PERSONAL TRAINER

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo)

Q: I am told that I should carry out an internal workforce survey to determine morale. Should I?

A: Surveys are now part of everyday business life. Most readers will probably have at least one uncompleted survey lurking in their inbox. You feel vaguely guilty, but never quite have the time. Then there are those maddening surveys that come through the post asking you about your favourite brand of soap powder, toilet roll or travel destination.

Does this blizzard of questionnaires and surveys yield real value? Well, this partly depends on the survey. The questions need to be carefully honed if they are not to guarantee a certain answer. You may get the socially acceptable answer, while the truth is more complex. An example of this might be: "Is a diverse staff group good for business?"

You need to be very careful how a workforce survey is carried out. Research by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University has found that job satisfaction scores differ depending on whether the questionnaire was completed on a Friday or a Monday. Not surprising, you might think.

You will also need to be careful that the survey does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the survey found that staff think "morale is low" (a great example of a non-specific question with little value) and then the results are published, soon everyone will be talking about how low morale is and, hey presto, morale then does become low.

So I would ask, what exactly do you wish to measure, and will a workforce survey give you results on which you can plan action? There is little point in asking staff if they think salary levels are too low if your investment income is taking a nosedive. If you are clear that a workforce survey would be helpful in developing your human relations strategy then be careful that the questions will generate real data. The results must be disseminated with care and the exercise not regarded as a science.

I would also suggest that you don't do this as a one-off. Data gathering over time, say through an annual survey, can be revealing. And you might find in particular circumstances, say a merger, that there could be real value from canvassing staff views.

None of this is to suggest that you should not be looking at new ways to consult with and get views from staff. And finally, let's all choose an answer from the following:

I love my boss.

I love my boss enormously.

I could not imagine working for anyone better.

- Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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