APA Center for Organizational Excellence: Good Company

Resources for Employers

Good Company Blog

October 2016 Archives


Bashing annual employee surveys has definitely come into fashion. All too often, headlines recommend that companies scrap their annual engagement or satisfaction surveys and instead put boots on the ground and experience work from the employee perspective. Get out there, talk to people and you will get a sense of what is going on. That was the focus of a recent article on Forbes by Liz Ryan, suggesting that we “Ditch the Employee Engagement Survey -- Here Are Ten Better Ways to Listen.

The article misses the mark in its criticism of employee surveys. Perhaps it could be construed as an indictment of the way surveys are being used in some organizations today. After all, modern surveying capabilities allow anyone, regardless of survey design expertise, to utilize the tool, and because data collection is easy and efficient, it often replaces more beneficial, yet time-consuming, ways of collecting robust information from across the organization.

However, a quarterly or annual survey, when designed correctly, still serves an important function in organizations. It permits the organization to assess the current state of the workforce, whether in terms of engagement, job satisfaction, turnover intentions, or some other constructs. When coupled with modern analytics and visualization capabilities, organizations can effectively identify changes over time, specific issues that need to be addressed, and problem areas within the organization.

Anecdotes are not surveys

These benefits cannot be realized using any of the tactical approaches Ryan recommends in her article. Many of the approaches she mentions (e.g., being available for group conversations, quick one-on-one conversations) could be used to add more focused discussion based on survey results, but they will not replace the quality of information obtained in a survey of the workforce.

The reason for this is that surveys provide a broad collection of information across a wide variety of individuals within the organization. Data are collected and analyzed in a systematic way, and therefore, the results provide a more inclusive cross-section of the organization than any other tactical approach.

Meetings and town hall forums, suggestion boxes, and lunch room conversations may produce a host of anecdotal data, which can be highly fruitful and produce ideas worth considering and vetting for possible implementation across the organization. However, such data are typically non-representative and increase our likelihood of succumbing to one of many cognitive biases. If your primary (or only) way of assessing the state of the workforce is through the use of anecdotal data, you will likely walk away with a biased, unrepresentative view of your organization.

Instead, a more systematic approach would be as follows:

  1. Survey employees about their attitudes using broad, validated metrics and in a way to optimizes response rate and willingness to respond candidly.
  2. Use multifaceted approaches (e.g., town hall meetings, online suggestion boxes, lunch room conversations), more boots on the ground approaches to discuss survey results, get a sense of individual employee concerns and ideas for enhancing the organization’s overall effectiveness.
  3. Synthesize and evaluate the possible options for moving the organization forward that were generated during Step 2. If multiple options are being considered, perhaps poll employees to get a sense of their preferences for the options in the list.
  4. Begin implementation of initiatives, finding ways, when possible to get employees involved.
  5. Assess the quality of implementation in the next round of surveys and begin the process all over again.

Such an approach recognizes that organizational effectiveness cannot be enhanced with a “one and done” process. It requires a systematic, recurring process that relies on data being collected in multiple ways and integrated to optimize the likelihood of successful strategies and initiatives.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/penmachine/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Customer Service Week emphasizes the importance of customer service and celebrates the people who provide customer service daily. The celebratory week is an effective way for organizations to improve morale, motivation and teamwork; raise awareness of the importance of customer service; and thank internal departments for their support. Customer Service Week is held during the first full week of October each year.

There are simple things any company can implement to recognize their employees who provide customer service both internally and externally. Here is a look at how the American Psychological Association celebrated Customer Service Week this year.


At APA we hosted a number of activities, both fun and educational, during Customer Service Week. This year our theme was Celebrating Everyday Heroes. 

The main event was an Open House of Heroes. Employees were invited to dress as their favorite superhero and participate in competitions to win prizes.

APA’s executive managers welcomed employees to the event and operated the Wheel of Customer Service activity. Employees spun a wheel and were asked to answer a corresponding customer service-related question such as, “Can you describe a time when you went above and beyond for a customer?” Employees also had the opportunity to recognize their colleagues for being a customer service hero and give them a superhero alias. These notes of appreciation were then posted in the lunchroom for everyone to see.


Another popular activity was the employee spotlight, titled Unsung Heroes. Each day a different employee was featured, sharing a time when they were a customer service hero.

For a causal learning opportunity, APA’s executive director of membership recruitment and engagement gave a lunch-time talk on how employees can provide excellent customer service and how the membership office can help other departments do the same. One person from each major office attended and reported back to their group.

All week long employees were encouraged to wear their “Everyday Hero” wrist band, given out to all employees. Whenever a member of the Customer Service Week committee caught someone wearing their band, they received a raffle ticket. At the end of the week prizes were given to employees who engaged in the week and reminded others that they are everyday heroes.

Even implementing one activity can go a long way to appreciate customer service providers and improve customer service.

Editor's note: This post is part of an ongoing series that shares some of the initiatives, events and activities that support employee health and well-being at the American Psychological Association. We don't only talk about how businesses and organizations can be psychologically healthy. It's a model we've also adopted ourselves.


Katelynn Wiggins is assistant director of the Staff Initiatives Office, which is part of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence.


The American Psychological Association recently released a report discussing the potential upsides and downsides of having conversations about politics – and specifically the upcoming U.S. Presidential election – in the workplace. Not surprisingly, 27 percent of workers reported at least one negative outcome as a result of political discussions in the workplace during this election season. Granted, some workers also felt more connected to their co-workers (24 percent) or had a more positive view of their co-workers (23 percent) as a result of political discussions.

I will not attempt to summarize all of the results here, though I recommend people to take a look at the full report as there were some differences that emerged as a function of sex and age. Perhaps most importantly (and surprisingly to some folks), this is not a Republican versus Democrat or a Liberal versus Conservative issue, as there were hardly any differences between the various political affiliation or philosophical classifications.

Instead, the positive and negative consequences of discussing sensitive – and sometimes divisive – issues at work can happen to anyone regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum.

But politics is not the sole source of potential divisiveness in the workplace, as different individuals and groups have lined up to voice their support or displeasure about NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s and other players' actions during the playing of the National Anthem, to argue their perspective on gender-neutral restrooms, or various other controversial issues that emerge over the course of any given year.

I could list one example after another, but in truth, they would all have at least one core commonality: they tend to evoke strong opinions on both sides of the issue. If these events become the topic of conversation at work, those conversations could degrade the quality of the work environment if not managed properly.

While the majority of workers in the APA poll reported that co-workers were generally respectful of those with differing political views (60 percent), that means a large minority of workers were either neutral or disagreed with this sentiment. In other words, there could be very real consequences for an organization, especially in terms of productivity and employee relations.

Should organizations actively promote or discourage conversations surrounding sensitive issues?

Idealistically, one could argue that an organization’s culture might be such a supportive environment that workers could constructively share their opinions on topics like these without ridicule or negative consequences. While this may be an accurate descriptor of some organizations, I would be surprised to learn that it was accurate of more than a small minority of them (especially, given that most organizations develop sub-cultures that vary to a fairly large extent).

On the other hand, without deliberate consideration of ways to address the occurrence of these conversations (by either promoting or dissuading them), managers and organizational leaders may be increasing the likelihood they will occur--and possibly occurring to the detriment of productivity. Therefore, it may be in the organization’s best interest if it takes a deliberate stand--not on the issue itself, but on its position regarding the discussion of sensitive and potentially divisive topics in the workplace.



  • Bookmark and Share

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2016 listed from newest to oldest.

September 2016 is the previous archive.

November 2016 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives