Employees conduct a discussion of the results of the employee survey

By Nils Reisen on 18.12.2020 | 2 minutes reading time

Unions and employee representatives play an important role in employee surveys. Their goal is to defend the employees’ interests. This can lead them to resist projects aimed at creating a more open feedback culture. Here are three tips on how you can ensure that the employee representatives are on your side.

Did you know that in the 1930s employee surveys were used by companies to keep unions at bay? By collecting employee feedback, management could identify current issues and address them before the unions stepped in (Cappelli & Eldor, 2019). I’ll let you decide for yourself whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

Today, unions and employee representatives still play a significant role in employee surveys. For example, the Betriebsrat in Germany has a legal right to be informed about the results. In Switzerland, employee representatives are also often involved both in survey planning and results discussion.

If you are planning to make changes to the way how you survey your employees – for example by switching from longer, traditional surveys to more frequent and shorter pulse surveys – you will probably be asked to involve employee representatives and unions. This is especially true if you intend to modify how employees give feedback and view the results.

When we proposed a new approach, employee representatives and unions were sceptical at first

When we created Pulse at a large corporation, we proposed a radically different approach: a bottom-up survey that aims to create a culture of open feedback and individual responsibility. People are encouraged to write comments that are shown to their team members with their name. The employee representatives and unions were sceptical. Will people still voice their opinions under these conditions? Will critical feedback result in negative consequences? Or is this just another tool to subdue employees?

Of course, it wasn’t our goal to silence uncomfortable voices. Quite to the contrary, we wanted to make it easier for employees to take responsibility and to drive change. However, we first made a big mistake: we treated the employee representatives as gatekeepers and merely tried to persuade them that our approach was the best solution to the problem. We quickly realised that we were not addressing their needs, so we changed course and actively involved them in the process of developing Pulse. This approach worked much better.

Both sides gained a deeper understanding of their respective goals and needs. Unsurprisingly, these were actually very compatible. The employee representatives gave precious feedback and helped us create questions that everyone in the company could understand. They didn’t make our life easier, but the result better. Thanks for that!

How to ensure a smooth collaboration with your company’s employee representatives

1) Involve them in the process

Communicate well what are you trying to do and why. If the employee representatives understand your intentions and that you want to create something useful for employees, they will be happy to support you.

2) Take them seriously

Their job is to defend the employee’s interests, and they are taking their role seriously. Aren't these precisely the kind of engaged employees your company needs?

3) Leverage their resources

Employee representatives know a lot about your company and your people. They can thus be of great help in creating an approach that doesn’t only work on paper.

Today we are proud to say that the employee representatives not only helped us create a better tool, they are now also using Pulse as a resource for their role. And best of all: they recommend Pulse to others – within and outside the company.


Cappelli, P. & Eldor, L. (2019). Where measuring engagement goes wrong. HBR.

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