How to find out if your employees are happy

Earlier this year, Shawna Kirkwood, vice-president of operations with Gougeon Insurance Brokers, in Sudbury, Ont., had a sales rep who lost several large accounts to a competitor. The rep rated her happiness at work a two out of 10 on the employee survey and added a lengthy explanation.

Kirkwood found out about this frustrated employee because Gougeon had adopted a biweekly survey that allowed management to act quickly. “It gave us the opportunity to jump on it the very next day and provide support, and say, ‘We feel your pain. It sucks, but it’s part of the game we’re in, and we don’t win them all.’”

Read: Come on, get happy!

The employee was assured she wouldn’t be fired and, after 48 hours to shake off the blues, was back out on the road.

Had Kirkwood relied on a yearly survey, early intervention wouldn’t have been an option—although she says she might have caught wind of it simply because Gougeon encourages employees to be candid.

“[The employee] would likely not have quit, but the real benefit is that she posted her frustration….We share those comments with all staff to gain a better understanding of what some of the team members are struggling with. This way,…management and the entire team can close the communication loop and share what we’re doing behind the scenes to support [employees] when they feel alone.”

Gougeon had outgrown its former annual survey, which was conducted online by a third party and gave the company information on specific departments and areas where it could improve (employee recognition, communication — even salary and benefits).

Read: Don’t touch your benefits until you survey

Since Gougeon blocked off participation time in everyone’s schedule, 100% of employees completed the 30-minute survey. But the data often related to events that were months old and problems that had already been solved, making it difficult to be proactive.

Turnover at Gougeon wasn’t really the issue, says Kirkwood, noting some employees have been there for more than 40 years. “It’s dealing with the issues that come up, like [employees’] biggest unhappy point. It could be technology or their desk space, but if we only hear that once a year, they could be long gone before we ever get an opportunity to fix it.”

It was a case of good data that just came too late. “We’re at a point now where we want to make changes more rapidly,” Kirkwood adds.

Chain reaction

That prompted a change in 2013, when Gougeon moved to TINYpulse, an online one-question survey that’s pushed out biweekly and takes employees less than three minutes to complete. Kirkwood says it helps gather information more frequently “so we can actually be more reactive and prevent people from leaving, improve things quickly and improve productivity.”

Kudos for co-workers

Cheers for Peers, another part of the TINYpulse offering, lets employees and managers recognize their co-workers.

Within the biweekly survey, employees can scroll down to Cheers for Peers and send out a cheer. For example, an employee recently wrote the following: “Awesome work collecting outstanding money!!!!! WAY TO GO :)”

A co-worker can either include his or her name or send it anonymously.   Cheers for Peers also supports other employee tracking metrics, says Shawna Kirkwood, Gougeon’s vice-president of operations. To help monitor productivity, she can see employees’ email, software system and telephone output on a monthly basis.

If email and call activity is low, and the employee isn’t sending or receiving any cheers, that’s evidence the employee could be having trouble with workload or engagement at work.

“They’re really unhappy or they’re overworked, because all their metrics are falling off, which again provides us insight to take action to improve their situation,” Kirkwood adds.

Gougeon sends out one question roughly every two weeks. One recent polling — What is the one thing you would change in this organization? — gave Gougeon some “easy wins,” such as informing employees whom to contact when something needs to be fixed and announcing when there’s a change in an employee’s role. Other recent questions included How would you rate your relationship with your co-workers? and How would you rate your work/life balance?

Read: Employees not happy: survey

At regular intervals, the survey asks the happy-factor question: On a scale of one to 10, how happy are you at work? One means a person is about to quit; 10 means they love their job.

Another question — How well are you recognized when you do great work?—led to Gougeon revamping its employee recognition program. Kirkwood said employees have scored that question low in the past, so Gougeon adopted a monthly shoutout. Managers submit votes to recognize who’s gone above and beyond, then they discuss the votes and award one or two employees per month based on the reason behind the votes. The employee is recognized at a monthly State of the Brokerage meeting, where he or she spins the Wheel of Wow to win a $50 gift certificate from a local business.

In addition to the set survey questions, employees can type in ad hoc comments — good or bad. “We want candid feedback,” says Kirkwood. Employees have asked for more training, from Advanced Excel lessons to product knowledge or claims adjusting information. As a result, Gougeon has set up a monthly training schedule and has already completed eight training sessions so far this year.

Brooke Smith is managing editor of Benefits Canada.

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