Employee engagement surveys are an important part of your engagement lifecycle. Most HR people or small business owners have at least some experience with them, but in the busy-ness of running a business, a strategic approach can often get overlooked.
That means that a lot of companies end up doing employee survey work all wrong. This usually looks like:
- Using a question set that they've found on the internet without considering the goals of their surveys
- Not sharing the responses with their team in a meaningful way
- Being unable to make any useful changes as a result of the survey because of the lack of a strategy
We've now seen over a million votes to surveys on doopoll. So we know more than a little about what's effective and if you read nothing else, let it be this: Successful companies align their employee engagement survey to the overall strategy of the company.
What do I mean by this?
Asking 50-60 questions of your staff will get you 50-60 responses per person. If you multiply that out by the number of employees you have, you'll get an ocean of data. Even with 2-3 employees, you're going to have a big pile of data points about how engaged they are.
Amanda Thomas, a HR consultant, told us:
You need to engage with the workforce before you set your engagement survey up. Don't make it too broad - you risk going a mile wide and only an inch deep.
But how can you avoid an amorphous heap of data?
In this post, we'll make sure that you've got a strategy for running employee engagement surveys that make meaningful growth possible. You need to ensure that you follow some basic principles so that you get the information and insights you can use.
First we'll just take a quick overview of what employee engagement surveys do, then a breeze through whether or not they work before answering the question of how many questions you should ask, how and what to ask.
Ready? Read on, explorer!
What is the purpose of an employee engagement survey?
Employee surveys help businesses and organisations to understand how they are doing against a range of metrics: most commonly how interested in their work and workplace employees are.
One crucial thing to keep note of here: The best companies align their engagement survey questions to the goals of the organisation and use the responses as drivers for improvement or reassurance across all teams.
A really practical example of this could be if you're losing a lot of team members.
Survey results can measure engagement and act as a lead indicator of employee churn – if scores are low, you can make a good bet that your company is going to loses some team members. If it's high, you'll most likely retain employees.
But more regular, fixed question set pulse surveys can help HR and People Operations leaders keep their finger on the ... pulse. They are able to use surveys as constructive lag indicators, answering the question: "Did the interventions we made since our last survey have an impact?"
Managers might also use the survey results as talking points in performance reviews, sharing overall feedback and using it to frame conversations as part of their employee review strategy
There are many different approaches and you should consider whether one is right for you, or whether you need to use a more rounded approach featuring several of them.
Ensuring your team have the best possible experience at work
Employee engagement surveys enable people to give honest feedback. Not everyone is vocal and this gives everyone an equal outlet. It shouldn’t replace day to day communication, it’s there to enhance it and make working life even better.
The benefits are:
- Feedback - enabling you to make improvements.
- Inclusivity - everyone gets to have a say.
- Benchmark/progress - enables you to track progress - good and bad!
Ultimately it’s about ensuring your team have the best possible experience at work.
Regular, short surveys work best. Surveys shouldn’t replace great communication with your team. Act on feedback otherwise people are less likely to complete it going forward. Involve your team - form a working group that will help tackle any improvements needed.
Remember it’s not just a process! It’s about your people - celebrating and improving their experience at work.
Do employee engagement surveys work?
Yes – and I'm not just saying that so I can write an interesting blog post on the topic. Employee engagement is a vital part of any thriving business.
There are three basic reasons for this identified by Scott Judd (Facebook), Eric O'Rourke (Facebook) and Adam Grant (author of great books on organisational psychology) in an article on Harvard Business Review:
- Surveys are predictors of behaviour – Judd and O'Rourke found that if people who don't fill out either of their two annual surveys are 2.6x more likely to leave the organisation within 6 months!
- Surveys help people feel 'heard' – As an employee you don't get that much opportunity to express yourself. But an employee engagement survey is a unique opportunity to have your say.
- Surveys can actually create behavioural change – Psychologists have linked survey responses to changes in behaviour. For example, "Survey people on whether they’d like to volunteer three hours for the American Cancer Society, and volunteering rates spike from 4% to 31%.
But there are some caveats.
