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Our employee surveys don’t just look at happiness at work

Date:20 May 2019
Happy at work
Happy at work

Why it is also important to study the explanatory factors

Many organizations have a need for more in-depth employee satisfaction surveys. Traditional surveys provide a good idea of employees’ feelings and thoughts about their jobs, but they often leave it unclear why satisfaction is rated high or low and fail to provide a lot of important information. To examine these points, it is important to look at the explanatory factors in detail. The Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour (HRM&OB) Centre of Expertise conducts surveys of this kind in collaboration with various organizations.

Joost van de Brake
Joost van de Brake

Explaining and predicting
The Centre of Expertise is currently investigating why some employees report higher levels of satisfaction than others. The surveys, which are very diverse, are conducted in a variety of large organizations, including hospitals, mental health care institutions, municipal authorities and research organizations. Assistant professor Joost van de Brake explains that they look at relationships between concepts, enabling the researchers to both explain and predict satisfaction. ‘If a large number of projects are causing stress in one organization, for example, this is likely to be the case in another organization too’, says Van de Brake.

Jacoba Oedzes
Jacoba Oedzes

Focus on organization
A striking point is that each HRM&OB survey is tailor-made to the organization’s particular focus. Assistant professor Jacoba Oedzes points out that a major issue such as autonomy requires a completely different type of survey from one in an organization whose focus is on production: ‘You can organize the survey to see whether that focus actually works, instead of just looking at overall satisfaction’, Oedzes explains. A survey of this kind can thus provide real value for the organization.

Unique research method
‘The unique feature of our method is that we link questionnaire data to other data, enabling us to reach more objective conclusions’, adds Van de Brake. At first sight, everything would seem to be interesting for an organization – feelings of stress or numbers of burnouts, for instance. Oedzes goes on: ‘It is only really interesting if we link this information to absenteeism data, for example. In the long run, burnouts cause a huge increase in absenteeism. So if you can find out what explains the health of employees, you can make recommendations accordingly. And it goes without saying that reducing absenteeism makes money for an organization.’

What is the benefit?
The survey findings enable organizations to set about changing things in a highly focused way. The Centre of Expertise provides some guidance on the important findings, but the next step is for the organization to set to work itself. It is important for managers to get together with their employees and see how they can do something about the findings. As Van de Brake points out, you have to be realistic: ‘Bespoke solutions are needed, so it is important to sit around the table. Our reports simply show what areas you can work on; it’s up to the organization itself to implement the changes.’ The organization must have a genuine desire to work on particular areas. The researchers remain closely involved in implementation, however, and the organization can go back to them to ask questions after the survey. On top of this, there is a follow-up survey of changes in the organization every year.

Surprising results
Every so often, the surveys come up with surprising results. Van de Brake gives an example: ‘There was a hospital that expected working relationships to be less good in the case of employees working irregular hours, as they are constantly exposed to changing circumstances, making it less easy for them to develop relationships. In fact, the opposite proved to be the case: there was no negative impact at all on the quality of working relationships.’ Another striking example is that young employees with little work experience generally have a very difficult time in an organization. They are ambitious and their bosses set them challenges straight away, but in many cases that eventually leads to stress and problems. This is particularly the case when young employees work on multiple projects at the same time. ‘Such things do not resolve themselves, as there is a tendency on both sides to leave things as they are. This problem really needs to be raised’, says Van de Brake.

Going beyond happiness at work
There is plenty of scope for improvement, then, in the standard surveys, which fail to provide a lot of information: overall satisfaction or happiness at work gives very little indication of the actual situation. An employee may be satisfied with their autonomy, for example, but actually have very little. An HRM&OB survey extracts more information, also on such things as performance, involvement and personal growth. ‘Satisfaction is very important, but you need to look at other factors as well’, Oedzes concludes. After all, you may not have the most interesting job but still be very happy at work.

Research in your organization
Are you keen to find out what the HRM&OB Centre of Expertise could do for your organization? Please feel free to contact us to discuss collaborating on a survey.