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I found this tweet eye-opening: the shared-fridge at work gone extremely wrong. We’re not talking who ate my lunch? Or the 6 week old salad (I think that’s what it was. You probably have your own experience – insert it here!). Anyway, fridge-gate was compounded by two different teams or groups of employees sharing a hospital break room with different needs and different working hours. And X excels at dividing opinion – someone’s in the wrong surely?
And what do you do when these incidents make their way into your survey comments?
When good intentions go wrong
I was reminded of one of our clients’ very own pizza-gate.
On a roasting hot day, the HR manager saw one of their site teams toiling away on ground works just around the corner from head office. She ordered the team pizza and ice creams. Unfortunately, the message to drop the food outside, to the workers, got lost. The driver sped past the intended recipients and turned up the road for the office instead. The workers clocked the moped delivering food to head office, “oh, it’s alright for them in their air-conditioned offices…” was the passing comment (or words to that effect).
The fallout made it all the way to the employee survey four months later.
A good intention had unintended consequences and produced a fair bit of tension. And it happens more than you might think.
These issues & more turn up in survey results
As an independent analyst (and outsider), sifting through survey comments is enlightening!
The first thing to note is that negative comments are not necessarily a bad thing.
You WANT feedback – the good and the bad. Those comments were shared in the hope that something might be done, or learned, or just acknowledged.
Sometimes, comments are banal – like gripes about parking spaces or disagreement on whether 16 degrees on the air-con constitutes a comfortable working environment. If something more serious does crop up, don’t panic. Workplace tensions or organisational change create anxiety and it’s normal for survey comments to reflect that.
The ‘shouty person’ effect
In any forum, the loudest voice tends to dominate things. Negative survey comments have a similar effect. Such comments are usually more memorable, so it feels worse than it actually is.
Negative comments are daunting, but they need to be reviewed in context. The trick is to look at the results as a whole. What does the data say – do comments validate results in the data? Or are there common threads or themes between statements in the survey that challenge or broaden issues raised in the comments.
Using the data to make sense of results
We always recommend to get a feel for the scores and other answers before reading through any comments: What’s the overall sentiment? Does it vary across the organisation? How much?
When reviewing your comments, don’t be thrown by references to pizzagate-esque incidents. Take a deep breath, and ask yourself a few questions:
- How many comments refer to this? Is it one, two, several or many?
- Does the comment confirm what you already know? Is it a different viewpoint? As I’ve often said, survey results (and comments) tend to confirm what we suspect. Sometimes, the incident was responded to at the time – does it remain an ongoing issue?
- Are there similar comments in specific teams or departments?
- How does the comment relate to the trends revealed in the data? You might find that the data tells a different story to the disgruntled comment IN CAPS LOCK!
While the comments in our example may have focused on pizza-gate – something emotionally charged and therefore memorable – maybe the rest of the results indicate something more positive.
Also, meta-comments – comments made about the survey (or your survey process) – can be just as revealing. For example, is there a lack of trust in anonymity? Or worse… “nothing is going to change” type replies. Apathetic comments often explain lower response rates.
What to do when workplace tension spills into your survey comments
Remember, ‘bad’ comments are as valuable as the good and all results should be analysed in context.
- The road to hell is littered with good intentions – stuff happens: fallings out, disagreements, and personality clashes are normal in any group of people. As pizza-gate demonstrates, even the best intentions go wrong sometimes. So don’t be surprised if tensions show up in your comments – and don’t panic!
- Instead, ask yourself the questions above to get some perspective. How much weight do you need to give the comments?
- The comments only tell part of the story. They need to be analysed in context as their content can be distracting. Analyse them against the data and look at the bigger picture.
What does your ‘Employee Voice’ say?
At Surveylab we don’t just carry out surveys, we help clients find the insights. If you’d like to get a clear read on the employee voice in your Organisation, contact us, we’d love to help.