You must align survey questions to the organisational and people strategies – If you don't have a strategic approach, your team will notice that you aren't able to systematically improve the culture
To achieve growth in your people and increase feelings of loyalty, purpose and value, get specific about what you want to achieve.
How many questions should an employee engagement survey have?
Asking how many questions any kind of survey should have is not really that useful.
A better question to ask is 'what is the minimum amount of information I need to hit my goals?'
Some employee engagement surveys like the Times Best Places to Work are eye wateringly long (70 questions) but actually that makes sense because they're trying to make a list of the top 100 companies to work for in the UK. You need to ask a lot of questions to feed into data like that.
On the other hand, a survey aimed at an organisation with fewer than 10 employees who want to boost productivity or commitment are going to be totally different and may require only 5-6 questions to start a discussion. Survey questions might be better suited to open-ended questions here – whereas you'd ask multiple choice for surveys where collection of comparable data points (benchmarks) is more useful.
What do the data show?
We took a look at what our customers have created. To do this, we found all of the surveys that have ever been run on doopoll about employee engagement and here's what we found:
First of all, it turns out that in general, adding more than 10 survey questions seems to have a link to the average response rate of the survey.
Employee engagement surveys that have 10 or more questions have a higher average response rate as a group versus surveys that have a 9 or fewer questions.
Notably, surveys with only 1 question tend to have a 90%+ average response rate. Which makes so much sense to me.
On the other hand, the most common length of employee engagement survey on doopoll is 6 questions as shown in the chart below
In a future blog post, we'll go into more detail about why response rate increases as the number of questions in a survey go up. So make sure you sign up to our newsletter to get notified when that goes out (put your email address into the newsletter sign up boxes on this page)
A word of caution here
Look, we like data. Clearly. It's useful. But when dealing with humans, you have to factor in that not every group is alike. Your audience won't necessarily produce a 61% response rate when you add 10 questions.
We recommend that you speak with the key stakeholders (usually leadership, HR or People teams) and establish the goal of your survey, then define the KPIs that will give you a feel for how you can do the best job and help employees do their best work.
A better question to ask is 'what is the minimum amount of information I need to hit my goals?'
How do you write an employee engagement survey?
There are really four steps to this. It doesn't need to be difficult so let's just slam through these:
- Work out what you're trying to achieve – don't waste people's time with an employee satisfaction survey that's never going to see the light of day. Define KPIs and goals that align to your organisation's development.
- Then create a question set which covers the key points and focuses the survey around the key themes you developed when setting goals. This will ensure that the insights from your research are meaningful and your employees will feel better knowing that their responses genuinely impact the company.
- Set up your survey in doopoll – it's easy to create your account and we have employee engagement survey questions for a number of use cases.
- Share the survey with your employees but ensure that you also report back on the findings of the survey. The teams' trust will improve as a by-product of you being open with them about what everyone has said. Even if you're not going to be making changes as a result of the findings, sharing the results contributes to the feeling of staff in the business.
Should your employee engagement survey be anonymous?
Anonymity is good because it helps employees feel free to be honest. But it can also make it difficult to address specific feedback
Our whole product used to be anonymous and we found that some customers really loved anonymity – but other teams didn't care at all about telling management what they thought
A lot of this comes down to your particular organisation and the culture that you have there
One thing that we've seen happen with quite some success is using a qualifying multiple choice question like 'What team/location are you in?' to anonymise responses in a way that still allows you to break down the results into actionable segments.
What are some good employee engagement survey questions?
A lot of lists of questions for employee engagement just list a number of unsorted, untargeted questions. Remembering what we've already said about aligning your employee surveys to the objectives of your organisation, we've sorted our recommended questions into a few categories to make it more useful for you.
Improving financial metrics
How strongly do you agree with the following statement: "My objectives are clear and achievable"?
The saying goes: what gets measured gets managed. If you don't set clear objectives for your staff, or if they don't know what they are, there's a good chance you won't hit them as an organisation. Asking employees to tell you how clear the goals are means you can set them and forget them if you're doing well, or improve employee understanding if you're not doing so well.
"In the last month, I have on at least one occasion explained why [COMPANY] exists in one or two sentences" How much do you agree?
