How to Conduct a Fool-Proof Employee Engagement Survey

Example of a paper survey

Gathering accurate, useful feedback through an employee engagement survey can be tricky. Good data can help you shape your benefits strategy and inform organizational growth—bad data can send you spinning in the wrong direction.

To help you collect the most useful intel you can, it’s important to understand why you should frequently conduct employee engagement surveys, how to conduct an effective survey and structure your survey questions, and how to best use the survey results to drive benefits decision-making.

Let’s jump right in.

Why conduct an employee engagement survey?

Simply put, there’s a good chance that a lot of your employees aren’t happy. Only one in five employees describe themselves as “very engaged” in their work, and nearly two-thirds of employees routinely think about leaving their jobs. And that lack of employee satisfaction has a huge impact on productivity, costing U.S. companies as much as $550 billion per year.

The good news is that there are countless ways to increase employee engagement, like providing more opportunities for career development and advancement, giving employees more autonomy to make decisions, or investing in technology that makes it easier to get the job done.

But most companies have a finite amount of resources, which means you’ll have to be smart about setting priorities for employee engagement initiatives. A well-crafted survey is the most effective way to know which concerns are top of mind for employees, and take appropriate action quickly.

How to conduct an employee engagement survey

The best way to conduct an employee engagement survey is to cast a wide net. Focusing on a specific topic from the outset means you may miss other areas where there’s room for improvement. 

A survey on technology may reveal that everyone wants a new laptop. But what if new technology is actually a lower priority than things like health insurance benefits or work-life balance? This could easily lead to a misguided initiative – and an expensive one to boot.

Employee engagement company Culture Amp suggests that you focus your employee engagement survey on four key factors:

·   Leadership at the executive and department level

·   Enablement to work effectively and learn on the job

·   Alignment between individual goals and corporate performance

·   Development of career goals and opportunities

The analyst firm Gartner also notes the importance of asking employee engagement survey questions that are related to disruptions in response to COVID-19. These disruptions could include new remote work policies, new business priorities, or new safety guidelines. To gauge the impact of these (and other) disruptions, Gartner recommends framing questions around whether employees trust the company to take care of their well-being, feel empowered to collaborate and support each other, and have access to the right tools to manage the disruption.

How should you structure your employee engagement survey questions?

Here are five tips for writing effective survey questions.

Embrace the five-point Likert scale

A yes/no question works great for assessing certain concrete behaviors, such as “Do you participate in our wellness program?” or “Do you receive XYZ benefits?” But when you want to measure employee attitudes or opinions, which offer a range of possibilities, make sure to use what’s called a 5-point Likert scale.

Here’s an example:

Overall, how satisfied are you with our online enrollment system?

a) Not at all satisfied

b) Somewhat satisfied

c) Satisfied

d) Very satisfied

e) Extremely satisfied

Bonus tip: To reduce bias, always present the “negative” end of the scale first, as in the example above.

Offer a valid way to respond to every question

If I were taking a survey about candy bars and saw the question below, I’d feel annoyed.

What is your favorite type of candy bar?

a) Twix

b) Snickers

c) Mars

d) Three Musketeers

Why is this so irritating? Because my favorite candy bar isn’t listed among the choices, and I don’t have the option to say, “It’s actually something else.” (For the record, it’s Take Five.)

Given these choices, I’m either just going to pick one just to move on, giving you erroneous information, or I’m going to get frustrated and quit the survey altogether. Either way, you’re not getting the data you want.

Be careful with how you word your questions and your possible answers. If you’re not sure you’re accounting for every possible response, throw in an “Other- please specify” option just to be safe.

Only ask about one aspect of a topic per question

If you ask about more than one thing in a question that only allows one answer, you’re bound to get inaccurate feedback. Here’s an example of what not to do:

How easy was our online benefits enrollment system to find and use?

a) Not at all easy to find and use

b) Somewhat easy to find and use

c) Easy to find and use

d) Very easy to find and use

e) Extremely easy to find and use

What’s the problem? If an employee thought your system was easy to find but confusing to use, they’d be incapable of giving you a truthful response. To avoid confusion, break this up into two questions: One about finding, and one about using.

Be careful with benefits jargon and terms

If you ask questions that include health care terms like premiums or deductibles, remember that employees may not know what these words mean. Provide basic employee benefits definitions the first time you use confusing terminology in a survey. 

For example: “How affordable is your health insurance premium? (the amount we deduct from your weekly paycheck to pay for health insurance)”

If you don’t take this extra step, you run the risk of employees not understanding what they’re being asked. This is a recipe for unhelpful answers – and that could lead to poorly planned policies. You may introduce a high-deductible health plan when most employees prefer higher premiums, or you may roll out a flexible spending account when employees prefer a health savings account.

