Survey Tech is Ready for Deskless Workers. Are We Ready to Listen?

When it comes to leaders getting valuable feedback from billions of deskless workers, it’s not technology that’s the barrier. Survey stations, mobile apps, and text messages are highly effective at reaching the deskless worker. Widespread adoption of mobile tech means we have powerful ways to reach any worker, any time, wherever they are.

The challenges for HR teams are human ones.

Our employees must believe that a survey is a genuine opportunity for their voices to be heard or they may have little motivation to participate. There are three big opportunities to motivate survey participation among our deskless workers:

  • Creating a team mentality
  • Building trust
  • Inspiring action

By leaning into these human challenges, organizational leaders can achieve meaningful survey participation and a shared sense of responsibility for action.

Create a Team Mentality

While every organization is different, a cultural chasm may divide deskless workers from their corporate counterparts. This disconnection can leave deskless workers feeling cynical about, or even wary of, your survey. While you may see your survey as a chance for employees to have their voices heard,  an employee may resist for any number of reasons.

You shouldn’t accept or try to solve for reasons like “it’s not my job,” “it’s not what I’m paid for,” and “not on my phone.” Those make the survey transactional—like a buyer (employer) and seller (employee) fighting for their own interests. When trying to solve for transactional objections, you may reinforce deeper reasons for resisting – perhaps a fear of retaliation from management or a sense of distrust.

You need to dig further to discover what it’s like to be in the shoes of your deskless worker. Genuinely get to know some of them. Go to where they are.  Talk with them—but mostly just listen.

There’s a framework from product design that might help you apply what you learn in your HR role.  It’s called an empathy map. An empathy map is a tool that a product designer can use to understand the people they are designing for. It’s developed through user research and mapping what users say, think, feel, and do.

For HR leaders, the product is the work experience. That work experience needs to solve problems like productivity, safety, etc. Your employee engagement survey is critical to helping you understand the state of important work-experience variables. When deskless workers get that survey, what do they say, think, feel, and do?

Use what you learn from these questions to relate to them, show them that you’re on their side, and position yourselves as teammates when it comes to employee experience. When you listen to your team, you earn the right to ask them important questions. So, before you send off your next survey—make sure your teammates know that this is just another way that you’re listening and that their feedback is valuable. Technology makes it possible to reach deskless workers with a survey link.  When your text message or survey app notification goes out, make sure your teammates know this is just another way you’re listening.

Build Trust

Employee surveys work best when there’s a circle of trust between leaders, HR, and employees. We often think of trust in terms of keeping survey results confidential—to create a safe way for employees to share genuine concerns.

While those employee-focused protections matter, the benefits of mutual trust are far greater. HR can act as a bridge between employees and leaders to build trust and start a virtuous cycle.

Without this circle of trust, employees opt out, or worse, sugar-coat their experience because they fear retribution. Problems go unresolved, leaving you at a competitive disadvantage—not just as an employer but as a business.

To get the cycle started, nothing is more powerful than leadership showing that they care—through action—to build employee trust. And leaders should care because employee engagement matters.

The role of HR is to show leaders how employee engagement impacts the business. With a validated engagement construct, you can measure engagement with a survey. You can use the results of that survey to affect important business outcomes, such as reducing turnover before it happens, improving performance, or reducing safety incidents. HR should use these capabilities to make trustworthy action recommendations to leadership, earning their trust and commitment to the process.

When leaders are bought in, they will support your effort to create a workplace culture where every person’s feedback matters. Our recent research shows 83% of employees believe leaders are responsible for shaping company culture. Employees are more likely to give honest feedback when they trust leadership to do something with it that helps them.

Technology makes it possible to survey our hard-to-reach deskless workers so you can evaluate engagement at scale, but tech is just one pillar of our employee listening strategy. What you do with it – the action you take – is what separates you from other employers. Action requires a one-team culture where employees feel heard and are a part of the process. You can jump-start a virtuous cycle of trust by helping leaders buy-in and take action for the benefit of employees.

Inspire Action

Mutual trust and a shared sense of purpose are a powerful combination. This can create the motivation needed to inspire action deep within your organization. Nudge theory describes a way to inspire action. What action do we want when it comes to employee engagement?  You want employees to take a survey—but don’t stop there. How can you nudge employees and managers to take ownership of individual and team engagement?  You want them to take action on engagement in a way that’s aligned with organizational needs.

When employees take your survey, they are investing in the future of their work. Employees, as survey-takers, must be persuaded that their opinion matters or the quality of the data you collect may decline over time. Without action, they see no return on that investment. This can cause what we call “lack-of-action fatigue.”

Lack-of-action fatigue begins to fade away when you empower your employees to be a part of the solution.

Sure, technology allows us to elevate the voice of deskless workers as part of our employee listening strategy. Yet, an effective strategy goes way beyond broad survey participation.  We need to make deskless workers employee engagement partners. We need leadership involvement and mutual trust. We need a workforce inspired to act.

The technology is ready. Are we?

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