How to write better employee engagement surveys

Charlotte Murray

Charlotte Murray

"Overall, how satisfied are you with the state of our marriage following our recent long weekend in the countryside?"
"Overall, how excited are you by the prospect of being with me for the rest of your life?"

For the most part, we'd be amused and horrified if our significant other spoke to us like this. So why would we talk to our employees this way?

The attitudes and concerns of your staff can shape the culture of your organisation and an employee engagement survey can be a vital instrument in bringing issues to the surface. Properly analysed results can provide the evidential basis for positive change, but so much can go wrong.

Badly designed employee engagement survey questions can trivialise, alienate and reduce what ought to be information-rich conversations to a tactless exercise in gathering data for the sake of it.

Surveys can be annoyingly formulaic, filled with the same questions organisations have been asking for years. Too often, they are so loaded towards management's interests that the survey results end up being biased towards what leaders want to be important, while ignoring the real issues that employees want to raise. This only serves to re-affirm existing beliefs and prevent change.

At Qlearsite we have learnt that:

1. Everyone needs to know the survey's strategic purpose.

If you want your employees to be highly engaged, they need to know why a survey is happening so they can get on board with it. This is what makes pre and post survey communications so important in building awareness and trust.

If the project team and senior leadership know the purpose but employees don't, they won't fill in the employee survey or they'll provide poor data.

Top tips:

  • Interact and communicate with employees from inception to results to improve employee engagement
  • Draw up a communications plan to carefully schedule out each interaction with employees. Also measure employee engagement so you know what percentage responses you're getting - useful targets for the future.

 Example Survey Communications Plan

2. Let your employees know their information is safe

The most important thing in a good employee engagement strategy is trust. The survey is not an honest reflection of employee experience if employees don't feel safe to share their honest opinions.

If people are not assured about data protection, they will assume they don't have it. In our experience, you must make it clear in all communications that employee responses will be protected and kept confidential, otherwise response rates will be disappointing and the real truths will remain hidden.

Top tips:

  • Confidentiality is paramount. Checks and balances need to be put in place which prevent any individual's identity being revealed in analysis.
  • Clarify your data protection process and anticipate the questions and concerns from your colleagues in your communications to build trust from the get-go.


3. Let your employees express themselves in their own words

Language is the best form of communication. When you're trying to understand people in complex, real-world situations, responses should not be confined to a series of simple, closed, check-box questions.

Closed questions are still important for confirming what we already know to be true, but fail to capture the intricate nuances, sentiment and emotional complexity of working life.

Open-ended questions and free text answers are opportunities for employees to respond honestly, which is vital for generating insights to drive meaningful change. 

Using employee language analysis (NLP), we can reveal significant and undiscovered drivers of behaviour, including inclusion and engagement, which were not captured in closed-text questions. Our NLP can turn thousands of open text responses into key themes, yielding insights into sentiment, behaviours, risks and opportunities.

Top tips:

  • Closed questions help you understand the 'what'.
  • Open text questions help you understand the 'why'.
  • Use a mixture of the two to find the right balance between confirming important objectives and discovering new insights.
Open Text Question

4. Less is more

Asking 150 long-winded, irrelevant questions makes employees feel fatigued, which negatively impacts response rates. The more questions you ask, the less time on average your respondents will spend on answering each question.

Surveys should be interesting and not a huge demand on employees’ time. We use predictive analytics to identify which questions have strong correlations with behaviours, allowing us to strip out the non-predictive questions and cut question sets by up to 90%. Why ask if someone strongly agrees or strongly disagrees with a statement that has no impact on how they act? Why bother asking it?

Top tips:

  • Avoid non-predictive questions and leave space for the really valuable open-text questions. Do this and response rates soar.

5. To listen well is to actively listen.

In ordinary life, we give non-verbal and subconscious signals when we are listening. This approach isn't scaleable if we want to listen to everyone in an organisation, but there are things we can do to simulate the experience of 'true' listening.

  • Pulsing strategies are better than standalone surveys at building continuous conversation because each survey learns from the previous one – 'scan' surveys touch on a breadth of topics and deep dives address specific important issues raised in the 'scan'.
  • Use the key themes from the free-text data to demonstrate engaged employees' voices in post-survey communications
"When we asked you about inclusion, the main things you spoke about were 'representation', 'gender' and 'childcare'.

6. Act upon the insights

Finally and arguably most importantly, there’s no point asking someone how they feel and then doing nothing with it. Be accountable for the results and involve employees in the conversation. Evidence your own engagement with the survey and make it a process that employees want to be part of.

Top Tip:

  • Communicate plan-of-action to the organisation shortly after the survey closes so that you become accountable for future strategy.
  • Feedback results to teams and managers via interactive dashboards along with key actions that they need to address.

Next time you are preparing your employee engagement strategy, make sure that you follow these key tips to ensure you get data-driven, actionable insights.



Employee Engagement Survey Guide


Topics: Employee Engagement

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