Anonymous surveys bring out the truth

Communicate results, actions based on input

Asking employees what they think of their employer can be tricky. To obtain truthful answers, you want the survey to be anonymous, and one way to ensure anonymity is to use an outside source to conduct the survey, says Moses Altsech, PhD, founder of Marketing Hospice, a Madison, WI-based marketing consulting service.

"Employees are more open if they know that a human resource person or their own supervisors are not going to be seeing the survey forms," Altsech says.

An outside consultant also can provide additional help evaluating the information, he point out. "A third party has no preconceived ideas about the hospice and also has the opportunity to share information from work with other clients," Altsech explains. "This perspective can provide options that a hospice manager might not consider."

Another way to conduct a survey anonymously is to use an online tool, says Julia Houck, vice president of human resources for Madison, WI-based HospiceCare Inc. "We use Survey Monkey, which is a cost-effective way to survey employees," she says. "We can build our own survey and the reports include comments as well as data." [Editor's note: Survey Monkey offers free and paid online survey tools. Go to]

However you conduct your employee satisfaction survey, the most important part of the survey is sharing information with employees, says Altsech. "You can't just ask employees what they think of their employer. You have to show employees that you listened to and considered their ideas and concerns," he says. "Sometimes the issue can be easily addressed."

For example, one of Altsech's clients learned that a simple cost-cutting measure greatly affected employee morale. "The hospice stopped paying for a subscription for a newspaper that was placed in the break room," he says. "Employees commented that the only time they got a chance to read the paper was in the break room and they missed having the paper." The client reinstated the subscription, and employees saw that their concerns were heard, he adds.

Sometimes ideas or complaints are not as easy to address, admits Altsech. "Even if the idea is not feasible, tell employees that the idea was received and explain why you can't implement it," he says. Whether the reason is based on financial or regulatory reasons, or even the fact that the idea doesn't fit the hospice's goals and strategies, be honest, he says.

Pat Ahern, chief executive officer of Rainbow Hospice and Palliative Care in Park Ridge, IL, says, "We always identify the top three concerns to address from each year's employee satisfaction survey."

A team composed of management and non-management employees is put together to work on solutions that can be implemented, Ahern says. "Sometimes we can address the concern easily. Other ideas take longer to implement," she adds.

One year employees complained about the use of separate vacation and sick leave hours as compared to a general pool of paid time off, Ahern says. "Employees said they didn't like lying about being sick when they really just wanted a mental health day," she says. Following the survey, Ahern told employees that the agency would work toward a paid time off system, but it would take time. During the five years it took to convert to the new system, Ahern and supervisors kept employees up to date about progress, she adds.

"I'm always truthful with employees, says Ahern. "If they know we're trying to do the right thing, they understand why something will take longer to implement or why something can't be implemented."


For more information about employee retention, contact:

• Pat Ahern, Chief Executive Officer, Rainbow Hospice, 444 N. Northwest Highway, Suite 145, Park Ridge, IL 60068. Telephone: (847) 685-9900. Fax: (847) 685-6390. E-mail:

• Moses Altsech, PhD, Marketing Hospice, Madison, WI. Telephone: (608) 213-4110. E-mail:

• Julia Houck, Vice President of Human Resources, HospiceCare Inc., 5395 E. Cheryl Parkway, Madison, WI 53711. Telephone: (608) 276-4660. E-mail: