Employee Engagement Surveys: Dos and Don’ts of Engagement Surveys

Employee Engagement Surveys: Dos and Don’ts of Engagement Surveys

Employee engagement surveys have come up for debate in internal communications. While there are pros and cons of this engagement measurement tool, many communication professionals have drawn attention to the flaws of using the standard annual survey. Let’s dive into what engagement surveys are, how they need to adapt to the modern workplace, and best practices for getting the most out of them.

employee engagement survey graphic

What is Employee Engagement?

Before we can talk about surveys to measure employee engagement, we have to define what this is. But that’s one of the first problems with engagement surveys: we don’t all agree on what employee engagement is.

  • Qualtrics defines engagement as “how someone thinks, feels, and acts to help their organization achieve its goals.”
  • Gallup defines employee engagement as “the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace.”
  • Quantum Workplace says it is “the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward the work they do, their teams, and their organization.”

All these definitions vary slightly. Some look at it as a combination of thoughts, feelings, and actions, while others view it as a perspective toward a company. It’s a measure of enthusiasm and commitment. But measuring that can be incredibly difficult to measure—but more on that later.

But many companies misconstrue what engagement is. They look at employee happiness and satisfaction, and often, but many experts agree that is not what engagement is.

It’s about “emotional commitment,” which Forbes helps us make sense of. They say that when an employee is engaged, that means they care about their work and their company.

But again, how do we measure that? It turns out, annual employee engagement surveys are one of the best tools we have.

engaged employee using his smartphone to fill out an employee engagement survey. To the right of him are words like excellent, great services, I am happy.

What is an Employee Engagement Survey?

An employee engagement survey is a way for companies to collect employee feedback and gauge employee sentiment, commitment, and thoughts about the company. These surveys often include an employee net promoter score (eNPS) question. And they are often used to assess churn risk and how the employee experience could be improved (e.g. better communication or employee benefits).

So, what’s the problem?

Downsides of Engagement Surveys 

There are a few reasons why internal communicators have questioned the efficacy of conducting an annual engagement survey.

  • An annual survey is only a snapshot in time. By conducting a survey just once a year, you limit the feedback to that single point in time. But since employee engagement is a feeling, it is constantly in flux. A highly engaged employee might have a bad month where they feel less committed and are more burnt out. But we only get to see that employee’s level of engagement at the time of the survey.
  • They do not provide real-time feedback. Not only do annual surveys only give you part of the story, they also do not allow you to make changes in real-time throughout the year. 
  • They are long…and hard to act on. Because you only conduct this survey once a year (or even less often!), they tend to be rather long. The organization really wants feedback on what it’s like to work at the company and how they can improve, but when all that feedback comes at once, it can catch you off guard and be harder to respond to.
  • Employees have survey fatigue. Because we struggle to react to survey results in a timely manner, employees are starting to have survey fatigue. They don’t want to spend the time taking a very long, annual survey if they believe nothing will be done as a result.

Why You Should Still Conduct an Employee Engagement Survey

Despite all the downsides of an annual survey, we still think they are important. Here’s why:

  • They are still one of the only ways we can measure employee engagement. Because engagement is a sentiment, it can be hard to measure without using surveys. So, we can’t get rid of this method of measurement.
  • We can supplement long, annual surveys with short, pulse surveys. A few of the biggest issues with how we currently measure employee engagement is that it’s not in real time, it’s too long, and it’s hard to act on. A lot of this can be helped by introducing pulse surveys to get a more accurate read of employee engagement over time. This also helps reduce the number of surprises in the full survey, helping you create a robust action plan.
  • We can adapt what we get out of our engagement surveys. Many critics of employee engagement cite that it isn’t always the most useful metric. Treating engagement as a dichotomy—being engaged or disengaged—does not reflect the shades of gray that most employees fall into. So, we can evolve our surveys to also measure employee thriving, wellbeing, and so on to paint a more vivid picture of our workplace cultures and how they can be improved.

What Questions Should Employee Engagement Surveys Ask?

Engagement surveys can be made up of a few categories of questions: satisfaction, alignment, future growth, and open-ended feedback.

