employee survey

Do your employees trust you enough to fill out an employee survey?

Employee surveys

The topic of employee surveys is always a controversial topic. Management wants to hear employee opinions and employees want to do the right thing but are afraid their answers can be tracked. If you have read this blog, you know that I am always thinking about corporate culture. Part of this is because I believe that employees who believe and trust the leadership team can make for a more cohesive, fun and effective workplace. 

Can management track employee survey results to the individual level and as an employee should I be afraid of retaliation? Simply put, employees should not be afraid.

I have been involved in these surveys for over 15 years. I have helped create them, purchased them and tried to encourage employee participation with employee surveys. I am here to tell you that in all my years around these surveys, I have never seen or heard of management having the ability to track individual responses. This week I try to explain why employees should not fear the employee satisfaction survey.

When an employer asks employees to fill out an a company survey, there are a number of fears:

  • Big Brother is watching over the employee and can trace the answers back to the individual.
  • Comments and writing style can be interpreted and traced back to the individual.
  • Leadership will hold grudges against departments and managers will hold grudges against individuals.

Ohhhh, the paranoia and mistrust.

This goal of this post is three-fold:

  1. Debunk the myths that individual answers are read, tracked and hunted down.
  2. Provide the business logic behind why a company would NOT (and should not) track individual answers.
  3. Explain why employees SHOULD all participate in these surveys.

I understand why many companies end up with low participation when it comes to employee surveys. In some companies, the leadership or the HR department sends out a single email with a link to the survey. The company will give the survey all of 20 seconds at the company meeting and then expects everyone to participate.

Leadership should dedicate real-time to explaining why and how the results of these surveys can make a difference. If an unfamiliar list of questions arrives in my inbox, I am going to get a little suspicious on a good day. Catch me on a bad day and I will get down right pissy. Unfamiliar links to web sites will make me suspicious and think that there is a virus, bot, or spam in my inbox. We tell our children not to talk to strangers driving windowless vans, and we tell employees not to click on suspicious looking links. Can you blame me for not participating? Employees need to understand why taking a few minutes out of their day to answer survey questions can make a difference. Employee surveys should be explained at least 3 different times, three different ways. If I receive the message via email, hear the message from the company leader and hear the message from my manager, I am probably going to understand this is important.

Employee surveys SHOULD BE (and usually are) conducted by an outside third-party to add credibility and protect anonymity. Hence, the link to the unfamiliar website. The goal of collecting this information is NOT so that companies can comb through responses and find out who has a negative attitude. Seriously, no one has the time to sift through the answers. The goal of the surveys is two-fold:

  1. Figure out what changes the leadership should make to IMPROVE the work place.
  2. Figure out what employees like and where leadership should NOT make changes. Employees really do appreciate the company picnic!

Best Place to Work lists are often made via employee surveys. An outside, third-party will survey all of the employees in the company in a number of areas, and the companies with the best results and the most participation make the list.

The categories can include the following:

  • Management transparency: the amount of information management shares with the company. Does management share the vision of the company or explain the financials?
  • Benefits: Is the employer’s benefits competitive with companies of a similar size in the local area and industry?
  • Training and Development: Is the company investing in the employee force with employee training?
  • Vacation: Is the vacation policy competitive with other companies in the industry?
  • Career: Is your manager helping you grow your career?

High scoring companies are then sent an in-depth questionnaire that goes into details of the company. Companies with the best answers make the list.

Making the list helps in the following ways:

  • It’s always good when an outside third-party validates to the employees that the company is a great place to work. This reinforces to the employee that the company is a good place to work and helps with retention. Employees have bragging rights they can flaunt to their peers which helps employee referrals.
  • Smart candidates will search out the companies that make these lists and apply to these companies before applying to companies who do not make the list.
  • Internally, making the list becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When an outside third-party is telling employees they are working for a Best Work Place, the employees take pride in the company, the building, who they hire, and their work ethic.
  • The Best Place to Work logo is listed on business cards and in email signatures as a subtle reminder to employees and marketing tool to potential recruits and customers alike. This logo legitimizes the business.

In talking to my HR peers, some of them have had a hard time making these lists because the employees do not want to fill out the survey. These peers work in companies that have all the characteristics of a Best Place to Work, but they are missing the employee participation in the survey. To make these lists, the employer needs a very high percentage of the employees participating in the survey.

Right or wrong, low participation within an employee survey is interpreted to mean the employee force isn’t engaged, doesn’t care or has nothing good to say.

This assumption makes sense. Low participation should not happen in a company where employees are engaged and are proud of where they work. If the management team explains how filling out the survey helps the business, why wouldn’t an engaged workforce that believes they have a great company help with marketing, recruiting, and making the company even better?

