The Thirsty Dog Blog by Jason Price | Seattle

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Best Place to Work Surveys – Perception vs. Reality?

If you’ve been working in corporate America in the last 5-10 years you have likely taken a ‘Best Place to Work’ survey for your company.  Maybe it was through Glassdoor or for some other industry or news publication?  At least once a year – maybe even more.  They have become the piece de resistance in marketing, sales, recruiting, retention and corporate culture.  I’ve been there.

Over the years I’ve probably completed two dozen of these things run by various reputable and lesser known entities and have seen the effects that they can have on both employee morale and executive leadership.  Good results get pumped with over the top PR while neutral or bad results get forgotten like a bad meal.  What I’ve observed is that the entire process is a fishing expedition – you put your line in the water hoping you catch a lunker.  If you do, you tell everyone your big fish story.  If you don’t, you put your line in the water again and wait.


Surveys, Bloody Surveys…


Richard Dawson – The Ultimate Surveyor

They are like the seasons; predictable, generally run on a standard schedule, and they come around 4 times a year.  And the troops can become survey weary.  A company I used to work at would routinely pound it’s employees with survey after survey.  I distinctly remember being told by several of my direct reports that they were tired of taking surveys and didn’t see the point.  Honestly – how many times can you ask someone to take a Best Place to Work survey in a year before you start annoying them?  And wouldn’t that be the antithesis of what you were trying to promote as a company?  I can see the comments now: “Sure, <insert company name here> is a great place to work, but we have a new survey to fill out every month which makes it quite annoying.”  There’s a limit to what one can take when it comes to chest thumping.


Key Components of Best Place to Work Surveys

Each of the Best Place to Work surveys I have taken are a bit different but I’ve observed a few common themes.  Scales of measurement vary but these elements always seem to be present in every survey I’ve taken.

  • CultureIs my company an enjoyable place to work?  Do I like the people I work with?  Are there cool perks and bennies that make it a better place?  Is work/life balance good?
  • WorkIs the quality of work presented to me challenging?  In Consulting this question especially applies to the type of client work you do regularly – i.e., am I mostly doing staff augmentation work or strategic, higher level consulting work with clientele?
  • Benefits – What level of benefits does the company provide for health insurance?  Paid vacation time?  Sabbaticals?  Maternity/Paternity leave, etc.?
  • Compensation – Am I paid well relative to my experience level and the market I am in?
  • Learning/Development – What kind of training is available to me?  Do I receive a stipend?  Can I learn from others around me?  How do I evolve my career?
  • CommutingHow easy is it for me to get to work?  And where can I park when I get there?  Am I in a plane/train/automobile too much or is my commute acceptable?

All of these topics undoubtedly have varying levels of priority for each individual.  Sometimes it might seem baffling but you have to accept people for who they are and what’s important to them. For example, I’ve had folks who report to me prioritize their commute above all else which was shocking to me.  I had a hard time rationalizing that it was more important to a person how long it took them to get to and from work than the type of work they spent all day doing.  But hey – to each his/her own.


So What’s the Point?

This has become a big part of brand marketing in the 21st century.  It’s perceived as free PR but the cost on the morale of the staff can sometimes outweigh the benefits.  Especially if the results are not what is desired/expected.  Executives anxiously await the results of the latest survey they’ve put their employees through and then, when they arrive, the following notes are sent by executives to the masses:

Result = Top 10

  • Message from Execs: We’re the best!  Hoorah!!  We’ve created something awesome here!
  • Call to Action: Please add this to your email signature lines and start telling everyone.  Paste the link to the survey results on LinkedIn while you are at it!
  • Employee Perception: I guess this really is a good place to work.  Everyone else thinks so so it must be true!

Result = Treading Water +/- 3 places

  • Message from Execs:  Hey, we’re still pretty good.  Stay the course and we’ll do better next time (on the survey to follow for another publication next month)
  • Call to Action: Keep last year’s signature line with the better result
  • Employee Perception: Hmm, I guess we’re still pretty good but maybe not as much as I thought before.  Is our model growing stale?

Result = Lost ground or didn’t make the top 20

  • Message from Execs: Generally none.  If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it…
  • Call to Action:  Circle the Exec wagon to figure out what went wrong and whip the PR engine to find another Best Place to Work survey stat!
  • Employee Perception: I didn’t hear anything about the results of that last survey I submitted.  Guess we didn’t do so well.  Is there something wrong here?



Albert had it right


A Dual Edged Sword

If your company is successful in it’s Best Place to Work survey endeavors then the results can become another claim to fame for your company and something that you can promote relentlessly.  It touches many facets of your business from recruiting to brand marketing to business development to culture.  They are perceived as low risk because if you don’t get what you want, then nobody needs to know about it – at least that’s what you might think.

But here’s the news – forcing your employees to take numerous surveys in the name of perception based marketing can backfire.  People get annoyed when they are asked to take too many.  They can shut down and refuse to take them altogether.  The exact opposite of what you hope to achieve.  Even worse is when your employees dutifully complete these surveys and then never hear a thing about the results. Presumably because they weren’t what was expected.  People are smart – they get this and by not promoting the results of the survey you can inadvertently plant seeds of discontent within the ranks.  People start to ask questions about the company and rumors can manifest.  Before you know it, your Best Place to Work survey has backfired into a full blown PR dilemma internally and task forces must be formed to figure everything out!


A Simple Call to Action

Now I’m not saying that these surveys are all bad.  In fact, they can be incredibly helpful if done pragmatically and with efficacy.  Good results can reinforce positive morale internally and dramatically alter or supplement positive brand perception in the marketplace.  So, there is value there for sure.

My call to action for both execs and employees is as follows:


  • Stay in touch with your people and get a good, solid sense of where people stand before you impose a survey on them.  In effect, know the answers to the questions you ask before you ask them.
  • Pick one good, high profile survey to complete and go for it.
  • Be proactive and forthcoming with the survey results.  Good, bad or indifferent – you need to be honest with your people and let them know the results of their efforts.  If they are good then pat everyone on the back and promote the hell out of them.  If there is work to be done then own it and let people know what the action plan is to correct the areas of deficiency.


  • Participate in the survey and be honest.  Put down what you feel; not what you think you should.
  • Demand to see and comprehend the results of the surveys you take.  As noted above – if there are issues to be addressed then ask executives what they are doing about it.  Better yet – offer solutions and your time to help remedy things.
  • Be your own man/woman – don’t let survey results dictate how you feel about your place of work.  Everyone’s situation is unique and so is yours.  Just because many other people seem happy at your company doesn’t make it the best place to work for you.  If you don’t like your environment you have two choices – adapt to it or change it.  Make that choice for yourself.  Not because someone else tells you that you are in the best place to work.

In order for Best Place to Work surveys to be credible they must be responded to honestly.  I’ve seen many instances where subtle and not-so-subtle messages were pushed to employees to complete surveys so that the company could maintain or achieve a high ranking.  As counterproductive as that may seem it does happen.  So, the next time you are asked to complete a Best Place to Work survey do it with personal feeling.  And ask for those results – good, bad or ugly.