Business professor helps local nonprofit conduct employee survey

Penn State Scranton's business building

Penn State Scranton's Business Building houses the campus' business and project and supply chain management programs.

Credit: Penn State

DUNMORE, Pa. — Assistant Teaching Professor of Business James Wilkerson, who also serves as the program coordinator for the business and project and supply chain management programs at Penn State Scranton, was recently asked to assist United Neighborhood Centers of NEPA (UNC) with conducting an employee engagement survey.

Rick Pisasik, human resources director at UNC, was looking for a survey partner from a local university and reached out to Wilkerson, who has conducted a number of surveys like this over the course of his career. 

“In my academic life, I developed survey expertise while conducting my dissertation work with several companies and getting educated in psychometrics and test design,” Wilkerson said. “In my corporate life, I conducted such surveys both as a human resource director and as an organizational assessment consultant for a firm serving the North American insurance industry.” 

When asked why UNC decided to conduct this survey now, Pisasik stated that there were several factors that went into their decision. 

“Several factors were in play, including how COVID may or may not have influenced employee engagement, and that we have not conducted a survey in four years,” Pisasik said. “We are really just trying to feel the pulse of employee attitudes and engagement.” 

Wilkerson went on to say that ensuring anonymity in a survey like this is of the utmost importance, which is one of the reasons why he says that companies and agencies tap local universities to conduct these types of surveys. 

“Employees tend to appreciate the independence that an outside surveyor conveys,” Wilkerson said. “Certainly, the company could pay hefty fees to have commercial consulting firms do it, but if a competent university researcher or department can do it for free as part of campus outreach to the business and nonprofit communities, why not go that way?” 

When asked how the survey would be carried out, Wilkerson said that it is “being done in an online format, mostly with scaled-response items that employees can quickly click through, but also with a few open-ended questions that employees can use to express more detailed or different concerns than are reflected in the scaled survey items.” 

To add to this, Pisasik went into detail about the types of questions UNC employees were asked in this survey. 

“Forty-five questions with a scale of six factor ratings from 'Strongly Disagree' to 'Strongly Agree,' along with three open-ended questions, were asked,” Pisasik said. “Questions are grouped by categories such as satisfaction with your job/UNC, alignment questions relating to the work we do at UNC, questions relating to how your supervisor is doing, and future orientation questions relating to how they see future employment at UNC.” 

Wilkerson said that the internet has created an era in which people are heavily surveyed by politicians, companies, etc. As such, in terms of his response rate, he states that the higher the response rate, the better. 

“In research projects, survey response rates as low as 25% are common. Employee opinion surveys usually generate higher response rates of 50% to 80%, and I once had a Canadian insurance firm client that pegged over 90%,” Wilkerson said. “Getting more than a 50% response rate to an employee opinion survey would seem to be a minimum target for having a valid basis to interpret data and, more importantly, to craft organizational adjustments to address any problems revealed.” 

When asked what UNC, which has under 100 employees, hopes to gain from the survey, Pisasik said that the survey’s objective is to gain a better understanding of the connection employees have towards the place they work and the factors that influence it. 

The survey presents our employees with a forum to express their thoughts on our practices, our strengths, and our weaknesses,” Pisasik said. “The results will be used to identify what we are doing well and what we need to work on.” 

The survey concluded with an 86.5% response rate from UNC employees, which Wilkerson says is a “very strong response rate that lends credibility to inferences management may draw as they consider ways to improve UNC NEPA in response to the survey.”