COVID-19: The Right Way To Survey Employees During A Crisis

CLAIRE HASTWELL & JULIE MUSILEK

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into this month, many employees are entering up to their third month working remotely under quarantine.

Some of your employees may be adapting to the change well, creating a healthy work-life balance, while others may be feeling pressure to be productive or living and working in fear of being laid off.

As a responsible and caring manager, you understand why it’s important to survey employees during this crisis:

  • It sends a message that you are here and you are listening
  • It’s an act of compassion that builds employee trust
  • It’s an essential source of business intelligence for navigating new unknowns

Surveying right now is not only wise, it’s crucial to help your business thrive through the current recession…… if you do it right, that is.

If you want to get the fullest possible picture of your employee experience, your survey’s design, execution and details matter.

Over the past 30 years, Great Place to Work® has helped countless companies design, deliver and execute their employee surveys, including during times of crisis such as the Great Recession.

In the process, we’ve identified several best practices for surveying during a crisis:

Before you send the employee survey

Reassure confidentiality

A common fear among employees is that their employer will be able to connect their responses to them. They worry that their requests will seem ungrateful or harsh at a time when some are without jobs.

When you make clear that all responses are confidential, you create the psychological safety that encourages people to share their feedback openly and honestly, in a way they might not feel comfortable doing face to face.

Give context

Sensitive questions, such as those that ask about homelife, call for thoughtful explanation. In your pre-survey communications, giving employees context.

Explain your endgame

No employee wants to take the time to share their feedback and criticism, only to find that the company merely files it away and never acts on it. Sending an employee survey and failing to act on it can be worse than not surveying at all.

It’s essential that you let your people know what you will do with their feedback. This ensures they will feel heard, cared for and willing to share with you again, contributing to the high-trust company culture you are working to create.

Meet employees where they are

The survey you send during a crisis likely won’t look are those that you’ve sent during “normal” times. It’s important to design it in a way that takes into consideration what employees may be experiencing at the time.

For example, an organization that has had to furlough employees may tailor a survey to recognizing “survivors’ guilt” among their colleagues who remain.

Employees on the frontlines, like health care workers, will need acknowledgment that they are likely overwhelmed and may not have the capacity to respond to a survey:

  • Keep the survey brief
  • Recognize potential limitations in your communications
  • Offer alternative avenues for them to provide feedback (such as their supervisor or HR)

These demonstrate flexibility and sensitivity to their situation.

What employee survey questions should you ask during a crisis?

To decide what to ask, it can help to work with the end in mind.

A useful way to do this is to ask yourself what would be the most helpful things for your organization to learn so you’re well-placed to support your employees better in the current climate.

Once you’ve determined that, let these best practices inform your questions:

Ask up to three open-ended questions

It’s important to give employees a forum to share their thoughts in a way that paints a vivid picture of their experience.

However, it’s rarely a good idea to ask people to write too much. Writing open-ended answers requires additional cognitive load that employees may not have available — especially in times of crisis where employees are processing extraordinary anxiety.

Incorporate quantitative statements

The idea here is to look for signs of improvement (or decline). When you incorporate quantitative statements, you can revisit them in 2-3 months and see how things have shifted over time.

Use a mix of crisis-related and “business as usual” statements

We use a mix of our Trust Index™ survey statements – these are statements that almost 30 years of research tells us are key drivers of great company culture – with statements that you can design specific to the current climate.

Examples of two situation-specific statements and one recurring one from our Trust Index survey:

  • I am supported to care for my responsibilities at home (situation-specific)
  • I feel financially secure for the next several months (situation-specific)
  • Management involves people in decisions that affect their jobs or work environment (recurring Trust Index survey question)

 

Include questions about management

In times of crisis, leaders need additional support to balance the needs of their people, their organization and their own personal experience.

Some statements we recommend to measure and help leadership under crisis:

  • Management involves people in decisions that affect their jobs or work environment
  • Management keeps me informed about important issues and changes
  • I feel safe speaking up
  • Management shows a sincere interest in me as a person, not just an employee

 

Example survey questions from Best Workplaces™

Here are some sample questions that Great Place to Work clients have used in recent pulse surveys to generate clear and actionable feedback:

  • What is one way we could continue to support you?
  • What is your biggest concern right now – at home or at work?
  • Is there anything the organization can do in light of these circumstances that would be helpful to you?
  • What communication/updates would be valuable to you during this time?
  • What suggestions do you have that the organization should consider to restart our business when the timing allows?

Not only do your employees know best what they need, they will also have many of the ideas that are going to enable you to move beyond the current crisis. Questions like the ones above can generate answers that help you create an action plan to address employee concerns and improve your response to COVID-19.

Follow up, follow through

After you close the survey and analyze results, you must communicate results, sharing what you learned from the survey and what actions you are taking in response to employees’ feedback.

This is vital because it:

  • Demonstrates listening and commitment to your employees’ well-being
  • Preserves and builds trust and credibility with your people

By designing an employee survey that addresses employees’ experience and needs during the pandemic will help you put your time, energy and resources in the right places.

Discover how COVID-19 is impacting your employees

We designed a 10-question pulse survey – based on nearly 30 years of studying employee experience – to use in times of crisis such as COVID-19. It’s the same survey we used to gather feedback from our own Great Place to Work team.  Contact us about it today.

CLAIRE HASTWELL & JULIE MUSILEK

Author

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces™ in Asia by surveying over 1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting over 4.7 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2021 or early 2022.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces in Asia™ by surveying 2.1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting 5.9 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Bahrain, Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2022 or early 2023.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000+) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

For All™ Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 450,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

For All™ Methodology

Great Place to Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2022 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 130,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Categories:
These organizations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Small 10-99 Employees

For larger organizations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organizations to share with us their practices, policies, and programs to create a great workplace For All™ and evaluate the approach they take.

  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees

Why do you say in one place your national list scoring is based on 85%/15% and in another place that it is 75%/25%?

We are explaining two different things:
1.  The criteria we evaluate

  •  85% concerned with Trust and Maximizing Human Potential and
  • 15% concerned with everything else

2.  Where the data comes from

  • 100% Trust Index for organizations with less than 100 employees
  • 75% based on the Trust Index survey analytics and 25% based on responses to the Culture Audit for organizations with more than 100 employees.
For All™ Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 450,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Categories:
These organizations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Small 10-99 Employees

For larger organizations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organizations to share with us their practices, policies, and programs to create a great workplace For All™ and evaluate the approach they take.

  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees