updated 5/22/2009 2:40:07 PM ET 2009-05-22T18:40:07

Do you like your job? With the recession, officials say it appears fewer companies want to know the answer to that question.

Amid massive layoffs and job insecurity, experts say many companies have dropped employee surveys that let workers express their thoughts or just vent about their frequently downsized workplaces. Some companies are trying to save money by cutting surveys and others just don't want to ask, but personnel experts say avoiding them might hurt morale.

Steve Miranda, chief human resource and strategic planning officer for the Society for Human Resource Management, said he has fielded fewer questions about employee surveys since the bottom fell out of the economy last year. The Alexandria, Va.-based SHRM represents more than 245,000 human resource professionals in over 140 countries and territories.

"Given the challenges that we have in the environment and in the economy right now, organizations and companies may be afraid to poll and survey because they believe that they may not be able to deal or respond to some of the issues," Miranda said.

While there is no data on the exact numbers of employee surveys since last year, Miranda said more companies are taking the approach of "the old analogy with the ostrich with the head in the sand: 'If I don't see it, I don't have to deal with it.'"

Risks to employee morale
Last year, a survey by Opinion Research Corp. conducted just before the recession hit found 44 percent of companies nationally don't carry out employee surveys and nearly half of those that did implement surveys neglected to make any changes.

The research also indicated that of the companies that acted on survey results, 84 percent of employees felt changes made were positive.

Miranda said when companies fail to conduct regular surveys, they risk letting worker productivity and morale deteriorate. With huge layoffs in the last quarter of 2008, most surveys conducted before that period are useless now.

"Because the external environment is changing so rapidly ... having a happy and productive work force in the middle of 2008 at your last survey check has absolutely no bearing on reality as to whether they are happy and productive today," Miranda said.

While companies appear to be scaling back on surveys, the federal government and nonprofit groups are still using them.

Since 2002, the Office of Personnel Management has conducted a survey every other year of employees at agencies under the Department of Homeland Security to gauge their perceptions of work force management, organizational accomplishments, agency goals, leadership, and communication.

OPM spokesman Edmund Byrnes said the agencies use the survey to improve worker productivity. Over 200,000 federal employees responded to the 2008 survey.

He said surveys are a helpful tool "because they kind of put agencies on notice as to what their employees are looking for and what incentives make them work harder."

‘Better off knowing a problem’
Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, said his nonprofit group that works to revitalize the government and its work force released its 2009 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey this week. The rankings evaluate employee satisfaction in many of the large federal agencies.

Stier said the federal government understands the importance of employee surveys and avoiding them is a huge mistake for corporations.

"You are better off knowing a problem than not knowing it," Stier said. "In bad times you actually want to engage your employees even more."

Louis Allen Worldwide CEO J.P. Miller said he knows companies might be scared to spend money on surveys during a recession. On Tuesday, Miller's Foster City, Calif.-based company will announce a partnership with the New York-based Conference Board, which produces a consumer confidence index and leading economic indicators.

The Conference Board and the management consulting company will offer a Global Employee Engagement Survey to companies in several countries, including the United States. The survey focuses on organizational health, work force readiness, job design, managerial excellence and worker compensation rewards.

It's better for companies to do surveys now rather than later, he said.

"My comment to any executive that asks me is, look you're going through tough times right now but your real opportunity is getting yourself into a stronger position so as the economy turns around you can really take advantage of it," Miller said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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