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Survey Design Strategies: Understanding Retention in Your Organization

Survey Design Strategies: Understanding Retention in Your Organization

While many organizations continue to resort to layoffs as part of restructuring efforts — a move often perceived as a response to economic pressures — there's a separate narrative unfolding that should concern HR professionals and business leaders alike.

Despite the visibility and impact of involuntary turnover through layoffs, which have reached significant highs this year, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveals a more persistent challenge facing organizations: voluntary turnover, or quits, far outstrips layoffs.

The BLS January report noted that total separation rates have remained steady, with voluntary separations or quits (3.4 million employees) significantly outnumbering involuntary layoffs or discharges (1.6 million). The steady rate of voluntary turnover points to the importance of listening to employee needs and focusing on employee retention and engagement to mitigate the negative impacts of turnover. 

Against this backdrop, we've been working closely with our customers to devise survey design strategies that help them comprehend and predict retention in their organizations. Comprehending retention necessitates asking the appropriate questions at the right moment via suitable channels. We begin with some fundamental design elements in census survey (point-in-time) programs before describing the integration of lifecycle (always-on) surveys which are capable of yielding powerful insights about retention.

Addressing Retention Through Census Survey Programs

Even at the most basic levels of listening maturity, organizations can begin asking important questions about engagement and retention in their annual census program. Including an Engagement Index provides an assessment of employees’ willingness to go above and beyond for the company. At Perceptyx, the strength of this sentiment is indicated by employees’ levels of pride in the company, sense of accomplishment in their role, willingness to recommend the organization, and intentions of remaining with the organization. These attitudes and intentions are outcomes and therefore not actionable. 

It’s important therefore that census survey programs include a broad array of employee experience factors (e.g., recognition, career development, resources and support, manager effectiveness) that will help leaders understand how they need to impact the employee experience to drive engagement and retention upwards. Research shows that highly engaged workplaces see up to 67% lower turnover and up to 21% higher overall profitability compared to those with low employee engagement. Understanding the impact of the employee experience on engagement helps organizations take the first step in understanding retention.

In order to gather even more precise insights about retention in Census Survey Programs, consider integrating factors that motivate employees to stay/leave, adding follow-up and tiled questions to relevant items, and leveraging the power of demographics to demonstrate the impact of turnover and which groups are at risk of leaving. Examples of these powerful survey features follow:   

1. Assessing Motivators to Stay and Leave (Retention Factors)

Asking employees what motivates them to stay or leave your organization provides preliminary evidence of the factors most critical for retention. This can also yield important information for creating an employee value proposition which aids in attracting talent. Within the census survey organizations can inquire about factors such as work-life balance, compensation and benefits, opportunities for advancement, and satisfaction with managers. This information can then be used to tailor retention strategies and prioritize initiatives that resonate most with the workforce. Here’s an example of what this item set looks like:

Rate the impact each of the following factors has on your intent to stay. 

1 = Strongly Motivates Me to Leave; 2 = Somewhat Motivates Me to Leave; 3 = No Impact; 4 = Somewhat Motivates Me to Stay; 5 = Strongly Motivates Me to Stay

  • My job/the work itself
  • My co-workers/team
  • My manager
  • Available career advancement opportunities
  • Available training and development opportunities
  • My compensation
  • Recognition/appreciation I receive
  • Ability to balance my work and personal life

2. Adding Follow-Up and Tiled Questions

Asking Likert items is an efficient way to gauge general employee sentiments. However, adding follow-up questions helps organizations further understand the specific reasons for retention sentiments. When employees say they don't feel valued (a frequent driver of engagement and retention) or they don’t intend to stay, asking a branched follow-up question to only those employees who responded negatively provides more detail for the organization to act on. Tiled questions, which are a series of related questions with similar response options, can also be used to uncover the underlying causes of employee dissatisfaction with the organization and highlight areas where improvements can be made to reduce turnover. 

Here’s an example of a tiled item with branching logic:

Rate your level of agreement with the statement: “I feel valued as an employee.”

1 = Strongly Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 3 = Neutral; 4 = Agree; 5 = Strongly Agree

If rating = Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree, ask “What would make you feel more valued?” (Select all that apply.)

  • Being asked for my input
  • Being listened to by my leaders
  • Growth and development opportunities
  • Knowing how my work matters
  • Recognition for a job well done
3. Adding Important Demographic Data

Adding the right demographics to your census survey will help you identify segments of your workforce that are less engaged and more likely to experience turnover. Comparing current employee data with terminated employees can reveal patterns and inform your retention strategies. In particular, termination data helps leaders better understand the impact of engagement and intent to stay sentiments on voluntary turnover. Here is a simple example demonstrating a typical pattern comparing intent to stay sentiments among employees currently employed and those who took the survey and then subsequently voluntarily left the organization.

Percent intending to stay Note that employees who voluntarily left were 24% (86% vs. 62%) less positive about staying when they were employed, indicating that 1) employees who left were already communicating their intentions during their tenure, and 2) survey programs can clearly help us understand the likelihood of turnover. In addition, we can demonstrate to leaders the impact turnover has on the bottom line by simply multiplying the proportion intending to leave by the average cost to hire and replace those employees. 

Leaders should also consider incorporating demographics such as age, gender, tenure, department, job family, and job level. This will enable your organization to identify the specific demographic groups that may be at a higher risk of turnover and develop targeted retention initiatives to address their unique needs and preferences. 

Addressing Retention Through Lifecycle Surveys

Lifecycle surveys cover all key milestones of the employee experience, from onboarding and career advancements to exiting. A previous Perceptyx study revealed that organizations that actively use listening strategies, including lifecycle surveys, are 7x more likely to retain employees. To proactively act on items that drive retention, it's essential to understand all aspects of the employee lifecycle. When listening at various milestones, ask key items or themes consistently across all surveys. This allows for a better understanding of when your employees' experiences change or need reaffirming. Monitoring themes like company direction, role clarity, and sense of belonging over the course of the employee lifecycle can help you predict when action is needed to improve the employee experience and ultimately increase retention.

Below is an example of key metrics that can be tracked across the employee lifecycle. While scores may be lowest during the exit phase (which is expected), finding the moment in which perceptions change makes it easier to identify at what point an intervention is needed and will have the most impact. In the case below, employee perceptions start to shift shortly after 90 days, especially for growth and development, which appears to have a strong impact on engagement.

Employee Experience Over the LifecycleAs in the census survey example, adding important demographics to the analysis of lifecycle survey data can provide even more powerful insights. For example, organizations experiencing early turnover can leverage department, job family, or regional demographics to understand the jobs and locations being impacted the most. Comparing sentiments between retained employees and those who voluntarily left can then provide insights about aspects of the employee experience that drive early separation.     

Perceptyx Can Help You Better Understand Retention

Retention is a crucial aspect of maintaining a thriving organization. As an experienced listening partner, Perceptyx can assist you in developing and implementing listening strategies to better understand retention in your organization. Schedule a meeting with a member of our team to learn more.

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