Rethinking the Likert Scale: Challenges in Assessing Employee Engagement

You’ve likely encountered a survey employing the Likert Scale, where you’re presented with a statement and asked to indicate your level of agreement on a range from Strongly Disagree” to Strongly Agree.”

Developed by social psychologist Rensis Likert in 1932, the Likert Scale remains a popular tool in surveys for measuring attitudes and opinions, largely due to its simplicity and ease of use. 

Despite its popularity, there are several reasons why organizations should exercise caution when using this scale to measure employee engagement, especially within the context of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

Let’s explore the top three reasons:

  1. Ambiguity of Responses

The first major issue with the Likert scale is the ambiguity of responses. Respondents may interpret the scale differently, and what one person considers as agree” may be different from another person’s interpretation.

This makes it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from the data. In the context of DEI, this can be particularly problematic. If an organization is trying to understand employee attitudes toward a new DEI initiative, for example, ambiguous responses can make it challenging to gauge the true level of support or opposition among the workforce. 

  1. Central Tendency Bias

Another challenge with the Likert Scale is the tendency for respondents to avoid using the extremes of the scale (strongly agree or strongly disagree) and instead choose middle values. This is known as central tendency bias, and it can lead to a lack of variation in the responses, making it difficult to discern the respondents’ true opinions.

In the case of DEI initiatives, this can result in organizations underestimating or overlooking potential issues and concerns among employees. A seemingly positive response to a DEI initiative may mask underlying resistance or skepticism if respondents tend to cluster around the middle of the scale.

  1. Bias and Social Desirability

The third potential issue is related to bias and social desirability. When responding to surveys, especially sensitive topics like DEI, employees may provide answers that they believe are expected or desirable rather than their true feelings. 

This is particularly likely if the survey is not anonymous or is being sent by an internal team. The resulting data can be skewed and may not accurately reflect employee engagement levels or attitudes toward Safety, Belonging, and Inclusion. Organizations may be misled into thinking that their DEI efforts are more successful than they actually are, potentially overlooking areas where further attention and action are needed.

What should I use instead of the Likert Sale?

In the ever-evolving realm of DEI, it’s not only imperative to measure employee sentiments accurately but also to do so in a manner that is both comprehensive and efficient. The Likert Scale, despite its ubiquity, has limitations that can hinder an organization’s true understanding of its employees’ perspectives, particularly in the DEI context.

At MESH, we’ve ventured beyond these conventional methods. Our innovative survey model is non game-able,” eliminating the pitfalls of easily manipulated responses inherent with the Strongly Agree” to Strongly Disagree” approach.

Designed for consistency, we provide timely, bias-free longitudinal data, allowing businesses to continually gauge how their workforce is truly experiencing their culture. What’s more, these bite-sized assessments offer actionable insights for team development in areas such as Team Climate and Growth Mindset. MESH also incorporates the flexibility of adding qualitative questions, ensuring a holistic approach where every voice can articulate its unique experience.

The DEI journey requires not just intent but also precision, regularity, and depth of understanding.

Are you curious to learn more? Book a demo and see how MESH can help your team make real DEI progress. Together, we can drive change that is rooted in authentic insights and actionable data, propelling your DEI initiatives into a future where every employee truly belongs.