Staff Surveys Provide Valuable Feedback, Pandemic or Not

Staff Surveys Provide Valuable Feedback, Pandemic or Not

  |  March 1, 2022

No matter how closely you work with your staff, there are some things that aren’t openly discussed. Regularly conducting employee surveys brings these issues — and satisfactions — to light. With ever-evolving pandemic conditions and mask mandates lifting across the country, now is a great time to take the pulse of a co-op.

Prioritizing surveys pays off for all involved. “Employees are facing innumerable challenges, and offering them a moment to sit down and give voice to their challenges and triumphs feels like the right thing to do to demonstrate that they are heard and that their thoughts are valued,” says Columinate HR consultant Melanie Reid.

Co-op leadership benefits, too. “When reporting to your board on treatment of staff, it’s crucial to have good data from an employee survey and not rely on anecdotal evidence,” says Chris Maher, General Manager of BriarPatch Food Co-Op in Grass Valley, CA, who collaborates with HR consultant Carolee Colter to conduct surveys at his store.

Action Items

When conducted properly, employee surveys can collect the combined perceptions of staff in a way that transcends the anecdotal overheard chatter. Surveys also provide a benchmark against which a co-op can measure progress. “What I’ve found is that the underlying issues that the staff have at any given co-op are not significantly changed by COVID,” Colter says. “The perceptions they have, and what they want management to deal with, are still there. They would be there whether there was a pandemic or not. And staff appreciate being heard.”

Maher has established an even more robust benchmark by conducting surveys during the pandemic. “It is important to establish and measure against benchmarks even in times of disruption,” the BriarPatch General Manager says. “To simply stop when things are complicated may unintentionally communicate to staff that their wellbeing is not a priority at exactly the wrong time.”

Plus, “issue” doesn’t have to mean bad. “People like to give positive feedback too,” Colter says. “A survey can be an affirmation of management, letting them know where they do well.”

Jim Fischer, General Manager of Los Alamos Cooperative Market in Los Alamos, NM, says he’s continued to prioritize staff surveys to help organize his action items. “Even with all that’s going on, I still think it’s important,” Fischer says. (And for the record, he says “all that’s going on” means the pandemic, yes, but also day-to-day as the GM of a small, understaffed co-op.) After working with Colter, “I could tell exactly what I needed to address and I’ve been addressing it. It’s been helping already. This is something that just has to be done.”

Flexible and Feasible

Surveying is easier to accomplish when working with a Columinate expert, and Colter and Reid are committed to making staff surveys as feasible as possible. “We can take as long as you need to do the survey,” Colter says. Traditionally, Colter would schedule at least one in-person co-op visit as part of the survey process, and that has transitioned to virtual during the pandemic. The digital scope is one of many reasons “timelines can be a lot more fluid,” she says.

Anonymity and thoroughness are keys to a well-done survey, and working with an experienced consultant guarantees both. “We are here to work with management to facilitate as easy of a process as possible, knowing that everyone has a lot on their plates,” Reid says.

What to Expect

Employee surveys are especially effective for businesses with a critical mass of employees — more than 15 or so. There are a few keys to an effective survey: it should be absolutely anonymous; reflect the opinions of all staff, rather than let participants self-select participation; include follow-up one-to-one interviews or focus groups; and put more weight on average scores than on written comments. Findings should be compared to peer organizations and reported back to the staff.

By working with a Columinate expert, the above is easily possible. Whether you want to knock a survey out in the next few weeks or slowly chip away at it over the coming months, it will yield valuable insights to help guide you through the ever-changing pandemic landscape. “Continuing to do things that are important to the culture of the workplace, like giving employees a chance to voice their thoughts, should remain a high priority for management,” Reid says. We’re here to help.

Learn more about staff surveys and our consultant services here.

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