Aggregate level results of the survey are shared with the management team and this information is very valuable because the results can help leadership FIX and improve any shortcomings with the corporate culture, benefits, vacation policy etc.

I have never seen individual names attached to survey results or individual comments.

Debunking the myths:

As an HR professional, I do NOT want to ask employees to participate in a survey that can be tracked to the individual level. If a manager wants to get identify individual comments, then go mid evil on them and cut out their tongues. If they need individual level feedback, they probably are not going to be able to keep it quiet and we are focusing on the wrong thing. I WANT the data to be anonymous for the following reasons:

  • The company knows they are NOT going to receive honest feedback if the answers are personally identifiable. The information will be what the managers WANT to hear, and not what the managers NEED to hear. 
  • There is too much risk at stake. Who knows where this information could land or how it could be interpreted. I would literally vote with my job if I thought this information was going to be tracked to the individual level. HR would be useless in this type of non-trusting and suspicious environment. Yes, I really would have to find another place to work. Within a profession that already has a bad rep, no one would trust HR. No would trust management and who wants to work in that environment?
  • At the end of the day, data is the most effective at the aggregate level. Whether we have 50, 100 or 100,000 comments, focusing on the 1 or two negative (or positive) outliers is taking away focus from the real issues. Leadership needs to accept that we are not going to please everyone on all of the dimensions surveyed. There will ALWAYS be someone who doesn’t appreciate everything or interprets the questions in the literal sense and doesn’t see the big picture. There will always be a “worst” score and if we solve that worst score, the next worst score will take it’s place.
  • Working in HR I have talked with the folks that are responsible for these surveys. I know of more than one company that has been subpoenaed for individual information and they were not able to produce it because it literally didn’t exist. (FYI, Suing your employer is not the way to remain anonymous in an employee survey folks)
  • No vendor that administers survey’s wants their results trackable to the individual level. If the word got out that the third-party administering the employee survey is sharing individual comments and results with management, we would hear about it. Glassdoor, Reddit, and TechCrunch would be spreading the gossip like wildfire. 

Next time you are worried about your individual answers being tracked, think about the downside for management and the survey provider if the word got out. It just isn’t worth it. Companies spend a LOT of money to run these survey’s and it isn’t to ferret out any individual employees.

Next week post: what leadership can do to reduce paranoia around employee surveys. 

See you at the after party,

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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7 steps to Beat the Performance Improvement Plan

Posted: by HRNasty in Manage your Manager, What HR Really Thinks
Performance Improvement Plan

We are not talking about Gladys Knight’s and the Pip’s. We are talking Performance Improvement Plan.


What is a Performance Improvement Plan, AKA PIP? How does it work? What are your chances of surviving beyond the Performance Improvement Plan? Can an employee still have a successful career after a PiP?

The Performance Improvement Plan, aka PIP was originally designed to help the struggling employee by providing the tools needed to succeed at work.

  • The Performance Improvement Plan documents key deliverables / behaviors against a baseline that describes success.
  • The Performance Improvement Plan is usually prepared by the manager and signed by both the employee and the manager indicating an agreement on what success looks like.
  • At the end of an agreed upon time frame, the manager rates success or failure against the deliverables / behaviors. Meet the deliverables and you are off the Performance Improvement Plan.
  • If deliverables or behaviors are not met, the result is usually termination of employment. If this situation sounds dire, you would be correct. Things are not good. Fear not, the Performance Improvement Plan can be beat. HRNasty has your back.

If you are being put on a Performance Improvement Plan, count yourself lucky. A Performance Improvement Plan will spell out what success on your job looks like. If you are on a Performance Improvement Plan, then your manager took the time to give you a path to success and this is a good thing. Performance Improvement Plan’s are not used at the senior or executive levels. At these levels it is assumed you know what is up, what is expected and what success looks like.  

Mindset of a manager putting an employee on a Performance Improvement Plan

Unfortunately, it has been my experience that the most managers putting an employee onto a Performance Improvement Plan are frustrated. Although the intent of a Performance Improvement Plan is to figure out a path to success,  managers usually write the Performance Improvement Plan with a, dare I say it, “anticipation of failure” mentality. Below are a couple of reasons a manager with a bad attitude would adopt the use of such a plan.

  • Performance Improvement Plan’s are put into place so that the company will have more protection in the case of a wrongful termination suit. With a clear path to success documented and signed, the court will have a hard time acknowledging “wrongful termination”. Psychologically, an employee will have a hard time pressing charges when they know they signed a document saying they were underperforming and didn’t meet specific expectations.
  • The manager is on autopilot and has a “set it and forget it” mentality Once the Performance Improvement Plan is documented and signed by the employee, all the manager has to do is set a follow up for the end of the designated period and see what progress is made towards the deliverables. If the deliverables are not met, the decision is easy for the manager. At this point, the manager can literally say, “I gave the employee a clear path to success, and the employee failed”.

That all being said, there are managers who will use the Performance Improvement Plan the way it was designed and are sincere about making sure the employee is successful. This manager will usually check in on a regular basis and make sure that the plan is understood and there are no barriers in front of the employee’s success. This manager cares.    

The key to success is to show you want to succeed. We do this by demonstrating effort and providing updates on your progress. We need to convince our manager to care about our performance. If a manager doesn’t see any effort, or doesn’t receive updates on the effort, it is easy to assume that we don’t care. Remember, without any updates or obvious visual cues, there isn’t any reason to believe that change is afoot. I have seen just as many employees attain success, as I have not.

Individual manager consideration:

Before I share my philosophy on beating the Performance Improvement Plan, I will provide a disclaimer. There are a number of managers and HR folks who feel strongly that it is very difficult to win back a confidence when performance has been in question. The thought process is that if we have lost the confidence of our manager, can we ever really get it back? This will be dependent on the manager, the role and the reasoning behind the Performance Improvement Plan. When we have lost faith in our friends, gaining that trust back depends on the severity of the crime and the visible intent and effort of the perpetrator. Some would say that if you are on a Performance Improvement Plan, you should just start looking for another job. Even if you get past the Performance Improvement Plan, convincing your manager that you have seen the light is an uphill battle. Some believe that as soon as the employee falters, there will be an “I told you the employee was hopeless and was going to fail” mentality held by the manager. You alone will have to judge your manager and the sincerity of the chance being given.

Beat the Performance Improvement Plan

Polygraph tests can be beat and so can Performance Improvement Plan’s.

Success or failure is going to depend on the cause of the PiP and the effort of the employee. We need to provide visible effort and updates throughout the length of the Performance Improvement Plan.

If you find yourself with a Performance Improvement Plan and a pen waiting for your signature, below are the steps needed to beat the Performance Improvement Plan.

  1. Take responsibility for prior behavior. From the manager’s perspective, this is the last chance. Managers are usually very frustrated when they are required to put an employee on a Performance Improvement Plan. Being defensive, blaming others (even if it isn’t our fault) or making excuses will not help our case.
  2. Ask for a day to think about it. Ask for an afternoon to think about it, but try to buy yourself some time. First thing the next morning, march into your managers office and explain the following. “I was wrong, I made a mistake, and I really want this to work. I like the company, I like the job, and I want to work with the team moving forward. I really appreciate the opportunity to make this work.” Give the manager the opportunity to hear these words and see sincerity. The first step of any 12-step program is to admit there is a situation.    
  3. Always try to negotiate a longer Performance Improvement Plan. If you are put on a 2-week Performance Improvement Plan, ask for 4 weeks. If you are put on a 2-month Performance Improvement Plan, ask for 3 months. The longer you have to change the behavior, the better your chances of proving you can maintain change long term. It can be difficult to show real or consistent improvement in just 1 to 2 weeks. Always ask for extra time.
  4. Make sure your Performance Improvement Plan is measurable. We need specific examples of what success looks like listed in the Performance Improvement Plan. If the goal is to deliver a report, explain what will be in that report. Just stating that Employee will provide a report on Acme’s publishing numbers isn’t enough. Are we going to break that report out by geographic? Are we going to provide potential problems and solutions to increasing publishing numbers? You may provide a spreadsheet, but your manager may have been expecting a 20 slide Power Point with the spreadsheet embedded in the presentation. Google the term “SMART Goals” for examples of what your specific goals look like.
  5. Once the Performance Improvement Plan clock is ticking, make it a point to provide proactive communication to your manager. Right or wrong, your manager feels like they already put a lot of effort into your performance. For many managers this is a set it and forget it document, so WE need to drive our success. Regular progress reports provided on a consistent basis against deliverables will give your manager insight into your effort and results. This will provide a path to changing your manager’s mind around your performance.
  6. Do not give any excuses, ever. Zero. The last thing a manager wants with someone on a Performance Improvement Plan is an excuse. No one wants to hear about the dog that ate the homework from the student with a reputation for not turning in his or her assignments.
  7. In most cases THE TEAM NEEDS TO SEE A DIFFERENCE as well. This change could be in the quality of work, quantity of work, attitude, communication style, etc. If the manager and the team doesn’t see a change then we are back to the “day before” the Performance Improvement Plan was put into place. Your manager isn’t the only one looking for a change in behavior. Show your team you are making a sincere effort.
  8. Check in regularly with your manager and confirm that you are making progress in relationship to the plan. Ask for specific confirmation that in their opinion you are on track.

Beat the PIP and we will see you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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