Beginner's Guide to Employee Engagement Surveys

11 min read
Dec 1, 2015

Optimized-iStock_000057715676_SmallYou care about employee engagement, right? Of course you do. So you better be taking advantage of the best tool for measuring it: surveys.

Employee engagement surveys are the way you find out what’s working in your organization, what isn’t, and what you should do to make it better before they get disengaged — or worse, quit. The Corporate Leadership Council found that engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their jobs. So why wouldn’t you want to measure your workers’ engagement levels?


The First Step to Employee Surveys


But don’t jump right in and send out your first survey just yet. You need to make a game plan for how you’ll process the feedback and figure out how to respond to it.

Without this preparation, you actually run the risk of your survey making things worse. Take a look at BlessingWhite’s findings on employee engagement levels based on what happens after the survey:

  • Before surveys are started, 27% of employees are engaged
  • If the survey is followed up with action, engagement increases to 47%
  • But if the survey is not followed up with action, engagement drops to 24%

When you send out a survey, you have to be prepared to take the feedback seriously and make changes. Otherwise, it might be seen as nothing more than lip service toward engagement. And once you’ve taken action, you’ll share the results back with your employees. Showing them what you’ve done with their feedback will demonstrate that you value their input.


The Definition of Pulse Surveys


So now that you’ve done the essential prep, it’s time for the survey itself. For the best results, make it a pulsing survey. What does that mean? Here are the five basic qualities of a pulsing survey:

1. Number of questions

A pulsing survey is short. One or two questions, to be exact. They’re intended to be quick and easy for employees to complete. You know what they say about the attention span of a goldfish — according to a Harvard Business School professor, ours is worse. Besides that, your employees are just as pressed for time as you are. By keeping the question count low, it reduces the time burden on employees and keeps response rates high.

2. Simplicity of questions

You don’t need convoluted questions and crazy, choose-your-own-adventure survey configurations to find out how people think. With the intention of being easy to complete, the questions must be simple and straightforward.

3. Frequency

Pulsing surveys are sent out weekly or biweekly. While this may sound like a high frequency, remember that each survey contains very few, easy-to-answer questions. You’ll enjoy quick bursts of information that capture any evolving shifts in employee sentiment. After all, as new projects get into the queue, and new employees join the team, employee happiness can change.

4. Amount of data captured

With just one or two questions being asked, you can expect a limited amount of data. And since the questions are very straightforward, the data is extremely easy to tabulate.

5. Ease of reviewing data

As you can probably guess, when you commit to simple questions and only send out a question or two at a time, it’s really easy to review the results. With a quick glance at a bar graph or pie chart, you can immediately see where your employees stand on particular subject.

Pulsing surveys are designed to be easy for your employees to answer and easy for you to use while getting all the information you need. Don't believe us? Check out what the employees of TINYpulse client Whitepages had to say about having an easy-to-use pulsing survey tool:



Anonymous Enagement Surveys

There’s one more essential piece to making a successful survey: keeping it anonymous.Tweet: There’s one more essential piece to making a successful survey: keeping it anonymous. via @TINYpulse

Anyone who's had a bad boss can tell you it's a lot easier to tell the truth when you can leave your name out of it. Employees find it difficult to be completely candid with someone who has the power to fire them or make their work life miserable. A survey conducted by Cornell and Harvard Business Journal found that 42% of respondents who’ve spoken up about work problems or offered ideas said they withheld them on other occasions because they feared personal consequences.

For honest, comprehensive feedback, employees need a safe way to provide criticism. Letting them speak up anonymously is a great way to meet that need.


Types of Employee Engagement Survey Questions

So what questions should you actually put in your survey? There’s a lot riding on it, after all, so successful questions are vital — but that doesn't mean they have to be complicated. Remember, simple is better. You just need three basic types.

1. Binary
  • Example: "Yes or No: Do you have all the tools you need to be successful in your role?"
  • Purpose: Offers a simple, quick read on general employee sentiment.
  • Best used when ...: A manager needs to quickly tease out if there is a serious problem.
2. Scale
  • Example: "On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you at work?"
  • Purpose: Helps measure attitudes with more subtlety than a binary question.
  • Best used when ...: A manager is looking for nuance in general sentiment.
3. Open End
  • Example: "What is the most common customer complaint you hear from our clients?"
  • Purpose: To gather deeper thoughts and richer examples.
  • Best used when ...: A manager is looking for more thoughtful feedback and solutions.

Using a mix of these three structures means you can get a full picture of your employees' feelings. Using binary questions all the time will only get you a brief snapshot of how things are going. On the other hand, the easy-to-answer nature of them will generate more responses. Open-ended questions are great for eliciting deep responses, but they also take more time and energy to answer. So don't fire them at your employees too often, or it'll lead to survey disengagement.

