Ever since the term “employee engagement” became synonymous with increased productivity, retention, profit increase and better customer satisfaction, companies have been seeking to turn this abstract concept into a trackable metric by administering annual employee engagement surveys. How accurate and useful is this popular HRa tool?

Some argue that employees are more inclined to answer positively to employee engagement questions, creating a situation in which, on the surface, everything seems fine. This could be from fear of retaliation, general disinterest in taking time out of a busy day or feeling that their answers won’t make a difference. If the surveys we’re conducting don’t yield any actionable information will the results make any difference in the way the workplace is run? In turn, if employees don’t see an actual change in the work environment why should they take time out of their day to fill out an employee engagement survey?

Surveys should not just be about checking the pulse of your workplace, they should be about constantly trying to improve the workplace. Many companies are now using employee engagement surveys to generate their own people data, allowing them to gain deeper insights into their company’s culture and better inform how they design their employee experience.

Google is leading the way in this respect and has been using its people data to tailor different aspects of its people processes to fit its unique work culture. In one study, Google sought to find the perfect formula for creating effective teams. To do this they looked at the performance metrics of each team and qualitative data. By combining these metrics they were able to capture the human side and hard data to see which teams did the best, and more importantly why.

Here’s how you can use people data to make better-informed HR decisions for your company:

  1. Ask yourself what is your most pressing people issues e.g. recruitment, retention?
  2. Survey your employees about how they think you are doing on those most pressing issues, and what they would do to improve
  3. Tell your employees what you learned
  4. Run experiments based on what your people tell you

The most important rule for conducting an employee engagement survey is to never ask a question about an aspect of the workplace that you don’t intend to change.