Purpose driven companies consistently outperform others on all metrics including financial performance. It's easy to put a mission statement on your wall, but how much do your employees believe that they're doing work that matters? A lot of disagreement here might indicate a poor quarter is coming your way.
Can you see a clear link between the work you're doing and the company's overall focus?
Similar to the previous question but subtle in its own way. With this one you're really asking whether a person feels they're contributing. Strong feelings of impact are self perpetuating – if you feel good about growing the revenue of the company, you're going to want to carry on doing that.
Do you have the correct amount of information to make informed decisions about your work?
This one works especially well when you're focused on decreasing the red tape in decision making or improving efficiency. Getting a pulse of the organisation will help you know where to focus on enabling staff.
"Over the last month, I have had chances to take on more responsibility or ownership of an area of the business." How much do you agree?
Responsibility and ownership are two indicators of trust in employees. Tracking this and improving scores not only develops people, but also develops trust.
"Over the last month, I have been directly challenged or encouraged to learn a new skill related to my work." How much do you agree?
Following a similar structure, this questions asks for an indicator of how well supported staff feel in developing skills that are beneficial to them and to you too. Win win!
"Over the last month, I have been able to see how what I'm working on now benefits my career in the future" How much do you agree?
It's unlikely that people will stay with your company for their whole careers. But inspiring and upskilling staff for their future work is the right thing to do – and who knows, this may be the thing that helps them stay engaged with your team.
Improving staff retention
Do you enjoy being in the office or location where you work currently?
Physical space has a huge impact on how we feel about our work. If we're hating sitting in traffic or feel glum about the cubicles we're in, we're likely to start looking for a better fitting work environment. Make sure your staff are on board with this.
How likely would you be to encourage someone you know to apply for a relevant job at [COMPANY]?
This is sometimes called an eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score). It's not as accurate a measure of business outcomes as the classic NPS is for customer growth, but it is useful nonetheless. If you're getting low scores for this question, it may be an indicator that your staff are disengaged and looking for a new challenge.
Agree or Disagree: “I see myself still working at [COMPANY] in two years’ time”
Hey, why use a tweezers when you've got a sledgehammer!? Sure, you could be subtle and use one of the above staff retention questions, but asking a direct, blunt and decisive question will get you to the goal faster. One word of caution: people may be less likely to give an honest answer to a blunt question like this as they may feel worried over what a negative would do to their job prospects. You have been warned.
Starting a conversation
These questions would work well as open text style questions. They'll allow you to use anonymised responses at your next all hands meeting or town hall.
What are we doing particularly well at right now?
If you could give one piece of feedback to the CEO right now, what would you say?
Here's a template you can use for your next employee engagement survey. It's got all of the questions we just discussed above in it.
To use it for your next survey, visit the survey by clicking here. Click 'Create this poll for me' at the bottom of the survey page.
Employee engagement surveys are so simple to do and the impact it can have on your business positively (using results to attract new staff), or negatively (stopping people leaving if something is going wrong).
It’s a no brainer in my eyes.
For me, an employee engagement survey is an opportunity for a sanity check: How is everyone feeling and nipping anything in the bud before it gets out of hand.
Best practices? I recommend making the survey not too long, engaging. Use some pictures on each question and use a mixture of types of questions.
Employee engagement surveys are a meaningful way to help your staff feel engaged, able to have their say and to help change behaviour. They can drive revenue growth in your organisation and they can increase employee retention (and as a by product of that: improve margins).
But it's vital that you align the questions, length and frequency of the surveys you send out to employees to the needs of your organisation as well as the overarching strategy.
While you're here, we'd love you to consider giving doopoll a go for your next survey. You can get started right away and here's why you should:
- doopoll surveys get 3-4x the response rate over other survey tools – we made the user experience so easy and answering is a breeze. Creating a survey is super easy too!
- Generate downloadable charts for your next big presentation with 1 click
- Or have them displayed beautifully on the big screen when you show present to your boss with our Presenter view.
It's free to get started and our global support response time is under 15 minutes during working hours – so if you need tips or a helping hand, you get it quickly! Create your next survey.