Once upon a time, employee surveys were one of the primary methods companies used to assess engagement. Today, some Benefits and HR professionals proclaim that surveys are like landline telephones — simply outdated when employers can use machine-learning algorithms that crunch big data to measure employee engagement through email response times, network connections, and more. Who needs a clunky, time-consuming survey where some employees only tell you what you want to hear, and others don’t bother to respond at all?

You do!

For decades, having regular employee opinion surveys has stayed on evidence-based lists of high-performance HR practices. And well-constructed employee surveys continue to provide insight employers can’t get easily any other way.

Here’s what surveys have going for them:

  1. Surveys are great predictors of behavior. Asking the questions properly and cross-referencing the results can yield significant results. For example: Facebook found that simply asking their people how long they intend to stay (old school) is more than twice as accurate at foretelling their future than latest-generation machine-learning forecasts (new school). They also found that people who don’t participate in either of their two annual surveys are 2.6 times more likely to leave the company in the next six months. Eye-opening, right?!
  2. Surveys give employees the chance to feel heard. Not having a regular survey sends a clear message: You don’t care about people’s opinions. The act of filling out a survey gives employees a specific channel for expressing their voice, thoughts, and feelings. While we can often gain the insights we need from a sample of employees, we give everyone a chance to contribute to the conversation — and increase their engagement level — by inviting everyone to participate.
  3. Surveys are a vehicle for changing behavior. When you ask people for their input and insights, you aren’t just learning from them — you’re also influencing them. For example: If you survey people about whether they’re planning to buy a new computer in the next six months, they become 18 percent more likely to do it. Part of the effect is consistency — saying “yes” creates a commitment and many people follow through. But even people who say no are more likely to shift their behavior (as long as the behavior is desirable), because questions prompt reflection.

Smart technology and big data will continue to help us figure out what matters most to our people. But that will make surveys more important, not less. In an age where more employees are afraid “Big Brother” is watching and companies have the tools to observe more than ever before, running a survey can signal that Big Brother is still human. Give it a try!