In any company with more than one employee, it’s important for leadership to know what their employees’ experience is really like. Across industries, people’s experience of work affects their overall performance and investment in their employer’s mission. Managers and leadership team members should never assume they know how their employees feel about their jobs — neglecting to check in on employees’ satisfaction and engagement levels could lead to higher turnover, longer production cycles and even lower product quality.
Regular surveys are an effective way to take the temperature of employee engagement and give employees the opportunity to be honest about their work experiences. Their feedback will enable leadership to make changes that contribute to a more positive and productive work environment.
What Is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement is the extent to which an employee commits to their work, their employer and the organization’s mission. Different from employee satisfaction, engagement encompasses an employee’s motivation, interest in the job at hand, the quality of their communication with team members, and even their commitment to proposing changes to work processes.
Engagement levels are influenced by the presence of workplace training programs, the feedback process and protocol, the involvement of leadership in all levels of the organization, the clarity of the organization’s mission and employees’ ability to understand their role in that mission.
In 2006, researchers at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) examined employee engagement across the globe to discover exactly what keeps people interested in their jobs. Though this research is now over 15 years old, it helped to crystallize the key elements that leaders need to foster to grow workplace engagement, now known as the Ten Cs of Employee Engagement.
The Ten C’s of Employee Engagement
According to the Ivey Business Journal (published by UWO’s Richard Ivey School of Business), organizational leadership should strive to embody and deliver on these ten pillars:
- Connect: Find ways to connect with your employees and show that you value your employees’ respective contributions.
- Career: Provide challenging and meaningful work with opportunities for career advancement.
- Clarity: Communicate a clear vision for your organization.
- Convey: Ensure that your expectations are clear and deliver feedback that aligns with these expectations.
- Congratulate: Provide as much feedback for great performance as for poor performance; praise and recognition from leadership motivates employees to keep up the good work and strive to improve.
- Contribute: Help employees see and understand how they are contributing to the organization’s success and future.
- Control: Rather than ruling with an iron fist, allow employees to have some control over their work capacity. This pertains to flexible scheduling for parents or caregivers, work from home opportunities (if possible) and workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities.
- Collaborate: Encourage teamwork whenever possible, including fostering conversations between workers in different departments and at different levels of the organization.
- Credibility: Strive to maintain your organization’s reputation and demonstrate high ethical standards, both for your employees and your customers.
- Confidence: If you embody the previous nine Cs, confident leadership performance is sure to follow.
Why Are Employee Engagement Surveys Important?
Employee engagement surveys serve two primary purposes: They give employees a voice, and they provide valuable insights for leadership to act on. When deployed regularly — for example, on a quarterly basis — survey results will consistently inform an organization’s continuous improvement initiatives, thereby fostering a culture of innovation that leads to more engaged employees, higher product quality and better business results.
For example, organizations that implement Training Within Industry Job Instruction (JI) may want to gauge how effective this fundamental training is, as well as its general perception among employees. The efficacy of the training is easy to measure, as evidenced by reduced training time, higher production, fewer safety incidents and less tool and equipment damage. The perception (and reception) of the training, however, may be more difficult to quantify in the same way — and that’s where the employee survey comes in.
If an organization does not currently implement engagement surveys, they may be hesitant to start, for fear of uncovering some hard truths. Employee surveys can surface issues that leadership was not even aware of, providing a valuable opportunity to mitigate those issues before they get worse. Survey results also allow leaders to track certain issues over time to see if they get worse, or if new initiatives helped to resolve the issues.
The person or team tasked with analyzing survey results — whether that be Human Resources, the Chief Operating Officer, head of the training program or other — should be aware that understanding and agreeing are two separate responses. Whoever reads the results may not agree with a piece of employee feedback, but their job is to at least understand it so they can act on it.
These surveys are a tangible way to demonstrate that an organization cares about its employees’ experience of work. For employees, sometimes merely being asked what they think can increase their investment in their jobs, thereby delivering better business outcomes for their employers.