Satisfaction Questions to Ask

Although engagement is not the same as satisfaction, these questions are still important to ask. The more satisfied employees are at work, the more likely they will want to continue working at your organization and giving their best effort. Examples of satisfaction questions to ask include:

  • Do you feel excited about coming to work?
  • Are you satisfied with your current compensation?
    • NOTE: Some surveys will ask about compensation and benefits in one question, but we think these should be split into two separate questions.
  • Are you satisfied with your current benefits package?
  • Do you enjoy working with your team? Your boss?
  • Would you recommend [company name] as a place to work? (Heads up! This is your employee net promoter question.)

Alignment Questions to Ask

Alignment questions assess if individuals, teams, and the organization are rowing in the same direction. Often, these questions have a lot to do with company values and ways of working. Examples include:

  • Do you agree with the organization’s values? Vision? Mission?
  • Do you believe your manager is invested in your success?
  • Do you feel that you have room to grow with the company?
  • Does the company provide a safe work environment?
  • Do you find your work meaningful?
  • Do you understand how your work contributes to the success of the company?

woman filling out an engagement pulse survey that's hanging on the wall of her office

Future Growth Questions to Ask

These questions are all about retention. They are used to assess if employees plan to quit and how you might encourage people to stay. You might ask:

  • Do you have what you need to succeed in your role?
  • Do you have opportunities for growth?
  • Do you see a career path with [company name]?
  • Do you see yourself working here in a year? (You can adjust this timeframe based on your employee lifecycle and how often you survey. If you’re in a high-attrition environment, you may even say in the next six months).
  • Do you feel like your career goals are supported by your manager/team?

Open-Ended Questions to Ask

Open-response questions are where you can get more specific feedback about various topics. Just keep in mind that these take time to answer, so you want to avoid including too many or making too many of these required. But examples of open response questions to ask are:

  • How can we improve your experience of working at our company?
  • What could we improve about the culture of our company?
  • What practices do we need to change?
  • What do we do really well at our company that makes you happy to work here?

How to Write Actionable Questions

To get the most out of your survey, you have to ask actionable survey questions. To determine if each question is actionable, ask:

  1. Does this question align with your goals? If the answer is no, remove the question from the survey.
  2. Will we actually be able to act on the data from the question? If not, remove the question.
  3. Are we prepared to act on the question?

What Type of Question Format Should I Use?

Open-ended questions should be, well, open-ended. But what about the other questions you ask? How should they be asked?

Let’s talk about survey question types and when you would use each.

  • Multiple Choice. This is a type of close-ended question where you provide the options an employee can select. Sometimes, multiple choice will include a response “other” with the opportunity to write-in a different answer that isn’t provided in the list. Use multiple choice questions to collect demographic information (e.g. location, title) or to gauge sentiment or information about a topic.
  • Likert Scale. This type of multiple choice question uses a set scale to allow employees to express the degree to which they agree or disagree with a statement. This should be used for your sentiment questions. So, instead of asking “do you enjoy coming to work every day?” and making it a yes/no response, use a Likert scale (e.g. “I enjoy coming to work every day” with the responses Completely Disagree, Disagree, Neither Agree/Disagree, Agree, and Completely Agree).
  • Select Your Top Choices. These multiple choice questions also use a predefined list of answers, but you ask your survey participants to select multiple answers from the list. This question type should be used to determine the most important items in a set. So, you might use this for a question about benefits (e.g. What benefits are most important to you?).

Best Practices for Engagement Surveys

To get the most out of your engagement survey, follow these best practices.

DO: Analyze Your Results

Although engagement surveys should be anonymous to encourage wide participation, collecting demographic data is an important best practice. We recommend doing this so you can filter your results in meaningful ways.

If you don’t collect demographic data, you will only be able to see the results in aggregate. While that can be useful, it won’t let you see nuances in the data and uncover potentially damaging patterns and biases at your organization.

For example, if you include a question that asks for gender, you might uncover that women at your organization are more likely to feel that their career advancement is not supported or that they feel they have no growth opportunities. This helps you target a response to provide this segment of your workforce with more resources.

Another example would be with location. Is one of your manufacturing facilities struggling more with turnover than others? This survey can help you hone in on where that problem might exist so you can be more efficient in how you expend resources to correct it.

DO: Follow Up After Your Survey

Like we’ve mentioned, survey fatigue happens when employees are repeatedly asked to provide feedback and then nothing is done about it. 

