When is the best time to run an employee survey?

We often get asked when is the best time to run an employee survey. This is usually either because an organisation has previously run an employee survey and only got a low low response rate, or they are planning on running their first employee survey and want to make sure it has maximum impact.

We also often hear ‘now is not the right time’ as the reason why organisations have decided to defer or cancel their employee survey.

Unfortunately, there is no right answer to the question! The only answer we can give is that it depends.

However, these are some of the things that are worth considering that might help you decide when is the best time to run an employee survey. 

Understand your business cycle

This is probably the most important thing to consider.

Different businesses in different sectors tend to follow distinct cycles during each year and there will be periods of the year that are much busier than others, which means people are less likely to take part in a survey.

For example, in retail the run up to Christmas, and the sales following Christmas, are typically extremely busy which means that most staff will be running around serving customers and restocking shelves and simply won’t have the time to take part in a survey. Christmas is obviously also busy in hospitality, but they will have other hotspots in the year such as around summer holidays. In education, the summer is where the most quiet time typically is, but most staff will be on holiday.

All businesses will have a yearly financial cycle, which can have several effects.

The company might want to ship as much stock as possible in the run up to the end of the year, there may be budget pressures to spend the budget before the end of the year, or there may be a need to defer any additional expense (such as running a survey) until the new financial year. And the financial year might also cross-over with some of the other key milestones in the business cycle!

All in all there is never a good time in any business so it is often simply a case of finding the least worst time of year.

Should we run our employee survey before the pay review, or after?

Pay is always a contentious thing to include in your employee survey. Historically, no-one ever feels they are paid enough and that is even more so nowadays.

As such, running your employee survey around a pay review can have an impact on the survey results.

Obviously, if pay increases were lower than expected then running a survey immediately after is likely to throw up more negative results.

However, running the survey before the pay review in an attempt to avoid this can often lead people to reserve judgement when completing the survey.

We find that they will tend to be a little bit more neutral until they have seen the outcome of the pay review.

Have there been any major changes to the business?

Running an employee survey following a major business change may have an impact on the survey results, depending on how that change was managed and how it affected people.

Clearly, where a restructure has resulted in lots of redundancies, the survey results might be more negative than you would hope for.

However, to take a positive view, if the change was the right thing to do and handled well, you might actually find the survey results to be really positive.

You can of course use your survey to measure the impact of organisational changes.

It is ever possible to find the best time to run an employee survey?

This is a challenging thing to say, but we do find that the reason behind ‘now not being the right time for us’ is actually the senior team just avoiding the issue.

At the end of the day, there is rarely a period in the year where all of the stars align making it the perfect time of year to run your employee survey.

However, we do work with organisations who don’t seem to have these difficulties.

The difference is in the organisation’s desire to genuinely understand how employees feel about their working lives with a corresponding desire to improve the employee experience of all employees.

This commitment usually stems from the most senior leader(s), but also requires a determined senior HR leader to make it happen.

Where these stars do align there is always a good time of year to run the employee survey.