As more employers recognize the importance of employee engagement to the success of their business, a variety of different types of employee surveys are being used. In this article, we’ll tell you how to do an effective employee engagement survey, and we’ll provide advice on the best format and timing options for you. We’ll share some other best practices, as well, so you can start developing an employee engagement survey program that will generate real results for your team.

Types of employee engagement surveys

There are two predominant types of employee surveys – pulse surveys and annual surveys.

While these are the most common survey formats, they’re not the most effective for assessing and measuring overall employee engagement. Here’s why:

  • Pulse surveys are short surveys designed to quickly gather employee sentiment. Their effectiveness diminishes quickly as employees tire quickly when they’re issued too broadly or frequently. Pulse surveys are most useful for generating topical feedback from a small group.
  • Annual surveys are longer and more comprehensive in scope and are administered once a year. The primary problem with annual surveys is the amount of time that passes between them. The information they generate isn’t timely enough to be strategically useful to the company’s leaders.

Engagement Multiplier has found that a quarterly cadence of surveys requiring no more than 10 minutes of employees’ time is optimal for encouraging employee participation, preventing survey fatigue, and providing leadership with timely and actionable information.

Surveying employees quarterly has other advantages, as well:

  • It enables leaders to gauge the impact of actions taken since the prior survey, helping the organization continually improve,
  • Leaders can understand more quickly the impact of a new leadership hire, a key process change, a merger or acquisition, or, as the case may be, a global pandemic that disrupts the workplace,
  • Over time, quarterly data will reveal trends, enabling leaders to get ahead of issues before they turn into problems and to understand sources of exceptional strength within the organization.

“Shorter pulse surveys on weekly, biweekly, monthly, and quarterly basis can help small businesses better understand the ebbs and flows of the employee experience, and help companies be much more nimble in addressing key opportunities and challenges to growth,” said Eric Stites, CEO of Franchise Business Review, in a recent article on employee surveys. “And keep in mind that employee surveys are critically important for managers and business owners, as well as providing a voice for your employees.”

What’s the benefit of employee engagement surveys to the employer? 

A properly executed employee survey provides the business with the truth about what’s really going on in the business, and what employees are really thinking, and provides insights leaders otherwise wouldn’t have.

“If you’re going to spend the time developing a robust business strategy, you should also take the time to understand if your team is standing shoulder to shoulder with you and is ready to drive things ahead,” notes Stefan Wissenbach, Engagement Multiplier’s founder and CEO.

Well-constructed employee surveys can act as early-warning systems for difficulties within the organization, indicating when teams are falling out of alignment or when disengagement is setting in – both of which can hamper productivity and lead to employee turnover. Employee surveys can also deliver powerfully positive insights by capturing wisdom from within employee ranks that are hidden from senior managers, and can also showcase the strong leaders within the company, as indicated by strong engagement numbers.

How do employee engagement surveys benefit employees? 

Employee engagement surveys give employees a voice, enabling them to share their feedback and ideas with leadership, and is a core driver of an individual’s engagement with their job. Surveys that are thoughtfully administered and lead to positive changes that are visible to employees create a powerful spirit of unity and ownership among the team that can lead to increased individual engagement, improved productivity, and even inspire innovation.

What are the keys to creating effective employee engagement surveys?

1. Keep it relevant. An effective employee engagement survey must be relevant to employees – if it ignores the ‘elephant in the room’ problems within the organization, it will have little credibility with the team.

2. Don’t demand too much. You can’t demand a lot from employees and expect to be successful. Surveys that are onerous or too frequent will result in low participation rates. We recommend surveys take no more than 10 minutes for employees to complete.

3. Keep survey frequency in mind. Because survey results represent a snapshot in time, to be maximally useful to leadership, they should be administered with enough frequency for leaders to gauge the progress of initiatives and to create data points that can be used to chart trends. For companies seeking to achieve a particular outcome, such as improving employee engagement, Engagement Multiplier recommends surveying employees quarterly.

4. Use a core set of unchanging questions. Likewise, to chart progress most accurately over time, there should be a core set of questions that do not change, enabling an apples-to-apples comparison. That said, it’s not uncommon for companies to append sets of customized questions to surveys, to capture feedback about a timely event or topic.

What are the best practices for effective employee engagement surveys?

Confidentiality and total anonymity are the most important factors in determining whether or not a survey will be successful and generate candid feedback. Employees must be assured of both, which is why a third-party system or partner is often used.

It’s also important to tell employees about the survey ahead of time. Describe the company’s objectives, emphasize the confidential and anonymous nature of the survey, provide the timelines, and commit to sharing the results.

Much of what makes a survey program effective is what happens after the surveys are closed. Engagement Multiplier recommends the following steps for employers:

  • Be transparent. Share the results of the survey with your employees.
  • Pick three things from the survey results for which you will be able to show measurable progress over a reasonable period, and communicate those three things to the team.
  • Focus on improving those three things, and keep the team updated on progress.
  • Provide an end-of-quarter report, prior to re-surveying the team, in order to gather feedback on the impact of the changes.
  • Re-survey the team.
  • Rinse and repeat.

How do you analyze and communicate employee survey results? 

A good employee engagement survey should provide a holistic view of the business that’s appropriate for differing levels of managers. Senior leaders should be able to see the big picture and understand at a glance where the organization stands. Department heads and team managers should be able to see the feedback from their areas of responsibility.

Engagement Multiplier uses a mixed approach that combines scoring and free-form commentary. We find this approach particularly useful for charting organizational progress over time, while also ensuring timely ideas and specific feedback can be captured. While we use AI to measure sentiment and highlight key themes in the written feedback, we also emphasize the importance for leaders to personally review the survey data related to their team.

It’s important to remember that surveys are a means, not an end. The most successful employee engagement survey is one that captures timely and relevant data upon which leaders can take specific action to improve the business. However, without follow-on action and communication from leadership, even the most well-crafted survey loses value.