Magazine article Corrections Today

Look Who's Talking: Oklahoma's Experience with an Employee Attitude Survey

Magazine article Corrections Today

Look Who's Talking: Oklahoma's Experience with an Employee Attitude Survey

Article excerpt

Staffing shortages, employee turnover, insufficient applicant pools, changing demographics and increased competition for quality applicants, an aging workforce, shifts in employee attitudes, expectations and organizational loyalty--like many other correctional agencies, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections continues to face a critical management challenge: What can the organization do to effectively retain valuable employees?


In an effort to proactively address employee retention issues, the Oklahoma DOC contracted with the University of Oklahoma, which then subcontracted with Charles J. Kehoe, a well-known correctional practitioner and vice president of Securicor New Century LLC, to assist agency staff with the development of a strategic plan for employee retention. It was agreed that the best way to examine employee retention issues was to gather information about employee perceptions of the DOC by simply asking employees for their feedback.

Employee surveys can be useful in assessing employee attitudes, problems and organizational conditions, evaluating the impact of organizational change, and gathering valuable input from employees regarding organizational performance.

Establishing Objectives And Obtaining Commitment

Development and administration of a customized employee attitude survey is a labor-intensive process. Before developing such a survey, it is important that the objectives for conducting the survey are clearly defined and that management is firmly committed to acting on the survey results. Management commitment at all levels in the organization is crucial to achieving a successful outcome. When employees invest time in completing the survey, they will expect a thorough explanation of the survey results and swift action taken on those results. Management must be willing to accept the survey results, share those results--both positive and negative--with employees, explain why the organization is unable to address certain issues and concerns identified, and most importantly, act promptly on areas identified as needing improvement. The agency's credibility can be damaged if a survey is administered and employees are never advised of the findings or when action is not taken as a result of the survey. Understanding these issues, the agency's work team met with the agency director and senior leadership to discuss the survey's specific objectives and obtain approval and buy-in for survey administration.

Developing the Survey

Employee attitude surveys have historically solicited feedback from employees in a variety of areas such as job satisfaction, quality of supervision, compensation and benefits, opportunities for career development and physical working environment. Surveys also may be used to solicit feedback regarding organizational strategy and direction, understanding of agency vision, mission, goals and objectives, as well as employees' understanding of their roles in fulfillment of the vision, mission, goals and objectives, and identification of work/life issues. The agency's work team deemed it necessary to obtain information about several areas within the department, including operations, job satisfaction, cooperation and teamwork, staffing and promotions, facility/unit administration, supervision, safety and security, training and human resources-related issues. Based on these survey needs, the work team developed a customized employee survey based on tested models that had been used in several adult and juvenile correctional settings.

Testing the Survey Before Distribution

Before issuing the survey, the work team felt it was important that the survey be tested on a small group of employees to ensure that the survey process was sound, the survey and instructions were easy to understand and follow, and the questions and response options were clear. The employee attitude survey was subsequently field-tested at one correctional facility with responsibility for a variety of security levels. …

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