Disney Employee Survey: How Happy is Disney?

I passed by a t-shirt the other day in the parks. It read:

“6 out of 7 Dwarfs are NOT Happy”

So true. And yet, is it? So when I saw that Disney reported a major employee survey a few months ago, I was interested. With all of the Disney blogs out there we hear of both very happy, and very grumpy employees. But in general, how satisfied are Disney employees? Is it really a great place to work? Well, a few months ago employees across The Walt Disney Company received the results of a survey conducted in the late Spring. They gave their opinions on some 65 core items related to their work experience of being a part of Disney.

Disneyland Cast Members gathering in preparation for an upcoming parade.
Disneyland Cast Members gathering in preparation for an upcoming parade.

This is especially of interest because there seems to be something of a sentiment that Disney–and especially Walt Disney World–is largely going downhill. I addressed some of those points in a recent blog. There is a body of evidence from organizations like Gallup that suggests a direct correlation between high employee engagement and high customer satisfaction. One tends to follow the other. I subscribe largely to those ideas in my book, Lead With Your Customer, the premise being that it’s really two sides of the same coin, and that to be effective with one, you have to be effective with the other. Lee Cockrell, former Executive Vice President of Walt Disney World wrote the forward of that book, and he and many others subscribe essentially to the same theory. So it’s worth noting how Disney did in its employee survey as a signal to how it’s doing with its customers.

You should know that this is the second year this survey has been administered world-wide throughout the company, the first given two years prior in 2010. But it isn’t the first time employees in parts of the company have had employee surveys.Back in the 90’s under Judson Greene’s leadership, Cast surveys were instituted across the entire Florida property. The Cast was able to rate how things were going across all of Walt Disney World, across their area (like Wilderness Lodge or Blizzard Beach) and then across their own department (HR, operations, retail). It’s my impression that over the years that focus on doing an employee survey did not remain. So it’s interesting that now it’s not only being done, it’s being done across the entire Walt Disney Company.

Why would Bob Iger want to do this? He shares his view in the Disney Newsreel (studio newsletter):

“…I want Disney to be one of the most admired companies in the world, and we cannot do it without our employees. I want us to be admired by consumers, investors and the general public, but I also want us to be admired by the people who know us best–our employees. I want people to be proud to work here, to feel good about what we do and how we do it…That’s why it’s so gratifying to hear that the vast majority of our employees are proud to work at Disney and that they feel respected here. Most have confidence in our strategic direction and our management, and more are engaged and empowered in their jobs. All of these things are critically important to our ability to achieve our goals as a company and to attract and retain the best talent.”

The first step in any survey like this is to get people to actually fill out the survey. In most organizations employees go along with it. But there’s always a body of people who live in fear that their opinion will come back to haunt them, so they avoid taking such surveys. I seldom find any of that happening, especially in surveys that are administered at this large a scale, and usually by competent survey/measurement organizations like who know how to measure this. Furthermore, the survey doesn’t hold much validity–much less reliability–if you don’t hear from most of your employees. So to help make this happen, contests are often held to “get out the vote” as it were to getting the best percentage possible of completed surveys.

How many took the survey? Well, according to the Disney Newsreel, 69 percent of employees participated in this year’s survey with participation in most business segments ranging from 82 percent to 87 percent. That probably means that there were a few segments that were fairly abysmal in their survey efforts, pulling down the average. In other words, they don’t get it, or they are in a chaotic point of organization/re-organization that they don’t have the ability to focus on making the survey a priority. Still, it was noted that there were 96,000 who took it this year as opposed to 82,000 in 2010. That’s a solid number moving in the right direction.

And how did Disney do? Not all the results were published. But of those positive, here’s what was said about the overall results:

  • 87 percent of employees say they are proud to work for The Walt Disney Company
  • 80 percent of employees believe the business segment they work in develops creative products, services and content
  • 70 percent believe that their business is leading the industry and is evolving and making the changes required to compete effectively in the marketplace.
  • 80 percent believe their business segment is committed to creating and supporting a diverse workplace.
  • 80 percent of employees across the globe find their jobs both challenging and interesting.
  • 77 percent understand how their jobs fit with the goals and strategies of their business segment
  • 90 percent understand the role they can play in helping Disney to be a responsible company.

