ESAT Key Steps
Selecting the Norms to Use in Your Employee Satisfaction Survey

In the value of normative data in employee survey analysis, we discussed how norms add significant value to the interpretation of results. The question often comes up - "against what types of organizations should I compare my organization?" For most of our clients, the entire normative database is the most appropriate base to use for comparison. The reasons for this are as follows.

  • In many industries, employees jump between industries. Thus, you compete for employees with industries outside your own. As such, you need to know how your organization compares with the real competition for your "people" resources.
  • In most cases, the differences between industries are slight in terms of how employees feel about where they work. For example, Table 1 contains the scores for one attribute, "my supervisor treats me fairly," for three industries and for the database as a whole.
  • Using too small a small subset of a normative database makes it more difficult to determine whether observed differences to the norm are statistically significant. This causes uncertainty with regard to how different your organizations results really are, and can lead to erroneous decision making if the user ignores any lack of statistically significant differences.

As is the case in much of life, there are exceptions. People in the healthcare industry tend to stay in the industry and the results do tend to differ slightly from those of employers as a whole. Also, we know that employees of very small organizations tend to be happier than employees of very large organizations.

Table 1
"My supervisor treats me fairly"
Financial Services78%
High Technology82%
All Industries in Database80%

When a client does not want to compare against the entire normative database, we try to strike a sense of balance between using organizations substantially identical to the one for which we are conducting the employee satisfaction survey and benefiting from the large sample sizes associated with using the entire database. Sometimes this means eliminating organizations above or below a certain size or organizations in particular industries from the database against which we compare the results.

In some instances, it is appropriate to only compare against organizations in the same industry as the client. Fortunately, we have a large enough sample to do this for many industries, including, but not limited to, healthcare, high technology, and manufacturing.

Some of our clients have very high aspirations and levels of employee satisfaction. For such clients, it can be appropriate to "set the bar high" by comparing against only the top 10% or 20% of all organizations (based on overall satisfaction with an organization as a place to work).

The most important thing to remember is that norms add an extra layer of analytical capability and value to the employee satisfaction survey process.