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Use of Online Surveys for HR Continue to Grow

By DH Communications, Inc.


No longer confined to paper-based surveys, HR departments and companies are using new technologies to conduct increasingly more sophisticated surveys online. These surveys include employee satisfaction, upward or "360" evaluations, and the performance review process. Open-ended questions, multiple formats, and complex branching tools mean HR professionals have the potential to gather more insight about employees than ever before.


Indeed, because technology is so much better than it was five years ago, and because costs continue to drop, companies are reaching out more than they ever were for employee feedback. Says Charlie Watts, Global Practice Leader for Organization and Employee Research at HR consulting company Towers Perrin, "We see two trends emerging: One, companies want more employee measurement and two, they are using data gleaned from employee surveys to make a business case for investments."


Online surveys make sense, especially for larger companies with employees based across the U.S. or around the world, where administrating a paper-based survey would be cost-prohibitive. According to Watts, online surveys offer companies a number of advantages including:

Lower Costs Initial setup costs, when compared to paper-based surveys, are higher, but the savings is seen with the elimination of printing, postage, and data entry.

Faster response times Online surveys eliminate the need to wait for responses to arrive back via postal or interoffice mail.

Higher response rates Companies are seeing higher response rates sometimes as high as 75 80%.

Convenience Employees and employers both find electronic surveys easy-to-use. Online surveys also lower errors and save time as they eliminate data entry.

Another benefit: Anonymity
Contrary to popular belief, online surveys can also offer employees complete anonymity. Packer Thomas, CPA and Business Consultants recently conducted an upward evaluation of all its employees including Principals, Managers, Supervisors, Firm Administrator, and Office Managers. Invitations to take the online survey were sent by email, with a two-week deadline to complete it. Reminders were sent to those who didn't respond after the first week. (Only the survey administrator knew how responded and didn't.)


Reports Kim Scheuermann, Director of HR, "Results were wonderful. We received a little more than half the responses by the end of the first week." The key benefit of the survey, according to Scheurman, was it offered employees complete anonymity. "Results were tallied in categories by staff level, for instance, 'Managers and Supervisors,' 'Seniors and Associates,' etc. To maintain anonymity, if one category had less than three staff respondents, results were reported in a category called, 'All Other.' We also eliminated the traditional open-ended question at the end. Employees could take the survey either at work or from their home computers and no names were attached."

Employee trust in the company is paramount. Says Watts, "Companies need to manage concerns about confidentiality with the right advance communications stressing that no one will ever see an individual response." Scheuermann backs this up: "I was the only person who had contact with our survey company. Once the reports were generated, individual employees saw only his or her own peer feedback."


Increasingly Sophisticated
According to the article, "Should we go paper or electronic?" in the Journal of Employee Communication Management (August 2002), online surveys allow companies increasing flexibility to conduct sophisticated testing and analysis. Survey tools and programs allow "multiple question-and-answer formats, real-time response error correction, and complex branching features that allow items to be targeted to specific employee groups." Branching is a feature that allows you to ask questions based on answers to previous questions and can be based on job title, gender, or specific corporate events, such as performance reviews. And, branching can include "targeted supplements" where a respondent who selects sales can be presented with a "sales force supplement" a set of questions pertaining to sales goals and objectives. While always an alternative with paper-based surveys, branching has been expensive and difficult to track and report. Online surveys have changed all that.


More importantly, companies can now tie employee satisfaction (ESAT) to the bottom line. While accurate measurement of ESAT on the bottom line is hard to define, a high ESAT often translates into happy customers. Online surveys allow companies to regularly track, measure, and analyze all areas of ESAT, including benefits packages, corporate culture and communications, and the willingness of employees to recommend the company to a friend. Many companies now tie their internal measures employee perceptions of customer satisfaction with actual customer surveys, building an even stronger link between the two.


But, says Watts, "while online surveys have numerous advantages, paper surveys aren't dead yet. Companies still not fully wired, such as manufacturing, retail, or banking are still using paper surveys. And, the scale of the company also determines whether one should go paper or electronic. Obviously, a very small company will find paper surveys more cost-effective than an online survey." Online surveys are quickly becoming an effective tool in the HR communications toolbox. Higher response rates and in-depth analysis mean the potential for companies to tie employee satisfaction to the bottom line is greater than ever.

Hostedware Corporation is a pioneer in providing online software solutions for research, education and performance improvement. Hosted Survey and Hosted Test are used by human resources professionals, market researchers, education and training organizations and membership associations worldwide.



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