How to Design an Employee Engagement Survey
The key to designing an employee engagement survey is to make employees want to answer it. Therefore, whoever develops the surveys should keep the following in mind:
Frequency: It’s best to take the “trivial many, vital few” approach here — send surveys out too frequently, and you risk employees ignoring them; send them too sparingly and it will be difficult to track gradual changes over time. Once per quarter is a good place to start.
Anonymous submissions: Not being required to provide their name encourages employees to answer questions more honestly.
Simple format: Employees should know how to take the survey as soon as they open it. That means clear instructions, a clean layout, and easy-to-use rating systems.
Audience: It’s rare that a single survey will encompass every employee’s experience. If you’re trying to collect data across the entire organization, tailor your surveys to address specific roles or departments. If possible, you may also want to collect demographic (age, tenure, etc.) information to chart trends.
Clear rating system: On that note, keep your rating system simple. A five-point Likert scale (“strongly agree” to “strongly disagree,” etc.) is most effective at enabling employees to answer in a straightforward way that still allows for nuance.
Length: Engagement surveys, especially if deployed quarterly, should take no more than 5–10 minutes to complete. Otherwise, you risk employees simply passing them over, thinking it will take up too much time or that their opinion doesn’t matter anyways.
Deadline: Make the deadline clear when you send surveys out. Employees should have at least a week to submit their feedback.
Objective questions: Take care to ask questions in a non-leading way; don’t assume all employees think the same way leadership does. For example, instead of asking, “How much do you like the snacks in the kitchen?” ask “How would you rate the quality of snacks in the kitchen?” The second framing does not imply that the respondent should feel any particular way about the snacks.
Open-ended questions: Besides the standard yes/no and rating scale questions, include several questions that require written responses. They don’t have to require long answers, but they provide employees an opportunity to expand upon something the other questions may not have addressed.
Clear purpose: Both those deploying and answering the survey should understand why the survey is needed. Respondents should also understand how leadership intends to act on their findings.
Analysis plan: Before the surveys even hit employees’ inboxes, whoever is collecting and reading answers should know how they will analyze the results. Will they compare the answers to previous data? Will they be measuring employees’ feedback against other business KPIs, such as engagement vs. productivity? Who needs access to the survey results? All of these questions should be answered before sending out the survey.
While it virtually runs itself, the “suggestion box” approach to feedback is not recommended. It’s difficult to act on feedback from a handful of anonymous participants, plus many suggestion box entries are more like requests. It’s best to create a regular survey that’s formal, specific, digital, easy to analyze and has an end date.
Asking the Right Employee Engagement Questions
It may go without saying, but every question should be relevant to your organization and respondents’ work therein. Employees might like answering “bonus” questions about their favorite music or holiday plans, but it’s better to save those topics for happy hour and keep the surveys strictly business. Survey questions should work to uncover specific, actionable data about the workplace experience. Along those lines, distinguish between questions that will surface necessary information versus information that’s simply “nice to have.” For example, it’s nice to know what employees think about your company’s discounted gym membership program, but it likely doesn’t affect their work performance or your business outcomes. It helps to categorize survey questions into themes. Try to develop at least three questions each for themes like Management, Recognition, Training/Development, Resources/Support, Workplace Environment, Communication, etc.
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The questions in this free tool were developed as a follow-up to TWI Job Relations (JR) training, in which both frontline workers and their managers practice effective communication, conflict resolution, problem prevention and other relationship building skills pertaining to workplace personnel interactions.
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Below are some examples of categorizing questions by theme. Keep your rating system simple. A five-point Likert scale (“strongly agree” to “strongly disagree,” etc.) is most effective at enabling employees to answer in a straightforward yet nuanced way.
- Do you feel excited about coming to work?
- Are you proud of working for [organization]?
- Do you enjoy working with your team?
- Would you recommend [organization] to your friends as an employer?
- How satisfied are you with your current workload?
