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Have you noticed the change in attitude in job seekers looking to join your organisation over the years?  Two decades ago potential new recruits would offer you their talents and services with a long term career in mind. These days people expect to be offered services and benefits to entice them to work for the organisation and always seem to be on the lookout for the next best package available.

The downside of‍‍‍ engagement surveys

Why is this? Over the years we have witnessed the emergence of ‘Entitlement Syndrome’ which is when someone thinks about what they are entitled to before they consider anyone or anything else. Entitlement Syndrome has also led to a cultural change in many organisations with staff having highly unreasonable expectations about their entitlements. An attitude of entitlement shows up as a lack of gratitude and personal responsibility, which leads to a lack of satisfaction and an overarching propensity to blame others when things are not going the way they would like them to. Behaviours demonstrated include common use of the phrases “it’s not my job so I’m not going to do it” or “it’s not my fault, the managers don’t know what they are doing”.  

When these negative attitudes become evident in a workplace, addressing them is important. There have been numerous reports written about how to engage staff with the view that if you keep staff happy you will have a productive business.Over the years we have continued to witnessed the emergence of ‘Entitlement Syndrome’. Almost all organisations have heard of, or currently implement, some form of Staff Engagement Survey.

The objective of these surveys was to assist management to understand the views and opinions of staff. They could then take action, as a result of the feedback, to keep staff happy and increase retention and job satisfaction. The number of staff who participate in these Staff Engagement Surveys and what they say about the organisation and its leaders determines the engagement percentage reported back to executives and boards.  The major problem with these surveys is they are not correlated with actions or measurable outcomes in terms of how staff are engaged in the organisation. The improvement in outcomes derived from high levels of engagement among staff are dependent on the quality of action planning that the organisation undertakes after the results are provided.

If I had a dollar for every time I‘ve heard that no action has been taken in response to these surveys or I hear a CEO rant on the lack of value of these surveys because of their ineffectiveness at causing culture change, I would be rich! In a report published (2015) about staff engagement surveys, Deloitte went so far as to say that the once-a-year survey has become “perilously obsolete”. While Deloitte identified the problem, McKinsey found a possible solution in continuous shorter-term pinpointed surveys to gain company views and opinions from staff. Even organisations that develop and manage staff engagement surveys are now starting to reshape the model for gaining staff feedback through opinion and views. They do this on a more regular basis with a greater focus on actionable outcomes.  

But herein lies the challenge. Many leaders don’t realise that staff engagement surveys are one of the very reasons that a culture of entitlement exists.  Of even greater concern is the realisation that such surveys contribute to higher claims of bullying and harassment, larger workers compensation claims, increased sick and stress leave, and more litigation. Executives typically send engagement surveys to measure opinions on:

  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Opportunities for recognition
  • Pay and benefits
  • Position descriptions
  • Opportunities for training and development
  • How they find their leadership team
  • Whether they are happy with their work environment

All these questions ask staff if they want more or less of something and encourage people to reflect on what’s in it for them. The questions are aimed at hearing the views and opinions of what staff want that would make them happier, or how the company can best meet their personal needs.

In a culture of entitlement it is highly likely there will be more cases of:

  • Lower individual self-worth, which comes as a result of feeling like your needs are not being met
  • Higher reports of job dissatisfaction when people’s views on their own entitlements are not being realised by the company
  • Less personal accountability and higher incidences of blaming others.‍‍‍

‍‍‍The outcome? Less workplace harmony and productivity. It is essential that leaders understand the harmful impact engagement surveys can have by reinforcing self entitlement rather than staff collectively achieving the vision of a company’s desired cultural state.

Article written by Sue Jauncey: Pulse Founder, Global Chief Product Officer and registered psychologist.

All too often cultures are built by default and not intentionally designed. Culture – not staff happiness – should be one of the highest strategic priorities of a board and executive management team. All too often cultures are built by default and not intentionally directed and formed. To build an intentional culture is a business process; culture should be scored and measured in the same way we look to understand our organisation’s financial state.

Instead of running Staff Engagement Surveys, implement a philosophy of Collective Achievement. Collective Achievement is defined as “shared or group intelligence/actions that emerges from the collective efforts from top to bottom”, or, in the words of Lao Tzu, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

Focusing staff on Collective Achievement is about

  • Emphasising the vision and business objectives
  • Clearly and concisely outlining what is expected of staff
  • Focusing on a set of signature behaviours that all staff members from top to bottom must demonstrate
  • Linking these behaviours to business objectives that staff have to work collectively to achieve
  • Assessing the culture and quantifying individual actions so people understand the impact they’re having on the culture of the organisation
  • Working collectively to achieve a shared goal results in higher self-worth for each individual staff member.

Research has found that when the focus is taken off self and what individuals think they need, and is replaced with working together to achieve a shared outcome, the achievement of shared outcomes results in shared stories, feeling of belongingness, and greater job satisfaction and positive experiences.

In addition, Collective Achievement has been proven to lead to the following positive outcomes:

  • Business results accelerate and improve beyond expectations when you harness your human capability talents
  • It enables the organisation to celebrate together
  • It removes division between leaders and staff
  • Boards and executives can effectively govern and apply oversight to the organisations cultural state
  • Movement and momentum happens across an organisation when everyone is focused on key signature behaviours that are linked to the company vision and its strategic objectives.

The answer to a healthy, product workplace culture is to focus on collective achievement. So ditch the staff engagement surveys and, if you need to measure your culture and how well your organisation focuses on collective achievement,‍‍‍ ask us about our Culture Audit.

So how can you avoid the pitfalls of staff engagement surveys?