Asked 12th Aug, 2013

What are the limitations of using employee satisfaction surveys in measuring staff engagement and motivation?

A vast array of self-administered questionnaires have been used to measure staff satisfaction for the sake of improving productivity. Are these the best measuring tool? What are their disadvantages and what are the alternatives?

Most recent answer

10th Sep, 2013
Samarendra Kumar Mohanty
Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur
To measure the said phenomena be it job satisfaction or engagement etc either qualitative or quantitative techniques could be used. I second the thoughts of Catherine that questions could be grounded on proven theory or industry specific or function specific measures could be developed and its validity and reliability could be tasted. Then the measures could be scientific and can be called to be free from bias. There are solutions but the point is how far the organization is willing to go for them?

All Answers (13)

Deleted profile
Dear Anthony Fung
Regarding your question, the first limitation is that satisfaction in not engagement nor motivation. The difference between these three concepts is well documented in the literature (see for example, Hallberg and Schaufeli, 2006 or Saks, 2006). So, surveying satisfaction and then measure engagement seems, at least, awkward.
The second limitation regards the tool used to collect data. Surveys are very popular among academics but also among practitioners. The main reason seems to be the ease how data can be gathered, treated and presented. However, there is now an excessive use of surveys (which means that most of the times they are misused). Another very important issue with surveys is that people lie... Not always consciously, but most of the times respondents give the social accepted answer. This is a major issue about data bias, because it is very difficult to control and to overcome.
All the best,
Pedro Ferreira
2 Recommendations
13th Aug, 2013
Binod Atreya
Emerging Nepal Limited
Survey is a way to collect data for decision making. Data collected from the surveys are to be tabulated, measured , assessed to reach any conclusion. The effectiveness of surveys depends upon whom we are administering the surveys; the sample size and the knowledge of the participants involved in the surveys. Many times we do not understand questions. Simplicity is therefore needed in designing the surveys. If we are to write our identity, then it may not reflect the right perception. Employees fear to express what their minds say. Again, in any organization, there are group of people who are being privileged than others due to their job nature, exposures , opportunities. For example core function and support function. Employees involved in the core role could have higher level of satisfaction compared to employees in the support role. Therefore designing the survey and selecting the right participants are vital if the survey has to yield the right information.
13th Aug, 2013
Aish Ravi
University of West London
Employee satisfaction is not the same as engagement. A group of youngsters in a department store, for example, might be happy with the extra cash from the job (most likely part-time) and happy with the environment, which let us say is hip and casual, and they might spend time texting/posting/tweeting. But this only exemplifies satisfied employees. It does not reflect on the employee's commitment/productivity. The same department store might have a very dedicated, very serious store manager who might not be very happy with the work environment but his level of dedication (and therefore engagement) would be a lot higher than that of the youngsters mentioned earlier. Employee engagement is a measure of commitment the employee has to the organisation, with a direct bearing on productivity. Now using a survey has at least two limitations, one being the above mentioned difference in theory due to which the questions designed may not point towards the answer required, and also the fact that people tend to give the socially-acceptable version of their answer, as mentioned in one of the replies here.
1 Recommendation
14th Aug, 2013
Jaharkanti Dattagupta
Novel Group of Institutes
Every organization has: low level, middle level and high level employees depending on authority - responsibility relationship. Employee satisfaction survey may provide some indication of state of motivation, but may not be the exact measure, because of the following reasons.While employee satisfaction may depend on fulfillment of needs and expectation, state of motivation depends on fulfillment of physiological and intellectual needs & expectation, which is affected by prevailing social & technical environment and organization culture. Further needs and expectation are likely to vary at each level of employees depending on social and educational background. Now the disengaged employees may suffer from lack of motivation arising out of the factors like: decision making pattern in the organization, communication gap, lack of transparency, lack of trust, lack of self development & career growth opportunities etc. Hence complex issues are involved in correlating employee satisfaction with employee disengagement and motivation. While organizational management system may lead to better compliance of targets and norms , motivation leads to long term commitment and dedication.
14th Aug, 2013
Lindsay Tremethick
As the other authors have stated there isn't any tangible relationship between staff satisfaction and engagement. A staff member can be satisfied with their position because they are left alone by supervisors and totally disengaged from their occupation. The pay packet keeps rolling in, but the job may only be a stepping stone to somewhere they can be less engaged and earn more money. As also has been stated, survey questions may not actually determine anything really useful either because the questions are so obtuse that the respondent doesn't understand or such that the company doesn't want to ask the painful questions, additionally typical answers satisfied/dissatisified of varying degrees doesn't usually satisfy peoples feelings. It certainly isn't possible to survey how engaged a person may be because how many people would answer they don't do enough work? I agree with Aish Ravi assertion of the socially acceptable answer clouding the results.