- Do you find your work interesting?
- How satisfied are you with the physical environment at your workplace?
- Do you feel as though the physical workplace environment impacts your performance?
- Does [organization]’s culture foster a comfortable, supportive work environment?
- How satisfied are you with your relationship with your supervisor/manager?
- Does your supervisor/manager recognize a job well done?
- Does your supervisor/manager take your opinions and feelings into account?
- Do you feel like your supervisor is invested in your success?
- Do you feel as though you can bring constructive feedback to your supervisor/manager?
- Do you feel as though your skills are being utilized in your position?
- How well has the company prepared you for the job you have been given?
- Are you confident in your ability to fulfill your job/tasks successfully?
- How satisfied are you with the professional development opportunities available to you at [organization]?
- Do you find your work for [organization] meaningful?
- Do [organization]’s vision and values inspire you?
- Do you feel that leadership is invested in and contributing to your work initiatives?
- What changes would you like to see at [organization] in the coming year?
- Are there any problems with [organization]’s culture?
- Is there anything currently missing that would make you want to stay at [organization] long-term?
- Is there anything else you would like to share that you find important to your employee experience here at [organization]?
As you design your own survey, consider what format or structure will work best for your workforce. It may take a few tries, but you should eventually land on the right mix of open-ended and multiple choice questions, the best survey length and a deployment schedule that ensures the highest number of responses.
Employee Engagement Survey Follow-Up
Engagement survey results are nothing without a plan for following up. This plan does not need to be kept secret from employees; rather, employees should know up front what the overall goal of the survey is, or what leadership is trying to learn about them.
Following up soon after a survey closes shows employees that yes, their employer or supervisor is listening. Here’s what survey follow-up might look like for different audiences and at different levels of visibility:
Individual: If an employee has registered a complaint or issue in their survey response, their manager should address it with them. Whoever reads the survey results should notify the respondent as soon as possible that their voice was heard, and that an applicable party will be setting up a meeting with them soon to discuss.
Teams: Survey data may indicate a pervasive problem within a single team or department. If this is the case, the appropriate supervisor or manager should make a plan to address this issue and work with their team to find a solution.
Company-wide: Survey results and trends can be translated into a presentation and shared at an all-hands meeting or in a company-wide email soon after the survey closes. Of course, respondents should remain anonymous; this presentation should be more of a high-level view of where employees’ heads are at, which will hopefully inspire productive discussion.
Reviews: Performance reviews are an ideal place to discuss an individual employee’s survey responses. Their answers likely hold valuable insights into how their performance affects their engagement, or vice versa.
Often, actions speak louder than words; the most effective way for leadership to follow up is to implement the changes employees are requesting or indicating. For example, many employees may feel there is no opportunity for professional development in their current position — so leaders and supervisors can start looking into upskilling and reskilling programs. Or employees may feel they lack motivation because their work goes unrecognized — feedback managers can use to implement a formal recognition program.
While employee engagement surveys may surface some uncomfortable truths for leadership, they are an essential tool in building a culture of improvement. If employees understand the purpose of the survey and the importance of their honest feedback, it instills a sense of ownership over their workplace’s culture and processes, which is critical to sustaining engagement and productivity. And when employees are supported by training that meets their energy and expectations, that spells success for the entire organization.
If you’re interested in the kind of training that can foster and support an invested workforce, discover TWI Institute’s range of programs for employees at all levels of your organization.
Employee Engagement Survey FAQs
Should employee engagement survey questions be open-ended?
An employee survey should have a mix of multiple choice or rating questions alongside several open-ended questions. The key is to design a survey that’s easy to complete in a short amount of time: too many open-ended questions, and employees may pass on answering it altogether.
How many questions should an employee engagement survey have?
A survey should take no longer than 5–10 minutes to complete. Any longer, and it risks cutting into employees’ work or personal time. Assume respondents will need one minute per question; the total should account for the time it takes to answer quick multiple choice questions and longer, open-ended questions.