In a stable environment, staff surveys can be useful instruments for Human Resources Management. They provide clear-cut data, suitable for quantitative analysis to be repeated year after year.
In a rapidly changing world and multicultural environments, however, things are too complex for the traditional approach. Employees present countless cultural and ethnic backgrounds, worldviews, and value systems. Their personal definitions of workplace norms differ widely. The capacity of staff surveys to account for these background factors is limited.
When the company and survey languages are different from one’s own native language, the validity of the assessment weakens significantly. Even the most fluent language skills may hide ambiguous and conflicting thinking structures, concepts of right and wrong, good or bad, too much and too little.
Further, background cultures largely define people’s perceptions of their roles, rights, and opportunities to participate and influence. People silently ask: Do I really count? Are my views valuable? Is my answer right or wrong? Is it appropriate to be critical? What is the agenda behind this survey? Will my responses remain confidential? What will be their consequences?
Technology-driven assessment and communication pose the risk of face-to-face communication being pushed aside. Without a true dialogue, cultural value systems and individual motivations behind the responses remain unknown. Consequently, the interpretations of the findings may be biased and driven by false assumptions.
While staff surveys do encourage people to express their views on current status of issues, they tend to ignore culture-sensitive ideals and expectations. It takes much more personal involvement and true leadership from managers and HR experts to reach the weak signals reflecting people’s feelings, motivation levels, and commitment.