted time and effort to create a positive workplace for its more than 12,000 employees. The western North Carolina-based healthcare provider increased employee perks, added recognition programs, operated a booming employee wellness program and invested in employee engagement tools, namely a 100-question annual survey.

Despite these efforts, engagement survey scores remained flat, while frustration with the engagement efforts increased. The numbers caught the attention of the organization’s top leaders, who started asking hard questions about their engagement programs.

“Why are we dumping money into these big programs that are showing no results in the way that people actually feel about coming to work?” said Nancy Critcher-White, director of team member engagement at Mission Health. “What are we measuring and how are we measuring it and are we measuring the right thing?”

High employee engagement is a top strategic priority for Mission Health, Critcher-White said. It can result in “an environment where everyone can be their best, [which] leads to excellent healthcare.”

Mission Health ends use of annual engagement survey
After an investigation into alternative employee engagement tools, Mission Health decided to end the use of its annual survey. The healthcare provider switched to shorter, more frequent pulse surveys delivered at least once a quarter, giving managers the ability to more quickly identify and address management issues.

Mission Health elected to use tools such as StandOut from The Marcus Buckingham Company Inc., a performance talent management firm acquired last year by ADP.

While pulse surveys helped, the key to improving engagement at Mission Health was facilitating regular communication between employees and their managers. The company did this using a check-in application. Each week, employees used the tool to share their weekly progress, concerns and upcoming efforts.

A check-in tool is a two-way communication vehicle, Critcher-White said. If team members don’t receive meaningful attention from their leaders about near-term issues, they won’t feel engaged.

Amy Leschke-Kahle, vice president of performance acceleration at Marcus Buckingham, made a similar point when she said that measuring engagement itself doesn’t increase engagement.

“Just because you measure something doesn’t mean you move it,” she said. The check-in process, which encourages frequent conversations, is what increases engagement.

Annual engagement survey in steady decline
Mission Health made the move to a pulse employee engagement survey in 2015, which was a bold move at that time. When it made the switch, 90% of all organizations were still using annual engagement surveys, according to Gartner.

But Gartner expects those numbers to steadily decline. In 2019, the consultancy predicts only about 74% of organizations will still be using large engagement survey approaches, which, for most, is an annual or biannual survey. By 2020, that number is expected to drop to 63%.

Mission Health now has enough experience with its new approach to know that it works. Engagement scores have increased, and the new system has led to a “multiple point decrease in our first-year turnover,” Critcher-White said.

Mission Health is not alone in looking for new tools. The reason large annual survey use is declining is because they are “time-consuming and slow,” said Brian Kropp, group vice president of Gartner’s HR practice. It can take three to six months to prepare a survey, collect the data, analyze it and disseminate it. Plus, annual surveys are backward-looking.

“You get a snapshot of what the world used to look like, which is really easy to explain away because you can say, ‘well that was six months ago,'” Kropp said.

Pulse surveys may be the top competitor to annual engagement surveys, but they are far from the only alternative. The market for employee engagement tools is seeing a variety of technologies that can glean engagement independent of surveys, Kropp said.

These are analytical tools that look for engagement clues in employee behavior. They may include the use of social media monitoring to check for employee dissatisfaction and building monitor systems that track when people arrive and leave (see sidebar).


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