Include some open-ended survey questions

While the majority of your employee engagement survey should consist of closed-ended questions, since they make for better data collection and analysis, it’s still important to solicit some open-ended feedback. This gives employees a chance to call out specific examples or address issues that you hadn’t thought of. 

Here are some examples of effective free-text questions.

·   What are we doing well?

·   What practices do we need to change?

·   Are there problems with our corporate culture?

·   How can we make you more engaged in your work?

·   What question would you add to our next survey?

How to get high engagement…on your engagement survey

It’s important to make your employee engagement survey…well, engaging. Here’s how to get enough response rates to drive smart decision-making and improve your work environment:

Form a cross-functional team to discuss survey design

SHRM recommends bringing together a cross-functional team to evaluate past employee engagement surveys, and focus on how to improve the current version. This group has two purposes: to evaluate the survey as a whole – from how it’s written to how results are communicated to who’s responsible for implementing changes – and to consider the value of each individual survey question.

If you’re testing lots of new questions, think about running a pilot version to a small group of employees and bringing together a focus group to discuss the results before you roll out the survey to the entire company. 

Get the biggest possible response rate

Obviously, a survey that a lot of your employees fill out is more representative of your workforce and more useful than one that only a few people complete. After you’ve carefully crafted your survey, be strategic about motivating as many people as possible to participate.

Here are some ideas:

  • Ask company leaders to vouch for the importance of the survey, or ask managers to ask their teams to participate during group meetings.
  • Provide FAQ documents for managers. This way, they can address their employees’ questions without having to talk to HR – which will save everyone time.
  • Explain the goals of the survey and how you’ll be using employee feedback. Everyone will want to know how their feedback will contribute to business success.
  • Set aside time during the workday or in coffee break rooms to complete the survey. This is especially important for non-office-based workers, shift-working/operations-based employees, or anyone who doesn’t have their own computer.

Keep your survey in the field until you get a representative response

If you plan to make business decisions based on your survey results, make sure the group of people providing the feedback reflects the makeup of your organization as much as possible.

Say your company is 5% senior leaders, 20% middle managers, and 75% associates. If you close your survey and the respondents end up being 15% senior leaders, 40% middle managers, and 45% associates, your sample will be skewed.

To fix this, leave the survey in the field a little longer. Send reminder emails to associates or use workplace fliers to try to get more people from that group to better represent themselves. Think about any barriers that associates may face to filling out surveys, too, such as limited time and/or computer access.

Create employee testimonials to bridge employee engagement gaps

If employees aren’t responding to emails, filers, or requests from their supervisors, simple employee testimonials can improve engagement and encourage them to complete a survey. Employees are more likely to listen when they hear from their peers – and they’re more likely to remember what they hear.

If testimonials are part of the plan for your employee engagement survey, consider the following:

  • You need to be strategic and specific about what you focus on. In other words: make a plan for creating testimonials before you roll out the survey.
  • Recruit volunteers from the entire company – not just leadership. Encourage managers to promote testimonials in their team meetings.
  • Be upfront about what you want to talk about and how you’re going to use the testimonial.
  • Be flexible about the format. Not everyone will want to go on camera, so gather some quotes for printed material.
  • Let employees look things over before you hit “publish” – especially if you’ve made edits to their testimonial for clarity or brevity.

Communicate results – honestly – and follow up

Employees take time out of their schedules to provide honest feedback. They will expect to see the survey results and know how the company plans to move forward with the results.

Once you’ve spent some time measuring employee engagement survey results, create easy-to-read documents and graphics that can be shared in staff meetings, virtual town halls, email newsletters, intranet postings, and training manuals. Individual letters to employees are a nice touch, too. 

Be careful not to take survey results at face value. Managers may try to dismiss findings – “No surprises here” – but having honest discussions based on the data can help managers view the results as a source of insight and a starting point for improvement.

It’s important for the survey process to be a closed loop. The results of one survey should influence an action plan for improved employee engagement, and the next survey should seek feedback on whether employees see progress on the action plan. Maintaining a closed loop requires maintaining data year after year. Otherwise, it’s nearly impossible to monitor trends over time.

How can you keep employees engaged throughout the year?

One of the easiest ways to keep your finger on the pulse of employee engagement all year long – and not just at survey time – is through the use of a mobile platform for benefits decision-making. ALEX Benefits Counselor gives employees a one-stop shop that’s available 24/7 to answer their benefits questions and make smart choices for their health – and their wallet. 

As employees use ALEX, you’ll see in real time what decisions they’re making and what questions they’re asking. This enables a more proactive approach to day-to-day employee engagement so your annual survey can focus on benefits strategy, corporate culture, and other Big Picture stuff.

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