Surveying Employees During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Conducting employee perception surveys is challenging during a pandemic, but it's also an opportunity to demonstrate the value of workers’ voices.

Crystal Cannan
April 27, 2020

At the onset of the pandemic, the NSC survey research team came together to discuss the potential impact of COVID-19 on conducting organizational employee safety perception surveys.The team identified two key questions they anticipated being asked by employers.

Should you still survey employees right now?

Although gathering employee feedback regarding safety is always important, in challenging or uncertain times it is especially critical. Right now, your focus is on the COVID-19 response and maintaining essential operations, but you cannot afford to let injury prevention get lost in the shuffle.

From a leadership perspective, perception surveys help ensure open communication, building trust and connecting with employees. The results provide you with additional opportunities to take action to ensure your employees’ safety and wellbeing.

Getting safety feedback from employees is vital to:

  • Identifying and addressing current employee needs
  • Maintaining your safety management system
  • Preparing for future emergencies

While it may seem counterintuitive to add work to already stressed personnel, employee experience trends show that they want to participate in surveys during major organizational change. Organizations who conduct surveys in difficult times have a more engaged workforce. The messages you are sending to your employees right now will be embedded in their perceptions long after this pandemic ends.

You should continue to survey your workforce, not only with tools like our standard NSC Employee Safety Perception Surveys, but also this short online employee survey we developed for NSC members to help assess employee perceptions regarding COVID-19.

The Council recognizes that surveying your workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic presents logistical and perceptual challenges. Here are a few tips to follow:

  • Consider rescheduling other surveys on topics that may be perceived as unimportant or irrelevant to employees right now.
  • Ensure that any survey you conduct is confidential and/or conducted by a third party. Providing a platform for sincere and open answers will yield better data and help make employees feel their input is valued.
  • Think about how employee access to surveys may have changed, such as employees without internet access, company emails or available channels to distribute paper survey forms.
  • Develop specific and more frequent communications, adjusting the tone and content to emphasize the purpose of the survey, its benefits and why employee feedback is important to you and the success of your organization.

NSC is here to help you with these challenges to ensure the best possible participation rates.

Will COVID-19 impact our survey results (scores, year-over-year results)?

While we do not have a reference point to evaluate the potential impact of COVID-19 on employee safety perceptions, we can draw lessons from our experience conducting surveys during and after other catastrophic events. We feel that safety culture, both positive and negative, is accentuated by a crisis. Organizations with strong resilient safety cultures will continue to be viewed as caring and well prepared while organizations with weaker cultures will see exposure of and deepening of gaps within their safety management system.

A dangerous underpinning to this question is: “Should we only survey employees when we can predict favorable scores or avoid situations that could make survey scores decrease?”

Holding off for more favorable circumstances can jeopardize the integrity of the entire process and sends a message to employees that you only want to hear feedback when it is good. Regardless of whether employee feedback is less or more positive during the pandemic, the results will still provide you with valuable insights and demonstrate to your employees that you conduct safety perception surveys to focus on continuous improvement – not just to receive favorable scores.

Overall, it is likely there will be some additional noise in your survey results. You will need to consider this during results interpretation; be prepared for this and work towards gaining valuable insights. As with the many challenges you are undoubtedly facing during this time, use this as an additional opportunity to show integrity and commitment to listening to employee voices and collaborating toward future success.

Crystal Cannan

Crystal Cannan is the former director of workplace, training and survey services at NSC.

Partner with NSC

With a century-long legacy, the National Safety Council is a global center for safety expertise. Let's work together to align resources. We look forward to learning about ways we can join efforts to expand safety everywhere!

Shopping Cart

There are no items in your cart