How to Develop an Employee Attitude Survey

By Verheyen, Leland G. | Training & Development Journal, August 1988 | Go to article overview

How to Develop an Employee Attitude Survey


Verheyen, Leland G., Training & Development Journal


How to Develop an Employee Attitude Survey

Ever since Elton May (in his famous Hawthorne studies) found that worker productivity can be affected by human as well as technical considerations, employee attitudes, opinions, and behaviors have been closely examined in the workplace. In recent years, surveys of employee attitudes toward work content, structure, process, and environment have been used successfully to restructure the workplace and to improve both productivity and employee satisfaction.

Positive employee perceptions of work envionment are critical to a productive organization. In the July 21, 1979, issue of Industrial Relations News, John McClure of the American Productivity Center observed that "whether the organization is labor-intensive or capital-intensive, product-oriented or service-oriented, it is the people that will cause productivity improvement through their actions and decisions. . . . In a productive work environment, workers are involved and contribute their efforts and ideas for improvement and feel pride in their accomplishments."

There is little doubt that employee opinions are important, but these opinions are in a constant state of flux. We live in a rapidly changing world, and changes in values take place constantly. We see the signs of these value changes most easily in our observations of the youth, the music they listen to, the way they dress, the demands they make on society, and the subjects they study in school; in adults, the changes in attitude are much slower. When youth enter the workforce they are perceived as having a different perspective toward work and the organizational hierarchy.

Indeed their attitudes are different, and as this group becomes a larger proportion of the workforce it accelerates the change in attitudes of the entire workforce. Roger E. Calhoun points to this in his article "The New York Ethic," in the May 1980 issue of the Training & Development Journal: "As employees have become more educated and have developed new values, their expectations for responsiveness from their [organization] have changed. . . . While [organizations] seem to be doing more today than during the '50s, what they are doing today is simply not being viewed by employees as acceptable."

Management needs to assess employee attitudes toward a wide variety of subjects, but sometimes has difficulty identifying the most relevant subjects. Organizational communications, overall satisfaction with the work environment, pay, and fringe benefits are generally considered the most important subjects in the workplace and are often the focus of attitude surveys. Indeed, these subjects frequently concern employees (and always concern management), but employees often have other, more dominant concerns and are looking for a way to tell management about them. An employee attitude survey is useful for obtaining such feedback, but only when the appropriate questions are asked in an atmosphere of trust and when improvements can be expected.

The phases of the

survey process

The process of developing survey questions, obtaining employee opinions, analyzing the data, and recommending appropriate change can be carried out by either an internal or an external consultant. An external consultant can provide an extra feeling of confidentiality, and employees might feel freer to give data on sensitive issues. The internal consultant, on the other hand, has the advantage of current knowledge of the organization and existing communications channels.

The consultant's plan of action for this attitude survey has 20 "critical action steps," broken into five phases. Figure 1 outlines the steps and provides an estimate of the time required for each.

* Phase A: Prequetionnaire administration. In this phase, the consultant identifies the concerns of the organization -- the specific concerns of the current management team and of the employees. …

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