Tom Staggs speaking for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts noted that “we also saw a 10 percentage point increase in the number of  Cast, Crew and Imagineers who feel both highly engaged and enabled in their roles.” Indeed, Iger noted in particular that ESPN and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts showed the greatest improvement, earning scores that were six points higher on average than in 2010. And finally, they also noted that this last year employees dealing with the parks were asked questions specifically regarding Disney’s safety initiatives, and were pleased to see incredibly positive results.

What about making improvements? The newsletters for the major U.S. parks, the Disneyland Line and Walt Disney World Eyes & Ears, both noted the same key opportunities for doing better. That included:

  • Opportunities for our Cast to set and pursue career objectives
  • Improving our operational efficiency
  • Providing more opportunities for collaboration and teamwork
  • Better communicating the actions we’re taking in response to your survey feedback.

The trick to the latter bullet item is that too often teams don’t really do anything with the results. I saw this often as a Cast Member even at the Disney Institute–a place where they should have been practicing what they were preaching. Once the data was given, there was no real follow-up. Worse, little action was taken–or if it was done–few seem to know that actions were taken. It’s simply necessary that surveys like these not be something you check off your list as having completed, but rather be the driver for what you do as a team to make improvements each and every day.

And when they are done correctly–expect to see employee survey results dramatically improve.

It’s easy to dismiss these kinds of activities as simply corporate hoops that keep HR people busy. And of course we can quote Benjamin Disareli* that there are three types of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics. I suppose one could whittle away at the data here. But if you really want an engaged workforce–especially of the size that is Disney–you have to figure out in some way how engaged your employees are. Then you have to take action to make improvements.

What are the messages for Disney or any organization?

  • To truly actively engage your workforce, you must survey your employees.
  • Do what you can to increase the number who participate in those surveys.
  • What you see quantitatively, does not completely reflect what you need to hear qualitatively.
  • Remember that the survey is not an end to itself. It’s a gateway toward making improvements.

Finally, here is my take. The results seen here are typical of what I would expect from most Fortune 100 companies. What is astonishing, however, is that this is a movie studio. This is an amusement park. This is a TV company. This is not your typical insurance company or bank. This is a very volatile industry. It’s show business for pete’s sake! So the fact that an amusement park would get these kinds of scores is amazing. The fact that given the in-and-out flow of people in the film and television industry they would even attempt to look at this, is fairly noteworthy. Therefore, I’m impressed that Disney world-wide is focusing on this and trying to improve the experience for its employees. And the results are pretty good. Perfect? No. But they are moving in the right direction. Certainly I don’t think they are going into some downward tail spin as other critics might express.

What do you think? Do you think this is a true measure of employee satisfaction? Do you think that it improves employee engagement when done correctly? And do you think Disney is moving in the right direction?

 

*If you like me were desperate to find anything on Walt Disney as a kid you would know that in any encyclopedia the entry for Disareli always precedes the entry for Disney.

11 thoughts on “Disney Employee Survey: How Happy is Disney?

  1. I was on vacation in Las Vegas last week and, unfortunately someone stole my wallet. In that wallet was my annual pass to Disney World. I called Disney and the most helpful person, Leah Fay, was so considerate and polite and solved my problem by telling me that when I come to Disney just go to guest relations with my idea and they’ll issue me another annual pass. I’m am so pleased. She was so polite that it brought tears to my eyes. Thank all of you for being so understanding. I’ll come to the park on Tuesday to pick it up as I’m sure it is really crowded this week end. Many thanks again. Sally Seher

  2. Jefferson from Disney World’s customer service was the most helpful, patient representative I have talked to over the phone. I called the customer service to ask an odd question in order to settle a dispute I had with my niece. We were arguing over whether Cinderella’s choker in the original animated movie was blue or black. Jefferson had the pleasure of settling our argument with a geniality equivalent to that of Cinderella’s prince, gaining other lifelong gratitude of both my niece and myself. He reflected the true spirit of what Disney should be in just the short time he helped us. Thank you, Jefferson for your help. I think you deserve a promotion.

