Why You Shouldn't Tie Manager Bonuses to Employee Engagement Surveys

The-Artsy-Science-of-ProductivityMoney talks, right? That’s how the saying goes, at least. And if that’s the case, wouldn’t rewarding managers and other employees based on overall engagement scores from a census survey make the most sense?

While the concept seems sound, there are issues that arise with this practice. Engagement is essential and it’s important to keep people accountable, but we don’t recommend basing bonuses or pay scales on engagement numbers.


Free download: Complete Guide to Conducting an Employee Engagement Survey


The Problems with Incentives


1. They turn employee feedback into a score.

Focusing solely on the final number mutes the employees’ voices. Comments and feedback are lost when an organization hones in on the overall score and not their specific feedback.


2. They turn employee engagement into a manager metric.

Every employee inside an organization should feel accountable for employee engagement. While that accountability may look different for leaders, managers and employees, incentivizing one role (i.e. managers) decreases overall accountability.


3. They lead to unhealthy behavior.

If managers know their bonus will be affected by results on a census survey, they may change their actions around the time the survey is administered. They may threaten or intimidate employees into inflating results. Similarly, especially if the results remain anonymous, employees may be overly critical if they're unhappy with their managers and want to stick it to them.


4. They hurt post-survey action.

The ultimate goal of a survey is not to gauge the status quo, but to identify organizational strengths and areas that can be improved. If too much focus is placed on the results, managers may lose interest in engagement after the survey concludes.


5. They're unfair to managers.

Simply stamping managers with a number removes all context from their performance. Maybe a manager is new to the job and hasn't had a chance to make meaningful changes yet. Perhaps the starting engagement level of the team was particularly low. Elements such as team size and turnover play a large part in engagement scores and are many times out of the manager's hands.


What to Do Instead


1. Discuss engagement throughout the year.

Instead of holding managers accountable for one number associated with employee engagement, leaders can promote accountability among managers by regularly discussing engagement in 1-on-1 meetings. When leaders ask managers about their team's engagement commitments, the action they've taken since the survey, and what progress has been made so far, it signals that engagement is important and that managers are accountable for driving engagement in their teams.


2. Set up non-metric based goals.

Don't boil everything down to a number. Discuss ways to improve outside numerical values, such as employee retention or absenteeism.


If Incentivizing is Non-Negotiable


If you feel incentivization is a must for your organization, we have some suggestions that alleviate some of the issues addressed above.

  • Don't have a cookie cutter bonus plan. Take variables like team size and turnover into account.
  • Place accountability at the senior leadership level instead of at the manager level.
  • Make engagement coaching and other resources available so those you're incentivizing are set up for success.
  • Consider incentivizing on survey follow-up questions like, "My manager/leader shared the results of the last employee engagement survey with my team," and, "My team has made progress since the last employee engagement survey."



To get the whole scoop on the importance of employee engagement surveys and how to use them, take a look at this ebook.

The Complete Guide to Conducting an Employee Engagement Survey