(Not so) confidential surveys

Friday - 9/30/2011, 1:27pm EDT


Lots of outfits — in and out of government — regularly test the waters by asking workers to fill out confidential attitude surveys. The idea is that you, the survey-filler-outer, can safely say what's on your mind in the privacy of your little cubicle. You can point out the bosses' warts without fear of retribution. Government agencies do this all the time.

But how accurate (and confidential) are they?

More often than not the survey results "prove" that most workers are happier than pigs in muck and they are delighted to part of a team led by such brilliant, yet selfless leaders. Especially the political appointees.

But some employees believe that the confidential surveys aren't all that confidential and that because workers know this they either ignore them, or say what they think management wants to hear. A recent column on the subject of not-so-confidential-surveys produced some interesting reactions. Such as:

  • "...Sounds like the yearly IRS employee survey. Few people actually take it and us old timers know full well that the powers that be will manipulate the statistics to makes themselves look good. We also know there was a way to track the individual complaints back. The results were skewed by people who thought sucking up would benefit them. All this while the IRS management pretend they actually care about the morale of the workforce. The entire process is a open joke and an incredible waste of money because nothing of real substance ever gets done. They elevate some issues and waste a lot of GS 14 "analysts'" time working on the so called problem. When it comes down to it, we are all victims of the current political atmosphere hell bent at achieving power at any and all cost. Including ruining the economy so they can blame the current administration with labels and political slogans. I am hoping for the correct 6 lottery numbers Friday night so I can see for myself the truth of living in Australia." Greg of the IRS

  • "This is hysterical... We have a stupid survey about every two months and today my manager gave me a glare, and I was certain it was because I mentioned in the survey that she needs to get fitted for a better fitting bra. My two best buddies toss theirs (surveys, not bras) in the trash every time. well..... all comments are supposed to be made public.. lets see if my better bra suggestion goes viral. If not, I am sure they know its me...." J.Z.

  • "Our agency had the same thing. Seems the feds have decided to test the waters and put out an employee feedback form of some kind each year. They say, 'You are among a randomly selected group of employees.' Feds are so suspicious that when they see a form of any kind they avoid it like a plague. Even if one likes their work and the work environment, employees with at least 3 years exhibit levels of caution while those in the 10+ category are outright suspicious. It's kind of funny though, young people and new hires love their job no matter what they are and people ready to head out the door in the "KMA" club aren't afraid to speak their minds...

    "The forms are always on-line (so much for confidential) and if you don't fill them out in a 'timely manner' you get reminder e-mails. Did I say confidential? " Anon

  • "... I have to admit, I normally just don't fill mine out anymore. It never seems to result in anything even when we all get together collectively and shaft "our" part of the management machine. Now we just keep getting frantic e mails asking us to turn them in....." L In California

  • "As President of my local, I know factually that what people say is far different from what they do. Example: although there were favorable responses from employees in the acquisitions department to the employee questionnaire, 45 employees left (mostly through resignations) in less than 5 years. The department changed hands so quickly that only two top managers and one employee remained out of the original group.

    "It was unusual for me based on my 35+ years of experience and 6+ years as president of my local to see this type of movement especially during hard economic times. To the best of my knowledge, most employees stay with the federal government until they blow the whistle (regardless what the laws say you can't stay employed with Uncle Sam), receive a severe adverse action notice, RIF, VSIP/VERA (voluntary separation notices), or death prior to age 55.