Early in my management career, the HR department sent out a single-question survey which asked how satisfied we were with our jobs on a scale of 0 (very unsatisfied) to 4 (highly satisfied). To my surprise, my group had the lowest average score (2.6) in the company. The HR VP predicted a mass exodus and told me that my annual bonus would be negatively impacted. I was mystified because I had heard very few complaints and nobody had left in the previous year.
Not one to leave such mysteries unsolved, I convinced HR to ask my group three more questions:
- How likely are you to leave the company in the next 6 months?
- How does your job compare to other jobs that you’ve had?
- How does your job satisfaction compare with how it was 3 months ago?
The results made me feel better. My group reported they were unlikely to leave the company in the next six months, their current job was slightly better than ones they’d had in the past and they felt the same about their job today as they did 3 months ago. The evidence convinced HR I didn’t have a major problem brewing. And saved my bonus.
Despite this, I was curious why my group’s results were lower than the company average. During my regular one-on-ones in the subsequent weeks, I described the situation to my employees and asked for their opinion.
Apparently software engineers are tough graders. Many said they would never give a higher score than 3.5, no matter how happy they were. It irritated them that the company soda machines didn’t carry Pepsi products; enough to lower their grades. A 2.6 score for my group might have been equivalent to 3.0 or higher for another group.
This confusion could have been avoided if HR hadn’t chosen to benchmark groups against each other. Comparing software engineers to salespeople is probably not a good idea. Instead, HR should have ignored the raw results and focused on the trend over time. Are the results from this quarter’s survey result going up or down as compared to last quarter? Since we only had one data point, I was trying to approximate this by asking, “How does your satisfaction with your job compare with how it was 3 months ago?”
As it turns out, no one left my group over the next year despite the VP’s warning. While interesting work or a soft job market might have been the primary reasons, I like to think that it had something to do with the fact that I stocked my office mini-fridge with free Pepsi.
(An earlier version of this blog appeared in 2007.)