Employee surveys tend to have a bad rap. Employees are either skeptical of surveys, thinking the answers they give will be used against them, or they ignore them entirely. 

But when executed well, employee engagement surveys are a great way to not only hear what your employees have to say but to send a loud and clear message that you’re committed to creating the best work environment possible.   

Today we’re diving headfirst into employee engagement survey best practices. From gathering data to sharing results with your team, you can use this guide as a resource to nail your next employee survey.

What is employee engagement?

The definition of employee engagement varies wildly from company to company and it’s often confused with employee happiness, but engagement encompasses so much more.

Employee engagement can be defined by two things: how enthusiastic and connected workers feel not only to their work but also to their company, and how much they feel that their company benefits from and supports their work.

Think of it like dating. You might feel enthusiastic and connected to a person you went on a date with. But if you show up to every date excited [happy] and you get the feeling that your partner isn’t really into [benefiting from] all that your bringing to the table [your work], you’re going to feel less engaged—and vice versa.

Lots of feelings are involved when it comes to defining engagement, but that’s why employee surveys are so important. The questions you ask can be structured to hit both parts of employee engagement: enthusiasm/connectedness and benefit/support.

After all, studies have shown that employee engagement surveys are indeed the best way to gauge employee engagement, so how can we execute them in a way that’s meaningful and worth the time and energy to create, maintain, and analyze them?

Employee surveys best practices: Building a successful employee engagement survey

  1. Find a focus 

Before you write your survey, you’ll need to define an area to concentrate on. Engagement surveys typically have a set of general questions regarding overall engagement, such as, “I feel excited and happy to come to work each morning: strongly disagree–strongly agree.”

General questions usually focus on how an employee is feeling rather than problems in the workplace. While those are still great questions to ask, a really useful engagement survey will also ask some more profound questions targeting a few specific areas defined as potential problems.

To identify problem areas, you can do a few things:

  • Brainstorm with company leadership or managers from different departments. The people in these positions usually have their finger on the pulse of the company, so ask for their opinions when it comes to employee engagement. A brainstorm with managers can help determine what problems they see their direct reports having.
  • Review past surveys. If your company has completed engagement surveys in the past, this can help you determine what problems were identified, if these problems were addressed, and if there could be an issue at your company that is ongoing and may need a little extra attention.
  • Utilize exit surveys. While exit surveys are not an unbiased look at a company, they can provide some open, honest feedback from former employees—which are useful for more candid views of the company.  

This pre-survey work will help you set guidelines for crafting meaningful questions on your employee engagement survey.

2. Craft your questions  

Once you define a focus area and identify problem areas, you’re ready to craft the questions to include in your survey. Writing survey questions can be tedious, but it’s important to be thoughtful. Asking vague or confusing questions can hurt your survey results and make it challenging to really understand your team’s experience.

As a general rule, open-ended employee engagement survey questions should be clear, tackle one problem at a time, and give employees the freedom and space to comment when necessary.

Don’t be afraid to use pre-formulated questions. While it’s likely you will have to rewrite questions to fit the specific goals of your workplace, there are a ton of resources that provide survey questions tailor-made for engagement.

According to Lattice, engagement surveys should have statement questions answering from strongly agree to strongly disagree and open-ended survey questions giving employees the option to give feedback freely.

Here are a few examples of the two types of questions:

Statement employee engagement survey questions

  • I have all the tools I need to do my job well. (1–10)
  • I believe my workload is reasonable for my role. (1–10)
  • I feel recognized for my hard work and success at work. (1–10)

Open ended employee engagement survey questions

  • What do you enjoy about working here? 
  • What areas can we (leadership/management) improve upon?
  • Is there anything else you want us to know?

Open-ended survey questions bring value to your survey by giving your employees a chance to provide general comments and give specific feedback. You can also use the comments on open-ended questions to gauge the areas you should target in your next survey. 

When it’s ready to go, make sure to read through all questions out loud and double-check for clarity and sincerity.

3. Send out your survey 

Even if you’ve crafted the best employee engagement survey in the world, it’s worthless without employee participation. Like we mentioned earlier, employees tend to be skeptical of surveys, so to ensure healthy participation:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate 🔊

This may seem obvious, but you have to prepare your team for the survey. Don’t just craft it and immediately send it out. Instead, make it clear that the survey is happening and communicate deadlines so everyone understands how, when, and why they need to do their part.

  • Share the why 

Speaking of why, make sure your team knows that the company will use the information gathered to make improvements (no, seriously) and that you’ll share the results with planned solutions. Transparency is key, and the more your employees feel like their voices will actually be heard, the more likely they’ll be to take the time.

  • Get managers involved

Ask managers to remind their team why it’s important to participate and keep up with deadlines. Encourage people to put time on their calendars specifically for the survey.

  • Keep it anonymous 

Ensuring that your employee engagement survey remains anonymous allows your employees to feel comfortable speaking honestly about their workplace experience. Remind your team each time you bring up the survey that it is 100% anonymous and that their honest feedback is wanted.

  • Make it fun 🎉

Send out fun reminders or creative thank yous for participating. Empower your team by letting them know that this survey is the best, most effective way to make their voices heard.

4. Analyze the results 

The results are in! But it’s not over yet. You’ve now got the data that will help you measure engagement & job satisfaction, and take steps to move the needle in the right direction.

This data will show you areas that need improvement, but the good news is that it will also show you areas of success and help you understand what you’re doing right—and hey, we all need little reminders of what we’re doing right.

Make sure you take the time to read any open response questions. It may be more tedious, (so take breaks as you need them), but if an employee takes the time to write out a response, that means it’s something that’s especially important to them. These answers will give you the biggest bang for your buck and will provide a little more insight into the smaller, more actionable things that are effecting engagement levels.

After you’ve gone through the responses, brainstorm the underlying causes behind the problems you’ve identified and start making a plan of action. Meet with managers and department heads to review the results first, take their ideas into account, then go into sharing the results with the rest of your team with a solid idea of next steps.

5. Share the results 

Only 20% of employees think their manager will act on survey results. (Bummer.) So a timely follow-up is key for showing everyone your commitment to taking action.

When you share the results, your employees should be able to understand what you are taking from the survey and what you plan to do about it. It’s also worth noting again when sharing that you reviewed these with department heads and managers and you all worked together to prioritize and brainstorm solutions.

Don’t forget to share the wins too! Employee surveys don’t have to be all about highlighting the things that need work—share the things that are working too. You can highlight the positive changes from previous surveys and how they affected this round of results. It’s doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom.

6. Implement a solution

After you share your plan with the team, action should be taken relatively quickly. This will make your commitment to the engagement survey crystal clear, resulting in more involvement from your team members with future surveys.

Running an employee survey regularly can give you more chances to check in with your employees and gauge the impact of your changes.

To get the best results each time you implement a survey, follow the same process and adding in a fun new element each time. Eventually, engagement surveys will become routine, employees will know what to expect, and hopefully, participate more each time.

Author

Sierra Carter (she/her) is a freelance copywriter based in Chicago. As a creative copywriter, her writing is rooted in storytelling. She's worked with a variety of clients including StarKist, TAMKO, S&T Bank, British Airways, Michigan Ross University and SHOP 'n SAVE.

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