How to Deal With Relationships in the Workplace/community survey

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Question
Hello Alice Bogert,

I hope this is related to your field.

We had a long questionnaire in our community to assess how well everyone feel we are communicating and dialoguing among ourselves and what we think we should do or not do about it. This was because many have complained of our need to improve.

I initially felt it was probably a bit slanted toward the status quo: Even though we undertook the whole process because many had reported we do not communicate well, most of the questions/statements to be agreed/disagreed with (yes/no or very much/little/sometimes) were phrased: "Our dialogues are going fine." or "Our system of communicating with each other is okay>" or "I do not have any problem approaching the leader of the community" etc.

These yes/ no choices were tallied after all answers were in, and they clearly lean toward: leave everything as is.

But the free comments after each question tell another story: When I added all the "stay as is" comments and all the "change something here" comments, the totals here are in favor of changing many things -- though not by as great a margin as in the yes/no sections.

Nevertheless, the grand total of "stay as is" versus "make changes," combining the answers from both categories (yes/no and comments) is even!

When I brought this up at the followup meeting discussing the results, the one who transcribed the results and posted them claimed that this evenness (parity) is "not real," since one given person may have several suggestions about changing things in one area, so that counts as only one person. Yet those who wanted to keep things as is added very few comments. So they essentially have only one thing to say in most questions, whereas they were given a chance to say more. The ones who see a need for change had many more ideas, and I think they should not be dismissed as being only a few only because fewer people wrote them.

Isn't this a way of slanting the results in favor of "stay as is," since one person may have said "keep the format of the dialogues as is," leaving it at that even though they could add comments; but another person not only says "change the format" but proceeds to add several points of suggestions. Shouldn't this count as a number of several points of suggesting change, not just one simply because it's the same person?

In addition, the main bulletin board only posts the questions with numbers voting yes/no, and none of the comments. A small print note says the comments are available on a table far away, where they are not as thoroughly read as on the bulletin board. Isn't this like hiding responses that are "inconvenient" for the framers of the survey?

What is the usual way, if any, to understand this type of results?

Thanks so much!

Greg

Answer
Hi Greg,

I applaud the survey to learn how comfortable folks are with communicating which is also a measure of morale in general.  

I think the focus on the numbers and what they mean, how to weight them is not shining a light on the real issue, which is "should we improve the way we communicate."  The hassle over the results, whether to post comments, etc., speaks volumes about the discomfort surrounding this topic and the resistance of those in charge to make any changes.  The way the results were handled explains a bit why communication among your community is so stilted and not genuine.

The reason for the survey in the first place was because folks were complaining about the community communication.  It is time to move beyond the yes and no votes and focus on ideas to improve communication.  My sense is that folks don't feel comfortable using their voices to be heard on issues that might not reflect positively on themselves or the organization. I suspect management is not comfortable with negative feedback either and possibly not confident in how to respond to employee complaints.

In that case, make it more comfortable and anonymous.  Put a suggestion box in the restrooms or someplace where no one can see when folks are putting in anonymous messages/ideas on what could be done or needs to be done.  After a reasonable period of time, couple of weeks, perhaps, review the messages.  That should provide a more accurate snapshot of whether things should stay the same or evolve into something more significant.  Thereafter, it's time for a face to face meeting with the community for problem solving. Read the messages and have a discussion about them, rank them in order of most useful, and then elicit ideas as to how best to start implementing the top one or two suggestions. (Google problem solving steps and incorporate this process in your meeting.)

Change is rarely painless; most of us want to hang on to what is comfortable.  However, communication is the foundation of office morale.  If it's open and flexible, without fear of reprisal and comes with the certainty that everyone's voice will be heart, office morale improves and so does productivity. That's a goal worth working toward.  

Take care.  I wish you well.

Alice J. Bogert  

How to Deal With Relationships in the Workplace

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alice bogert

Expertise

I can field questions related to employee-employee relationship issues as well as employee-manager relationship issues.

Experience

I supervised staff at the county and federal level for over 25 years. I have extensive experience dealing with employee disputes, management employee disagreements, morale issues, managing change, etc. I teach a variety of leadership and conflict resolution classes.

Organizations
National Association of Retired Federal Employees, Business Women of America.

Education/Credentials
I have a Masters Degree in Sociology.

Awards and Honors
Three Quality Step Merit Awards for Excellence while employed with the federal government. Numerous awards for training classes I've done.

Past/Present Clients
Private industry, Los Rio Community College District, federal, state and county government

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