What is Gallup’s Q12 Survey and does it still matter?

What we know now as Gallup, the world’s biggest analytics and management advisory firm, was started 89 years ago with one man trying to do a favor for his mother-in-law. 

To his credit George Gallup did successfully predict a landslide win for Ola Babcock Miller, the first Secretary of State for Iowa. From there he ran enormous opinion polls that, today, lose the company $10 million a year. His motivation? To empower people with insight. 

Since then, Gallup Inc has turned to providing analytical and management consultations to businesses all over the world. As part of their endeavour, they built the Q12 Employee Engagement Survey – the biggest breakthrough in employee surveys in modern history. 

But that was developed in 1998, so is it still relevant in today’s workplace? 

So, What is the Gallup Q12 Employee Survey?

The Q12 is an employee engagement survey where participants rate their feelings from 1 to 5 on 12 work related statements. The idea is to take a snapshot of where employees are in terms of engagement while staying anonymous enough to beget honesty. 

Gallup’s motivation was to address the engagement crisis holding employees, companies and economies back. They aim to create more motivating and stimulating conversations between managers and employees because active employee engagement sits at a dismal 30%

What are the Q12 statements?

The Bare Essentials

  1. I know what is expected of me at work. 
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

Career Satisfaction and Recognition

  1. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day. 
  2. In the last 7 days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work. 
  3. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  4. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  5. At work, my opinion seems to count.

The Employee/Employer Fit

  1. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel like my job is important.
  2. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work. 
  3. I have a best friend at work. 

The Prospects

  1. In the last 6 months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress. 
  2. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow. 

How does it work?

To conduct the survey, management signs up to the Gallup platform and selects how many respondents they are expecting. Employees are then sent a private link to proceed to take the test. Anonymity is protected throughout the survey and reporting process.  

Results are compiled within 24 hours with supplementary information on what the results actually mean and what action items your business should consider taking to improve scores. 

The Pros of the Q12 Employee Engagement Surveys

  1. Companies know where they stand with employees

We have previously discussed the merits of anonymity in employee surveys but honesty is a major benefit. 

The Q12 is a success because it asks direct questions that inspire unfettered honesty. The tendency for open surveys is to discourage honesty from team members who don’t feel psychologically safe enough to be critical. 

Gallup addresses and subverts the issues around honesty by having employees communicate answers directly to them. They use the privacy of the platform to negate all managerial influence. 

This means any real or perceived threats are removed allowing genuine responses. 

  1. Specific weaknesses are highlighted

Once all respondents have answered, the results are compiled and collated in a usable dashboard. Furthermore, a clear explanation of each result is offered to make absolutely certain that ambiguity is not a feature. 

The precision and explanation of the results and explanation leaves no room for interpretation or bias. They reveal the naked truth of what areas are not working, potentially highlighting managerial failings. 

Let’s take question one as the example:

“I know what is expected of me at work.”

Roughly 50% of people struggle with what is expected of them in the workplace. 

Let me repeat! Every second employee is unsure what their management is looking for or how to satisfy them. This uncertainty then bleeds into accountability, quality, deadlines and even career progression problems. Clear disconnect is visible and highlighted in companies that score low marks on question 1. 

  1. Action Plans are Created

The final outcome of the survey really shows Gallup’s expertise of management consultation; the roadmap to improvement. While savvy managers could deduce the problem areas and consequences from the survey, not everyone will know where to go from here. 

Gallup provides literal action items related to your specific result with due dates for completion. Tasks include:

  • Having stand-up meetings.
  • Creating feedback loops.
  • Holding 1:1 discussions.
  • Inviting team members to set their own goals. 
  • Asking team members what their goals and strengths are. 
  • Going out of your way to recognize team members when demand is high.
  • Expressing personal concern during difficult times. 
  • Creating learning experiences and opportunities for team members.
  • Hosting a monthly Q&A forum for employees. 

The results displayed tend to correlate how negative results are impacting profits. This added benefit encourages participation as solutions to ongoing problems are motivating to employees. 

The Cons

  1. It is Expensive

For all of the helpful tips and actionable advice, the pricing structure involved leaves a little to be desired. At a flat $15 per survey, it is discouraging for larger firms to bother once, let alone do regular pulse checks. To run monthly surveys for 100 employees for a year would cost $18,000.

The problem with having an exclusive pricing model is that firms might choose to do one survey and not come back months later to check if changes have been effective. 

Today’s market for employee engagement surveys typically offers a less offensive tiered subscription model. This means you can conduct pulse surveys more than once a year without incurring exceptional costs. For example, SurveyBot offers a selection of options with a free starter pack or a monthly subscription for $47/month. 

  1. Only the Admin or Management Get the Results

A significant factor in employee engagement is transparency and honesty. If employees feel involved in the process, they are more likely to get on board with what you are trying to achieve. 

The Q12 survey tends to leave them out of the final results. By not offering transparency and a platform for discussion, disenfranchisement is likely to occur. They are asked for input but never receive the output unless leadership figures share the results. 

Naturally management can feel threatened by certain results so to stave off embarrassment or isolation, not sharing results helps. However, without enacting the solutions further surveys will almost certainly see a lower response rate.

  1. Potential to Make a Problem Worse

While one of the great powers of employee surveys is to find and solve company problems. It can also backfire. 

In many cases, leadership will opt for a survey because they suspect there might be a problem. The anonymity allows honest responses but gives the forum mostly to employees. Where friction is rife, employees have the option to embellish the negatives to get back at leaders they dislike. 

In turn, the survey can isolate managing individuals and effectively put them under attack. If a singled out leader is disproportionately criticised, relationships can be damaged irreparably. Worse still, they can lash out at employees causing a major divide. 

By not having openness to the conversation and leaving the results in the hands of leadership, both sides of the power dynamic can feel threatened. 

Unfortunately, the Q12 survey lacks the two way dialogue needed to genuinely mend the fractures. It is most evident in the closed nature of the 1-5 scale and no room for additional feedback.

In Conclusion

The pandemic has been a virtual lesson on the drastic changes the modern workplace has endured. We have seen the complete shift from traditional work styles to remote and later to the hybrid model with elements of both. Figuring out how best to engage employees in this environment is utterly crucial. 

However, is the Gallup Q12 up to the job? To be fair, it has aged impressively. Since it’s design in 1998, it has been taken by 35 million people and as concern for engagement continues to surge, it is likely to continue growing. 

To really get to grips engagement though, transparency and bidirectional conversation is required. Gallup assesses the engagement crisis but continues to leave the power at the wrong end of the hierarchy. Employees are merely participants at the discretion of leadership. 

For me, it is a huge step in the right direction but maintains the problematic power dynamic to begin with. Employees are given a limited capacity to express problems without having an active role in deciding the solutions.