Negative results from employee research. How do you go about this?

The main objective of Staff Research is often to identify improvement points within the organization. But when the results are negative it is tempting for managers to do nothing, or even worse: to pretend that the results are not correct. Take no action after Staff Research often leads to a more negative situation than before the distribution of the questionnaire.

Example of negative results

In order to prevent this from happening, it is important that actual action is taken after the investigation. But how do you do that? The following 7 steps explain how to deal with negative results in the best way.

Step 1: Recognise points for improvement

Do not hide the results of the questionnaire. Even if they show that there is a lot of dissatisfaction. Keeping the results away can increase dissatisfaction and even lead to distrust. Always share the results with employees in a way that highlights both positive and negative results. Recognize that there are areas for improvement to work with and make sure that the first Follow-up steps be clearly communicated.

Step 2: Select focus points

Ensure a good selection within the assigned improvement points. The trap is to tackle all problems at once. This is often not realistic. Tackling improvement points puts extra pressure on involved employees and especially managers. Therefore, select a few focus points to work on. Depending on the results, departments can work on their own challenges.

Step 3: Clarify the problem

It is not only important that it is clear what problems will be tackled. Also clarify what "the problem" means. Suppose, for example, that the employee survey showed that communication between departments is an area for improvement. What does this mean in concrete terms? Is it about the amount of communication or is there something wrong with the content? Ask employees within the relevant departments about what is not going well to create clarity.

Step 4: Brainstorm

Organize a series of brainstorming sessions that focus on ideas for improvement. It is important that the input from the previously collected results (anonymous) is also used. Also make sure that not only the employees but also the managers are present at the sessions. This leads to more support and, as a result, a greater impact.

Step 5: Set goals

After the brainstorming session it is time to turn the best ideas into actions. It is important here to specify exactly what needs to be achieved and who is responsible for it. Formulate clear objectives and milestones to motivate those involved. It is important that all employees and managers agree with both the objectives and milestones.

Step 6: Evaluate

Make time to discuss progress in the interim. Once the goals have been achieved, this is usually a good time to re-use the questionnaire. In this way it becomes clear what the impact of the improvement actions has been and whether any changes have actually taken place.

Step 7: Continue

The process does not stop after the next measurement. Perhaps all the objectives have been achieved for now, but there is always a new challenge. This will make sure you're never quite ready.

Employee survey is often a good way to measure satisfaction and engagement within organisations. However, without follow-up, the questionnaires are actually useless and can even lead to lower employee satisfaction. Negative feedback can be annoying, but the best response is a clear plan of action devised by committed employees and managers. This makes the Employee engagement not only measured but also actually improved.

10th January 2016

6 comments on "Negative results from employee research. How do you go about this?"

  1. Sarah Baker Reply

    However, let's say that the research has pointed out that the employees do not feel safe enough to approach management with any criticism. That weighs heavily in just general feeling of trust (absent), with the result that none of the employees is willing to explain E. E. A, during once, in panic, convened staffmeeting. But what do I do?

    • Barry Pietersen Post authorReply

      Dag Yvette,

      Thanks for your comment! If the research shows that employees do not feel safe, then it seems to me especially important that clear examples/stories are collected and these are shared as concrete examples (as anonymously as possible) with management. It is, of course, up to the management to consider how they can make their employees experience a higher perception of security. Certainly challenging because if employees do not feel safe, it is challenging to collect concrete feedback, but that is also something that can be communicated with the management (for reflection?).


      Barry Pietersen

  2. Eeltje Reply

    We completed an MTO and that was the direction that the management (director) scored only 38% on communication. As a team, we also suffer a lot from This. She always runs everything so that she has no fault at all. How could we tackle this? Our entire team suffers. There is another board on top, but it seems to have nothing to do or to know anything about it.

    • Barry Pietersen Post authorReply

      Bye, Donkey,

      This is difficult to say because the purpose of such a study is precisely to enter into a dialogue with each other and this also depends on the context in which the study is set out (and the way in which it is questioned). Perhaps there is also qualitative data (open answers) that can be used by eea to show that this opinion is shared by all employees? If there is no follow-up and no progression takes place, you can of course always consider involving a works council, for example. The most important thing is to show what the impact is and to discuss it constructively. Good luck!

  3. A Reply

    Dear Barry,

    How do you discuss the negative results of an MTO in a departmental meeting without asking the standard questions like 'do you recognize this? What do you think about this? Do you also experience it this way? It doesn't work in our department. I have noticed that colleagues then shut up and the only ones who say something are the ones who don't recognise it and then dismiss it as 'nonsense'. I want the focus to be on how something can be done better instead of whether it is recognisable. It has been mentioned, so it should also be seen as a given/fact. What are good questions to ask?

    • Barry Pietersen Post authorReply


      It is good to at least see recognition/confirmation in the results. You could also turn it around to ask if someone doesn't recognize themselves in this so that you have an opening to start working with the results.

      By the way, does it sound as if employees don't feel completely safe (in the chosen setting)? Maybe the consultation is too big or not ideally timed?

      I think these are all points to take into account in order to arrive at correct interventions on this basis.

      Hopefully these tips will help you!


      Barry Pietersen

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