How to Measure Employee Attitudes

Article excerpt

How To Measure Employee Attitudes

Attitude surveys can be effective organizational development tools--if you can overcome the structural problems inherent in their use. Here's a rundown of what to watch for, and a list of tips for finding out what employees think and what it means for the company.

In the past, "How do employees feel about it?" was seldom a crucial question for top managers. Traditionally, employee attitudes have been a matter of only casual concern. But today, employee attitudes are increasingly being recognized as important factors in job satisfaction, motivation, cooperation, turnover, and performance.

As organizations expand the roles of individual employees, being able to accurately assess attitudes is critical. To help fill that need, many companies turn to employee attitude surveys.

Much has been written on the use and advantages of employee surveys, and much has been learned about the design and administration of the questionnaires. Although the process is more complex than is commonly recognized, three objectives are usually involved: * to assess overall levels of satisfaction and aspects of the organizational climate in selected segments of the organization; * to pinpoint sources of employee dissatisfaction; * to plan and devise corrective measures.

If used realistically as part of an organizational development effort, attitude surveys have proven to be useful and effective tools. Still, long-term results from using employee surveys have been mixed, and the lasting effects of assessing and modifying attitudes can be disappointing. Many of the inherent frustrations stem from structural problems in determining what attitudes really are and how to measure them validly. The tips at the end of this article may offer insights into overcoming some of the potential underlying biases and problems.

Assessing attitudes

When analyzing and evaluating the problems in assessing attitudes, it is important to establish a clear understanding of how attitudes are structured. One widely accepted attitude model is shown graphically in the figure. The model shows that a person's attitude toward any object, event, or thing is formed by his or her feelings regarding the attributes or features of that object. The object may have many relevant attributes that influence people, but typically, four to seven attributes will shape an attitude.

For each attribute of an object, a person will apply some level of belief to that object. For example, Jim may believe that the company cafeteria (object) has cold food (attribute). In addition, he will have some degree of like or dislike for each attribute, for example, he dislikes cold food.

Now let's look at how each attribute contributes to Jim's overall attitude toward the object. That contribution is a matter of his subjective level of belief that the attribute fits the object, multiplied by the degree of like or dislike he feels for that attribute. The sum of the products for all the attributes will determine his overall attitude toward the object.

Interpreting employee responses to items in an attitude questionnaire is a matter of determining precisely what factors influence the responses and how those responses affect the employee's actions. Several factors make interpretation difficult.

Unpredictable variables

People's overall levels of job satisfaction are formed by their attitudes toward objects in their own work areas. There will be few crossover effects between Jim's attitude toward cafeteria food, for example, and his attitude toward some other object. Thus, his attitude toward each object on the survey must be measured separately and not inferred from his attitudes toward other objects. Furthermore, some objects will be more important to his overall level of job satisfaction than others. Attitudes toward various objects may also differ in strength and in positiveness or negativeness. …