Employee Development Study


The survey was undertaken in the UK arm of a new media agency, as partial fulfilment of an MSc in Occupational Psychology. The aim was to evaluate existing review and development processes in the light of psychological theory and feed any 'blind spots' back to the company.

In particular, recent pilot initiatives such as the instigation of personal development plans and personal development coaches and the introduction of 360 degree feedback were compared against more traditional top down appraisal. If successful, such initiatives should have a measurable impact on attitudinal measures such as organisational commitment and job satisfaction.

An organisational justice perspective was used as a theoretical angle also drawing on more general theories about the effects of feedback. Most studies to date have been concerned with the 'feedback sign', in other words whether feedback has a positive or negative content. However, it has consistently been shown that it is not always so that positive feedback results in positive feelings and behaviour and negative feedback in negative consequences. One theory that can be applied in this context is the organisational justice perspective. According to this, individuals are much more likely to accept feedback and be much more likely to change future behaviour, if they think the feedback given has been fair, regardless of the content of the feedback message. In short, fair procedures are accepted by those involved and ultimately lead to positive outcomes. Good (fair) practices entail such markers as room for participation, two-way communication, timely instigation and repeated follow up.

For instance, it was expected that 360 degree feedback which uses feedback from multiple sources would be seen as fairer than one-to-one meetings. It also has often been said that any development initiatives will 'fall flat' if they are not bound into an overall supportive organisational climate. Hence, it was also evaluated whether the company's employees felt sufficiently supported outside formal review and development processes. Only an edited summary of findings is given in the following, as several data points and recommendations made are confidential.

How many took part?

In all, 133 individuals submitted their responses, equalling a response rate of nearly 45%. This is reasonable for a non-mandatory survey and ensures adequate representation of all involved.

The advantages of a web based survey

The present survey was delivered via the company's intranet and all results were collected via an external database. Although thorough research findings comparing paper and pen surveys with data collected online are still reasonably sparse, web-based surveys are possibly more accurate as people might be more likely to be honest. This has to do with on-line data creating a feeling of more distance, and also making people choose their responses more spontaneously. Moreover, externally held data can also ameliorate fears about confidentiality.

Quantitative and qualitative data

A survey is a good instrument to reach out to a large number of people simultaneously thus enabling a comparison between groups, or in other words inferences about the 'big picture'. But as well as collecting 'hard numbers', extensive qualitative data was also collected (via people's comments on the survey and via personal interviews), which gave a much richer picture about what individual participants really think.

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Key Findings

The report will start of by giving a snapshot of the 'population' at the time of the survey, in other words an age profile, a job role profile and so on. This is followed by more in depth analysis, which shows up links between factors.

Descriptive statistics for the sample population

Just over 75% of participants were less than 30 years old, making for an on average very young company profile:

figure for age profile

56% of those who answered were male, 43% female. Not unsurprising for such a fast-expanding company, nearly eighty percent had been working for the company for less than two years. A large percentage of respondents were managing others in some shape or form, with managers and non-managers being evenly split in the response set.

Review and development experiences

At the time of the survey, 34% of participants had not had a review or personal development meeting, 35% having had one once and 31% having had two or more reviews (or similar).

Reactions to new initiatives

Over 40% of respondents had experienced the novel personal development plan initiative at this point and a third 360 degree feedback. Of those who had partaken in 360 degree feedback, over 80% found it helpful and constructive. Also, more than 80% felt that its introduction constitutes an improvement to the review process. Responses were slightly more mixed as to whether people would be comfortable with giving direct feedback themselves (rather than keeping ratings anonymous and fed back via a third person). This is not unsurprising, given what a strong impact 360 degree feedback can have, and not everybody might feel prepared to deal with such sensitive matters. In contrast, people indicated that they would feel comfortable to receive 360 degree feedback directly.

Are the existing review/development deliveries fair?

At the end of the fairness scale, an overall fairness rating was included to which answers were quite varied, averaging just above the mid point, indicating that some issues around the delivery of processes may require further investigation.

Organisational commitment

Next, a general scale about organisational commitment was included. This is one of the most important and most researched work attitudes, since it has consistently been found to be closely related to performance and a variety of positive job behaviours. The scale used in this instance has the underlying notion that commitment is not a unitary attitude, but rather made up of three facets. The employees were found to score above average on their attachment to their organisation, but scored lower on continuance and normative commitment, in other words did not feel morally obliged to stay with their organisation.

Worries and concerns about review and development deliveries

More than 40% of participants had had some worries about the reviews/ development meetings they had experienced so far, but just under half have not had any concerns.

How helpful is your support system?

Several issues emerged here, such as people who should be responsible for trouble shooting and grievance procedures not being as high profile and approachable as their position would seem to necessitate.

Satisfaction with feedback, the amount of contact, the job itself and the support received

Here, it appeared that the amount of contact and supervision received was not satisfactory for everyone. However, more than half were satisfied with their actual job, and nearly half were satisfied with the overall company support.

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Further Analysis

Fairness perceptions

The fairness scale was analysed and broken up into several elements in relation to review and development initiatives:

  1. Review Rapport and Interpersonal Effectiveness
  2. Explanation
  3. Adequacy of Review Characteristics and Format

Using correlations with other factors, it emerged that there were some issues with the formal characteristics of the development process (such as timeliness etc) however none with the explanation given. Possibly most important though, the interpersonal treatment left room for improvement.

The impact of 360 degree feedback

A between groups comparison showed that those who had experienced 360 degree feedback perceived the whole review and development process as fairer. However, the experience of 360 degree feedback did not seem to affect attitudes such as organizational commitment.

Qualitative analysis

This last section concerns the qualitative data gathered, derived from the comments section at the end of the survey and one to one interviews with volunteers. A few key issues emerged, that supplemented the 'hard data' derived from the survey. These concerned primarily issues such as employees feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the fast pace of organisational change. Another key issue were deliveries from the HR department, which were perceived to be somewhat lacking in structure and support. In addition, a lot of employees expressed a wish for better settling-in-procedures for newcomers, as well as for a more cohesive supportive company culture and more foresighted planning. On a positive note, many commented how much they enjoyed working with their peers and how unique they felt their company identity to be.

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Following the analysis, an action sheet with points requiring optimisation as well as a summary of positive comments was fed back to the company. An abbreviated selection of suggestions is listed in the following:

Points for improvement:

Positive pointers:

© 2012 Worklife Consulting Ltd.

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