14th Aug, 2013
Issa Maldaon
Damascus University
Most of research proves that the correlation between employee satisfaction and productivity is weak and there are intermediary variables .
14th Aug, 2013
Elisabeth Kauba
Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien
Based on my experience of 30 years in a global powerhouse in electronics and electrical engineering, operating in the industry, energy and healthcare sectors, I see the following limitations:
- employee satisfaction surveys (ESS) are, in many cases, not able to cover the entire staff: 1. not every employee chooses to participate, 2. specifically for electronic ESS: only those employees can participate that have access to IT - usually a big portion of blue color workers do not.
- ESS need to be kept short for acceptance reasons. Even if questions refer to corporate and depart level, there will be motivational factors on individual level that can not be captured.
- ESS need to contain the same questions to be comparable year-over-year. However, the work environment changes, which would necessitate to include new aspects.
Reliability of results:
- Even if the ESS is accompanied by a motivation letter that elaborates on confidentiality and anonymity, some employees - especially those in organizations with culture / value / leadership deficits - hesitate to give true answers.
- ESS primarily show staff satisfaction in an aggregate fashion on corporate and eventually department level. This does not yet help to identify the areas where there is need for action. On the one hand, they do not identify those individual or groups that are less satisfied, on the other hand they do not identify the root cause(s) for dissatisfaction. So, ESS alone are not sufficient to take action and effectively improve employee satisfaction.
To summarize: ESS are an important tool for measuring employee satisfaction, but other instruments are needed to provide a more complete and reliable picture, as well as a sound basis for improvement action.
The most efficient tools are provided by performance management and leadership.
- Performance management:
The (bi-)annual staff dialogue is a central element of systematic performance management. It is based on face-to-face communication between the employee and his/her manager/supervisor.
Whereas the scope goes beyond employee satisfaction and includes individual target setting, performance review and consequences, the staff dialogue provides a perfect platform for the manager to gauge the individual satisfaction, identify (de-) motivation factors, root causes and ways and means to improve.
- Leadership:
As the manager is ultimately responsible for the performance of his/her direct reports, the manager will use a set of instruments that indicate his/her team members satisfaction. These instruments are chosen by the manager according to his/her personal preferences and circumstances. They may include personal interaction during tasks performed together, workshops, lunch, etc. During this personal interaction the manager can observe the employee, his interaction with others, his attitude, the messages about his satisfaction that he sends deliberately or unintentionally. In addition to that, the manager will seek feed-back from peers, direct reports and his line manager(s).
To summarize:
Employee satisfaction surveys together with staff dialogue and leadership provide an effective and efficient tool set for an organization that uses employee satisfaction as one important lever to achieve target productivity.
2 Recommendations
15th Aug, 2013
Anthony Fung
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Thank you, everyone, for your comments and a lively discussion. I share your views that there are drawbacks of employee satisfaction survey as a useful tool. However, I could not find any publications to support this. May be I haven't looked in the right places. Would anyone be kind enough to give me some specific references.
15th Aug, 2013
Ronnay Emcelle, Jacqueline Worrell
University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados
Being satisfied with one's work is not the same as being engaged in one's work role. Although an employee may be satisfied with certain aspects of his or her job (e.g. pay, procedures, work design) it does not mean that the employee will be dedicated, exert energy or be immered in his or her organizational role. Satisfaction is only one aspect; one antecedent of work engagement.
Ronnay Worrell
23rd Aug, 2013
Che Azlan Taib
Universiti Utara Malaysia
Organization comprises of several level of employees. Top, middle, lower, etc. Difference level of employees have difference characteristics, thus the reliable measurement of satisfaction have to think these matters. Furthermore, a typical method used an employees satisfaction survey - morale, opinion, attitude, quality of work, commitment, teamwork, etc,
30th Aug, 2013
Loice Maru
Moi University
There may be need to empirically test through a research study the mediating or moderating effects of staff engagement and motivation on the relationship between employee satisfaction and productivity. The results of such a study may inform the practice. However, this may be influenced by contextual cultural issues and hence the implementation of what the findings indicate may vary from one organizational context to another.
2nd Sep, 2013
Catherine Bertrand
Laval University
You may have advantage to build your questions on theoretical based knowledge. For example, on David McClelland , on Hertzberg bifactorial theory . This one, buid a dichotomy with in one hand , hygiene factors which influence the no satisfaction level in an organization and one the other hand, factors which determine the satisfaction level: no satisfaction factors based on job security, salary, firm policy, job conditions, peer relationship, professional status. Satisfaction factors concern promotion, fulfillment, bloom, gratitude, the job in itself...
1 Recommendation

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