An often ignored three letter word that’s answers are extremely powerful to the learning process. Some of us remember that stage in life when our kids walked around asking “Why?” to everything we said. That may have been in the toddler years, some may have had the pleasure of experiencing that in the terrible teen years- regardless, it is not an easy question to answer as a parent. Just as kids may be asking their parents Why?, employers need to be asking their employees Why?

Based on our research gathered in the past decade, 77% of the reasons employees quit their jobs are preventable by the employer. Let me repeat that, more than three out of four employees quit due to reasons the company could have prevented if they did not ignore the Why. These departures cost companies BILLIONS of dollars every year even if we conservatively estimate attrition costs at one-third of the employee’s salary. This can be a massive drag on any company’s bottom line, so why don’t more companies pay attention to it?

Why can’t we change this? We can.

We’ve all done them- employee engagement surveys. The time and effort we spend on these surveys to come up with some rating scale that tells us what we already know- our current employees like their employer and give us a rating of “good.” But what action steps can we take based on this knowledge? What can we do to get better, more poignant data? It’s simple- ask Why? Why did you give that rating? Why do you feel that way?

Many of the engagement studies done by organizations today are neither reliable nor valid. There are a variety of reasons, but the most glaring reason is because employers only look at half of the story. They aren’t looking through the employee’s lens.

Typical models for measuring employee engagement and retention impose specific lists of workplace conditions that employees must rate on a scale. However, and to their detriment, items are drawn from subject areas the employer has historically thought were important, rather than items identified as important by employees.

For example, an employee is asked to rate satisfaction with pay, benefits, supervisors, company mission, recognition, colleagues, growth opportunity, supervisory behavior, and how likely the respondent is to recommend employment to a friend or colleague. While these are not bad questions, they are self-limiting and often biased themes. How many times have you filled out a survey tool that either didn’t allow you to identify your real concern or limited your evaluation to an individual rather than the company he/she represents?

Alternatively, we need to be looking through the employee lens. How do we do that? By asking open-ended questions around simple and known core drivers of attitudes and subsequent behaviors. This will tell you the other half of the story- probing deeper into the “why?” and bring to light the most important workplace issues from the employee perspective.

Questions may simply look like this:

  • Why do you plan on staying with us?
  • Why did you rate your supervisor that way?
  • Why did you give your job a “good” rating?

Approaching employee surveys with an open-ended method allows the employee to voice his or her real workplace observations and concerns, without limiting the responses. Employees want to share their opinions. They want to give potential solutions to workplace issues. Give them the opportunity.

They will identify the most important workplace strengths (drivers) and weaknesses (restraints) illuminates areas necessary for improvement.

It is much easier than typical models make it out to be.