10 Things I Hate About Your Employee Engagement Survey Questions

Steffi Maranan

Steffi Maranan

We’re big fans of quality, evidence-based employee engagement survey questions that let you make meaningful changes after an employee engagement survey. Over the years though, we’ve seen lots of events, webinars, documents, surveys, and blogs with, let’s say ‘questionable’ questions. So we’re here to highlight the ones that’ll do more harm than good because they’re a valuable learning lesson.

This is meant to be a bit of fun, it's a departure from what we usually write, however, the points we are making are still important. It may be hard to believe but these are genuine questions that we have encountered in the past.

Let’s cut to the chase - here are the worst 1 employee engagement survey questions that we have come across:

Build an employee engagement survey that your employees will want to answer -  read our guide here

1. On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your manager’s ability (Likert)

This question is absolutely useless because it doesn’t identify why a manager might be excellent, or not excellent. How do you learn what’s going well or what needs to be improved? Also, you shouldn’t be using an employee engagement survey as a way to do an underhand performance review.

2. I have a best friend at work (Likert)

This is one that we often see in employee surveys. You can only really answer yes or no to this, and both answers don’t give you any actions. You have to know what you can do to maintain the culture, or how to change it for the better. This question doesn’t tell you either.

There’s also something more subtle going on here. There might well be someone they consider a close friend at work, but it doesn’t tell you how the friendship was formed or how the employees feel. Is it because they work closely together? Or is it because the company culture makes it easy to mingle with other teams? Ultimately there’s probably a far more specific reason to ask this, which needs to be reflected in the question.

3. My work is impacting my relationship with my spouse/partner(Likert)

Let’s start drawing some boundaries. It’s broadly work-related but it’s too personal, and it raises all sorts of flags about privacy and anonymity. Remember, this isn’t a 1-1 chat, or an HR meeting where you could be far more thoughtful about raising issues with an employee’s personal life. There are far better ways of asking an employee about their work-life balance.

4. This organisation pursues joint performance initiatives, and our systems and processes facilitate cross-functional initiatives. (Likert)

Stop the ride, we want to get off. Mind-bending business jargon is the fastest way to get someone to close your survey. Expect very poor response rates if you’re using this sort of language. To ensure high engagement with the employee questionnaire, questions should be short, simple and written in plain English.

Also, if your brand has a tone of voice, it should be written using that too. Tone of voice gives your brand a personality, and it should come through in absolutely everything you write.

5. What would you like to share? (Open-text)

Whilst we are massive advocates for asking open-text questions this one is far too broad. The beauty of asking employee for free text responses, it allows you to capture complex feeling and experiences. Stories about work and suggested actions are only revealed when people are given the opportunity to use their own words.

In this example though, if nothing is top of mind then ‘nothing’ will be the answer you get. It’s best to ask specific questions that can bring about actionable insight that link to business outcomes.

6. As a female employee, are you treated fairly within the team?(Open-text)

Firstly, not everyone completing the survey will be a woman. Secondly, it feels like a bit of a confrontational question. Thirdly, does it tell you anything useful? Fourthly, there isn’t a fourthly but it’s quite an annoying question so deserves more flak.

The best thing to do is to collect some demographic data at the start of the employee survey to help break down survey results into different groups and teams.

7. How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the company culture? What can be improved? (Open-text)

You’ve only gone and done it. You’ve asked several questions at once. It’s confusing and you probably won’t get answers to each part of your question. When asking for feedback on the employee experience, it is vital you keep it focused and specific.

8. Are you making enough money?(Multiple choice)

Guess what - everyone wants a pay rise! It’s the most common piece of feedback in employee engagement surveys. First off, if nothing can be done about pay rises, schemes or bonuses, then don’t create friction by talking about it. If pay is something where there’s flexibility, talk about it in an employee performance review.

9. What do you think of our new fantastic development scheme? (Open-text)

Objection, your honour. Leading the witness. Don’t try to coax positive answers out of people, however unintentional it may be. You may think something is fantastic (and they might agree) but surveys need to be objective, not trying to plant an idea in someone’s answer. Find out if your employees like/dislike a particular initiative by asking more objective questions.

10. What’s your name?(Open-text)

You get the most honest results when your teams know that they can’t be identified. Don’t even make it optional. As an alternative, you could ask some useful and relevant demographic questions upfront.

Writing great employee engagement questions

Some questions are better than others; the best questions are ones that generate answers that reveal future behaviour. After all, when measuring employee engagement, that is what we are trying to find out isn’t it?

If you ask the wrong questions, you’ll never be able to accurately measure or improve employee engagement. As a general rule, your questions need to be:

  • Objective
  • Measurable
  • Meaningful
  • Actionable

Over many years, we have analysed large datasets using powerful statistical analysis to uncover the questions that are consistently better and are predictive of future employee satisfaction and performance.

To confirm our findings, we ran a series of independent tests partnering with a leading research organisation. The study covered every industry and more than 2,000 organisations. The results were conclusive, our questions have a direct link to what matters – profit, growth and customer service.

That’s how we reveal what is most important using 25 questions or less, helping us get to the point and fight survey fatigue.

Find out more about how we make employee engagement surveys the right way, or get more tips using our Employee Engagement Survey guide.

Employee Engagement Survey Guide

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