Magazine article Management Today

Reality Bites

Magazine article Management Today

Reality Bites

Article excerpt

Research has found that job satisfaction scores differ depending on whether the questionnaire was completed by employees on a Monday or a Friday.

Please circle the statement that most closely reflects your own view: i) I love my mum; ii) I like my mum; iii) I neither like nor dislike my mum; iv) I dislike my mum; v) I hate my mum. And now the following: i) My favourite activity is filling out surveys; ii) Surveys are a painful necessity; iii) If I am asked to fill out another sodding survey, I will personally travel to the office of the sender and suffocate them with their own questionnaire.

Surveys are now part of everyday business life. Most of you probably have at least one uncompleted survey lurking in your inbox about which you feel vaguely guilty but for which you never quite have the time. We now have a small industry in surveys. Never before in the field of human endeavour has so much been asked of so many by so few.

But the blizzard of questionnaires yields little of real value and in many cases produces bad data, on which bad decisions are subsequently made. For a start, many of the questions are terrible. Some almost guarantee a certain answer, the social acceptable one - even if the truth is more complex. Social scientists call these 'yea-saying' questions. Examples include 'I love my mum' and 'Are you prepared to pay more taxes in order to fund better public services?' (a yea-saying question that destroyed the pollsters' predictions for the 1992 general election).

Commercial examples include: 'Is knowledge-sharing important for competitiveness?' and 'Is a diverse workforce good for business?'

More specific questions are much better. For example, a uselessly high percentage of people agree with the statement 'Marriage is a good thing'. More interesting data would be derived from: 'Is your marriage a good thing?'

It is vital therefore to treat most survey results with a large bucket of salt. At best, they give an impressionistic sense of people's views. It is not science. Research by Dr Mark Taylor of the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex has found that job satisfaction scores differ depending on whether the questionnaire was completed on a Friday or a Monday.

Employee surveys also have a nasty habit of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. If a staff survey finds that people think 'morale is low' - another classic example of a non-specific question - and the results are published, pretty soon everyone starts shaking their head about how low morale is and, before you know it, everyone has talked themselves into a greater state of misery than before. …

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