AT&T Employee Surveys Are Voluntary. Mobilize by Doing Nothing.

A few years ago, AT&T started surveying employees about conditions at work. AT&T had notified our union leadership and the locals that the surveys would be sent to employees and they would be voluntary. I didn’t like it, as I don’t like most management ideas.

Because these surveys are voluntary and do not impact terms and conditions of employment, unions do not have much wiggle room to bargain over them; they can only make recommendations to their members. I recommend that you never, ever fill out any voluntary survey. Especially when your union is bargaining with management. I also recommend that local unions actively mobilize against the very idea of voluntarily filling out employee surveys. This is because employee surveys are used by the boss to weaken the union; they do this by going around the representatives directly to the members to solve problems at work that are usually created in the first place by the very same boss!

Employee surveys are about the boss, not the employee

At AT&T, employee surveys are very important – to the employee’s manager! Here is how various AT&T managers explained it to me:

  • When employees in a work-group fill out the survey, the results are tabulated and analyzed by a third-party vendor. Though employees must provide their employee ID’s to partake in the survey, the employee ID info is stripped out by the third-party vendor. However:
    • The bullet-questions in the survey are tabulated and aggregated by employee supervisor, to the third level of management (this is why employees provide the employee ID; it’s to figure out which boss they need to blame)
    • The “choose one” survey answers are calculated for results and labeled things like “engagement”, “enthusiasm”, etc.
    • Comments, favorable or not, are provided to the employee’s first-, second-, and third-level manager, verbatim! This means that first-line supervisors are usually able to identify the employee by their “comment-style” alone.
    • Those with negative comments are identified by management as “detractors”
  • Upper management places a great deal of “top-down” pressure on 1st-3rd level management to reduce employees’ low opinions of conditions at work so each is usually required to identify one detractor from their team and “create change for improvement”
  • Supervisors are “ranked” with their peers on what percentage of their team responds to the survey. In other words, the more of a boss’ employees who fill out the survey, the better the boss looks because of “engagement”. Actually solving issues is not rated as highly
  • Supervisors with low turnout on the employee surveys risk at the least scrutiny from HR; worse, there could be “performance management” by their boss

My boss keeps saying the survey is mandatory?

Remember: If your manager’s lips are moving, their is a high likelihood that you are being lied to! Here are the steps you should take:

  1. Inform boss that your union was informed by AT&T that the surveys are voluntary and that you are requesting a union steward because you may be disciplined for refusing the directive
  2. If boss threatens discipline, complete the survey in brutal fashion and appeal in the comments for a telephone call from HR due to being forced to complete an employee satisfaction survey. Then file a grievance.

If you are the union rep

  1. Document everything the manager says, especially answers to the question of whether participation for bargained-for employees in employee surveys is voluntary or mandatory
  2. Ask manager to contact Labor Relations or HR to confirm whether mandatory or voluntary; document response
  3. If manager insists is mandatory, instruct employee(s) to complete survey with emphasis in comment section about requirement to complete an employee satisfaction survey
  4. When grieving this issue, be sure that the Request for Information includes:
    1. Copies of all survey materials, including answers and comments, provided to affected employees’ management.
    2. Copies of underlying data for above (raw survey data; analysis; etc.)
    3. Stewards should request copies of survey history going back five years for all employees who were “forced”. i.e. told by their supervisor that it was mandatory to complete the survey.
    4. Managers should identify which employees they designated “detractor” or other such negative connotation
    5. Managers should identify which “detractor” issue(s) they addressed and the actions taken to do so
    6. Managers should identify, up the third level of management, the percentage-rankings for survey completions for each manager and whether each work-group was voluntary or mandatory
    7. Reasons for relevance of requesting this information are multitudinous; including to find out whether the Company is attempting to deal directly with bargained-for employees outside the contract. Grievances should reflect these concerns, including “mutual respect” provisions wherever management took action on a local union members issue (grievance) that may have violated other provisions of the contract

I consider employee-satisfaction/engagement/whatever surveys to be a form of “open-door” policy by AT&T management. “Open-door” policies by management are so typical of union-busting campaigns that they are by now almost cliche. But! The way that they are administered at AT&T makes clear that the focus of the surveys is really on management. And, because employee surveys are voluntary, participation or no participation gets noticed. Bad managers can, and should, be targeted for mobilizations using the surveys. These can be proactive, such as uniformly populating the comment-section with issues, concerns, or bargaining slogans. Or, (my favorite) just ignore the damned things and tell the boss that you’ll launch a group-grievance if you have a problem.

Or walk out with fellow workers, depending on how bad the boss is! That usually suffices to answer the employee-satisfaction question.

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