Turning employee feedback into action

Employees collaborate together.
More than 2,700 employees from across the WSU system responded to the 2023 Employee Engagement Survey this spring.

With comprehensive results from this year’s Employee Engagement Survey now available on Human Resource Services’ website, unit leaders and department heads are taking critical steps turning feedback into actionable goals.

More than 2,700 employees from across the WSU system responded to the 2023 Employee Engagement Survey this spring. It’s a slight decrease in response rate compared to 2018, though that isn’t surprising given the 5-year gap between surveys, said Laura Hamilton, who leads HRS’ Learning and Organizational Development team.

“The fact that we didn’t see significantly lower rates following the pandemic-related delay is encouraging,” she said. “Our response rate for the 2025 survey will be heavily dependent on how leaders from across the system engage with action planning.”

A lack of action after collecting such significant feedback from employees could cause many to disengage with the process altogether, Hamilton noted.

Employees won’t just be hearing about how their respective departments or colleges will be working to improve as a result of their feedback. WSU system leadership intends to also be vocal about its ongoing work as well as providing avenues for community members to weigh-in on the future of the university.

“It’s essential that we demonstrate respect and listen intently to our employees by not only giving them an opportunity to be heard, but seriously looking at what we can do to make WSU the best possible place to work,” WSU President Kirk Schulz said. “I am committed to putting forward actionable steps that will address those concerns voiced in the survey.”

From surveys to action plans

HRS recently instituted a more formalized post-survey process for units, departments, colleges and campuses across the WSU system. Following a review of survey insights with HRS staff, each area or college will have an opportunity to host listening sessions with its constituents before writing a formal action plan. After meeting with HRS about their action plans, department heads and unit leaders are then expected to provide updates twice a year with HRS to ensure progress toward stated goals and objectives is being made and that any newly arisen concerns are being considered.

“We really want leaders to look at areas where their departments can make an impact on issues most commonly raised in survey results and comments,” Hamilton said. “It’s also important that units remain responsive to issues that arise in the short term and provide opportunities to collect timely feedback.”

Both preliminary and comprehensive survey results were made available to area leaders and the university community earlier this year than in 2018. This allowed HRS to engage with managers across the university prior to the start of the Fall 2023 semester, giving them more time to engage before the return of most students to campuses.

Written action plans for each area, college and campus are due to HRS by February. The plan is to then make those plans available online for employees to ensure they are aware of their department’s priorities and see how their feedback is guiding planning for years to come. HRS is also strongly encouraging responding units to use action plan templates to maintain consistency across the WSU system.

The future of Employee Engagement Surveys

Human Resource Services has no plans to wait as long between employee engagement surveys as was necessary during the university’s response to the pandemic. Employee Engagement Surveys will be conducted every two years, with HRS staff already looking for ways to improve the tool in response to feedback.

Between 2018 and 2023, the number of survey questions nearly doubled, from 39 to 70. This came in direct response to employees wanting the opportunity to provide feedback about each level of oversight, from direct supervisors to unit heads to campus leadership all the way up to system leadership.

One anticipated change stemming from this year’s feedback has to do with written comments. More than 1,000 written comments were provided by employees on this year’s survey. For the 2025 EES, employees will be able to make comments at the end of each section of the survey, rather than in just one place at the very end.

“We’re anticipating this will lead to more meaningful comments pertaining to each area that’ll give us more actionable data and hopefully more specific recommendations for units, departments, colleges, and campuses,” Hamilton said.

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