    P.S.
    The choker is black, even though it appears to be blue in most of the movie.

  3. We are a Disney family. My wife, daughter, son and future daughter in law all work for or worked for Disney. I personally am a former car dealer and now work with a large European automotive distributor. It always amazes me how much my family loves their work and the company even with it’s trials that are normal to a large company. There are 60,000 employee’s fro every corner of the world who work in harmony to give you the Disney guest the greatest experience ever. I spend at least 15 times a year inside the parks and always amazed and delighted by the experience. My family lives outside the Magic Kingdom (close enough to see the castle and the fireworks every day) and enough our life in what we fondly call the”Disney culture”

    • Hello Frank,

      I am currently wiriting an article about the disney model of customer service and I am looking forward to interviewing people who had worked there. If you are interested in helping me, please email me and I can give you more information about it. Thank you for your time, Yohan T.
      yohandipt@hotmail.com

  4. The magic kingdom was so overcrowded it was disgusting. The food and drink prices are ridiculous. I have never been to a park that had two hour waits for an attraction all because they don’t limit the number of guests entering the park each day. Very poorly managed,. Management could take some lessons from sea world, Busch Gardens, and aquaticia.

  5. This guy made our good day into a bad day. Rolled my wife in wheel chair into the entrance line and waited politely in a corner for help. Ended up with this guy on the image scolding my wife and I for being I the wrong line. This happened on the jungle ride. This one guy really made for a bad day and made our family feel bad and embarrassed. I have a picture of the fellow if you need it.

    • How disappointing. But I wonder if the individual’s frustration was mis-directed, if he wasn’t frustrated that other Cast Members had not done their job, and that he was having to pick up the pieces. I’m not excusing his behavior, but I wonder why the individual was expressing himself in that manner.

  6. Most of us here at WDW work to do our best but honestly it gets very difficult with low pay, forced overtime (yes, forced) and a schedule that never seems stable. Not sure who you talked to to get these statistic but you have never worked there I assume? Most people are not going to come right out and say whats bad about the job (duh, they need a paycheck) but there is some workers who feel abused, over worked and taken advantage of. Some of those smiles hide people doing their best under stress, a torrent work period and trying to make their life rotate around the great WDW empire when it should be the other way around. It’s a company that makes money by not spending any money (on it’s cast members). I work part time now because full time was killing my health, my marriage and time with my kids. I am willing this will not get posted. Why? You are ether a WDW fan base or work for them. If it does then good for you (and others).

    • Thanks for writing. Yes, I worked many years for the Walt Disney World Company. And I live in the area with many friends and associates that work there. Are you alone in your feelings? By no means. There are many that feel like you. Do I stand up to the things I wrote in the post? Absolutely. I will say, that the post was done in 2013. And I think Staggs was a better overall leader for the parks arena at the time. I also think some areas are more engaged than other areas. But I do agree with you that there are many who are dissatisfied. I think the article I noted was accurate in its information, but not necessarily complete. There are, and will be for many years to come, areas that need great improvement. By the way, I do not work for them, nor am I simply another fan base site shedding only pixie dust. A close look at all my posts will bear that out. Disney does many things right, but I am very clear when it misses the point. Thanks for writing!

  7. The simplest and most powerful thing management and guests can do to improve Cast Member satisfaction and engagement is express sincere appreciation for a job well done and training, support and encouragement when it isn’t well enough done. Being a cast member is more challenging and difficult than almost any other job and doing it well requires dedication and persistence. Imagine how many Hollywood and Broadway stars would react if they had to deal with the audience coming up on stage during every performance. The same is true of Imagineers; the safety and performance requirements for a themed attraction combine the reliability of NASA and the ruggedness of MIL-Spec; requiring 365 eighteen hour a day operational perfection and a twenty year life on six hours of maintenance conducted between midnight and 6 AM.

    Perhaps the bigger issue is that Disney usually makes it look so easy that the Guests come to take the daily miracles for granted.

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