We have to get better about following up after we survey our teams. This not only encourages employees to continue to provide feedback, but it also holds us accountable to taking action. And what is the point of surveying our people if not to create meaningful change to improve our work cultures and create a more successful organization?

DON’T: Wait to have all the answers and your action plan to follow up.

We understand the desire to only communicate perfection when it’s ready. But this is a mistake when it comes to surveying. Employee engagement surveys can take time to go through and create your response, so don’t leave employees hanging. 

Start with an immediate follow up where you thank employees for taking the survey. 

Then share the results without filtering out unfavorable responses. Be transparent and show employees the trends. When you share this data, let employees know that you are working on your next steps.

In as timely a manner as possible, share your action plan and point back to the survey to show why you chose to make the changes you did.

DON’T: Share an incredibly long survey.

Although employee engagement surveys do tend to run long, try to keep your survey as concise as possible. Use the question matrix to decide what questions are really going to move the needle and try to trim the rest.

Being mindful of how long a survey will take shows your employees you respect their time and increases the likelihood of employees completing the survey.

Common Challenges in Conducting Engagement Surveys

While employee engagement surveys offer valuable insights, companies may face some challenges during the survey process. Common challenges include:

  • Survey fatigue. Employees may feel overwhelmed if they are frequently asked to participate in various surveys without seeing anything come of it. This can lead to reduced response rates and survey fatigue.
  • Low response rates. Encouraging high participation is crucial for survey success. Low response rates can impact the validity of the data and limit the insights gained. Consider these strategies to increase participation: push notifications, strategic reminders, and anonymous survey options.
  • Data interpretation. Analyzing and interpreting survey data effectively is essential for actionable insights. Proper data analysis techniques and tools can help overcome these challenges.
  • Survey bias. Bias can affect survey results and distort the true picture of employee engagement. It’s important to design unbiased surveys, avoid leading questions, and ensure anonymity to encourage honest responses.

survey fatigue depiction. Man working at his computer with his glasses pulled off and rubbing his eyes.

Strategies for Maximizing Survey Participation

Because response rates are one of the biggest hurdles we face with our engagement surveys, try these strategies to maximize participation in your survey.

  • Communicate the “why”. Clearly communicate the purpose, importance, and confidentiality of the survey. Explain how the feedback will be used and emphasize that employees’ voices matter.
  • Anonymous participation. Offer the option for anonymous survey responses to encourage open and honest feedback. Assure employees that their responses will be treated confidentially.
  • Survey timing. Choose a time that minimizes distractions and workload pressures. Avoid busy periods or times when employees may be less likely to participate.
  • Incentives. Consider offering incentives for survey participation to motivate employees. This can be in the form of small rewards, a prize drawing, swag, etc.

Acting on Engagement Survey Results

To effectively analyze and act upon employee engagement survey results you need to understand some basic data analysis. You’ll want to: 

  • Use a combination of qualitative and quantitative analysis methods
  • Look for patterns, trends, and correlations in the data
  • Use statistical tools and visualizations to facilitate your understanding

table full of papers with charts and data visualizations on them with the hands of professionals pointing to certain reports

Once you have analyzed your data, you have to do something with it. Doing all this work and then not acting on your results is far more common than you think. Let’s break down what you should do next:

  • Prioritize key areas for improvement. Identify the most critical areas for improvement based on the survey findings. Focus on the factors that have the most significant impact on employee engagement and business success.
  • Action planning. Develop action plans to address the identified areas for improvement. Involve relevant stakeholders and employees in the process to foster ownership and commitment.
  • Transparent communication. Share the survey results with employees and stakeholders. Provide clear and concise reports, presentations, or visualizations to effectively communicate the findings. Encourage dialogue and feedback on the results to foster transparency and collaboration.
  • Track progress over time. Establish mechanisms to track the progress of action plans and initiatives. Regularly review and evaluate the impact of implemented changes on employee engagement and organizational outcomes.

How Do theEMPLOYEEapp’s Survey Integrations Work?

Employee feedback is crucial in the modern workplace. With theEMPLOYEEapp’s product integrations, we make it easy to share your employee engagement surveys with your distributed workforce, including remote, hybrid, and frontline workers.

Whether you use SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, Qualtrics, or another survey provider, when you share the link to your survey in theEMPLOYEEapp, the questionnaire will open within the app experience. This lets employees easily access your survey, complete it, and return to viewing important internal communications without missing a beat.