A Reader Writes:
My boss was not happy with the results of our latest employee engagement survey for our department. Our department in particular scored low in such areas as trust and respect for the leadership. I know this because my boss put me in charge of conducting focus groups within our department to find ways that we can improve the employee experience. While his idea of the focus group sounds sincere, my boss has asked me to identify those who are dissatisfied and “not team players”, likely for some kind of retribution, something which is counter to the spirit of the anonymous nature of the engagement survey. How do I decline his request to hand over names of focus group attendees who sound unhappy?
Given the atmosphere that your boss has created on your team, it is no surprise that the employee engagement scores are low for your department. It must be very frustrating to observe that your boss is the cause of these low scores, and yet he is determined to erase the people whose quality of life is diminished by his own actions. Sadly, such wiles within the corporate environment reflect a broader context that is unfolding on a national theme.
To stand up to the kind of boss that you describe by refusing to participate in the focus group will likely lead to repercussions for you. However, there is a middle ground here. You have an opportunity to provide much-needed influence in your department. You can maintain your integrity by coaching your boss without him knowing you are coaching him. The next time he asks you to conduct a deceitful focus group, align his expectations of how the results will be reported back to him. Explain that the purpose of an engagement survey and the subsequent focus groups are to identify themes in the aggregate that can be improved upon, not individual gripes or “who said what”. Individual employee complaints or other feedback should be addressed throughout the year in one-on-one meetings between employee and manager. Suggest to your boss that he provide regular one-on-one discussions with team members to build trust and provide two-way feedback. That’s the most effective way to drive up scores on the next survey – not by getting rid of the critical thinkers. You may wish to suggest to Human Resources that before future surveys are launched, training be made available that prepares department heads for responsibly interpreting and handling survey results – an element often missing.