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Increasing employee participation in workplace assessments

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Increasingly, we are being asked by our clients to conduct, or to assist them in conducting, workplace assessments. These are proactive processes designed to gather information relating to the culture, practices or behaviours in the workplace and to identify the root cause of any conflicts or issues, or to determine the effectiveness of an organization’s operations in order to identify possible areas of improvement. Typically information is gathered directly from employees through questionnaires, interviews and/or focus groups.

Given that employee participation in these processes is often optional, one of the challenges to an effective assessment can be employee participation levels. While no method is foolproof, there are some strategies that can be utilized to increase participation levels.

Tone from the top

It can be helpful to let employees know that the organization is taking the assessment process seriously and is committed to truly hearing the information provided by employees. Often employees will have participated in employee surveys or other processes with few visible impacts; some employees may be wary of another process. One effective way of showing support for an assessment process is to launch the process in-person, and to have information about the process communicated by someone senior in the organization. One thing I always tell clients, however, is that you have to mean it. Do not make commitments you do not intend to keep.

Be transparent

If there is a specific reason or reasons that you are initiating a workplace assessment, such as a spike in employee complaints or unexplained steep drops in productivity, consider whether you can share some or all of that reason directly with your employees so that they understand why they are being asked to participate. In some cases, there may be confidentiality reasons why full disclosure is not possible, but in those cases consider whether partial disclosure might be allowed. Sometimes assessments aren’t rooted in a specific issue or goal, and in those cases it is still worthwhile to tie the process to the organizational policy, commitment or goal that is triggering the assessment. In all cases, I try not to share information about specific concerns that people might raise as part of the process so as not to influence the information gathered.

Address confidentiality

When conducting an assessment, and in particular when utilizing questionnaires, there are a variety of options for dealing with confidentiality. Online questionnaires can be fully anonymous, or employees can be asked to self-identify with assurances that their identities won’t be shared by the assessor or their information won’t be attributed to them in the report. There are pros and cons to each approach that an organization must weigh, but generally speaking the more employees trust that the process will be confidential, the more likely they will be to participate.

Report back

Nobody wants to waste their time, and that includes employees being asked to complete surveys and attend interviews. Let people know at the beginning of the process that you intend to share the results of the process at the end and they will be far more interested in participating. I often meet with interested participants at the end of the process to share the themes identified in my report and to review with them the recommendations that will impact their experience in the workplace. When organizations follow up my presentation by sharing the action plans that they created in response to my report, the impact is even greater.

In the end, the quality of an assessment is determined, in part, by the level of employee participation. Better participation gives the assessor better information, and the recommendations that follow will be rooted in actual concerns that have the greatest potential impact for the organization. By utilizing some of the strategies above, an organization that is genuinely committed to an assessment will be able to communicate that commitment to their employees and convince them of the value of their participation.

Cory Boyd

About the Author: Toronto Employment Lawyer Cory Boyd has worked with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and Toronto Community Housing as an in-house investigator and human rights consultant. At Rubin Thomlinson, he continues to apply his analytical skills to conducting workplace investigations and preparing thorough reports.