Luckily, since you’ll be sending short surveys on a frequent basis, you have the opportunity to rotate between these types of questions frequently and cover all your bases.


Employee Engagement Survey Questions to Use


While it’s true that there’s a near-infinite number of questions you could ask, you don’t need that many. To probe on the factors that drive engagement — satisfaction with peers and supervisors, opportunities for career growth, pride in the company and its products, feeling valued and appreciated — start with these very simple, straightforward questions.

1. Overall satisfaction

So many things go into general workplace satisfaction. While there are recommended questions to probe on those details (which we've listed out below), it’s helpful to get an overall perspective first. The questions below will give you a general sense for how satisfied or dissatisfied employees really are.

  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you at work?”
  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your organization's culture?”
  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely would it be for you to leave for a 10% raise from another company?”
2. Feeling appreciated

Our 2015 Employee Engagement Report found that 69% of employees don't feel strongly valued at work. Considering that appreciation and recognition drive us to work hard and meet expectations, questions that probe on this topic are essential.

  • “Has a supervisor given you any recognition in the past two weeks?”
  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how valued do you feel at work?”
3. Satisfaction with peers

That same report also found that peers are the number one reason why employees love their job, so make sure you find out how your employees feel about their coworkers.

  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your colleagues and team members?”
4. Satisfaction with supervisors

Have you ever heard the saying “You don’t quit your job. You quit your boss”? It’s often true. The American Psychological Association found that 46% of employees cite managers as a reason they stay with their employer.

  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the performance of your direct supervisor?”
5. Opportunities for growth

Do your employees feel stymied? Ask.

  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much opportunity do you have for professional growth in this organization?”
6. Pride in the company

Your employees are your best (and worst) advocates. You need to know if they believe in your product and mission and the way you run your business, or if they’re just in it for the paycheck.

  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it that you would recommend our organization's products or services to a friend or colleague?”
  • “On a scale of 1-10, how well do you think we service our customers?”

Don’t forget to ask “Why?” Understanding how many “yes” vs. “no” answers you get or how many 9s on a 10-point scale you’re awarded is a great start. But it doesn’t give you true insight into an employee’s mindset. Ask your employees why they gave that response. It’ll give you a far more robust understanding of just what is going on.

Why You Need a Virtual Suggestion Box


While your weekly survey questions may drill down on a specific topic, it’s important to also offer an open-ended space for your employees’ ideas on solutions. Our 2013 Employee Engagement Survey found that 18% of survey responses included useful, actionable suggestions ... because they were given a tool to share their ideas.

Imagine crowdsourcing ideas to improve your organization. That’s what virtual suggestion boxes do. Employees are given a chance to have an impact on their workplace, and you get a bunch of great new ideas and a more invested workforce.

Consider just some of the great improvements made by TINYpulse clients thanks to employee virtual suggestions:

  • Boosting team morale by increasing after-work social activities
  • Improving team safety by moving a morning meeting to the afternoon, which eliminated the need to call in while driving
  • Increasing employee happiness and health by adding more fruit and nutritious snacks in rec rooms

These low-hanging fruit are a great way to solve problems and generate good will in your organization with relatively little investment. And by including a suggestion box with your pulsing survey, you’ll make your employees happier knowing they won’t have to wait for months and months to address problems.


Benefits of Employee Engagement Platforms


Employee engagement surveys are about engagement, of course, but there are even more benefits they can give you that you might not expect.

1. Making remote workers feel more involved

30 million employees are telecommuting at least once a week. By 2020, business leaders believe 50% of their full-time staff will be working completely remotely. With numbers like these, we can be sure the telecommuting trend is not going away anytime soon.

While working from home has been shown to improve productivity and morale, it also brings up some new concerns. How do you ensure remote workers feel like their voices are heard? Or whether they feel like they are part of a team? And how can you tell if a telecommuter’s job satisfaction is waning? 

This is where the surveys come into play. It’s a guaranteed way to frequently check in with telecommuters and allow them to voice their opinions. It makes them feel connected to the company and colleagues, and keeps them invested in the success and outcome of the culture.

2. Ensures a smooth transition during organizational change

Whether you’re altering your vacation policy or introducing a new top-level manager, employees will have a lot to say during times of change in your organization. Change is always a delicate process. It can have real, negative effects on company culture when important conversations are happening behind closed doors and employees are left in the dark. 

Transparency and frequent communication are imperative during corporate change, and engagement surveys offer yet another avenue for honest communication during a time of unknown. What better time to find out how happy your employees are than during a big organizational shift? And if you do find that morale is decreasing, you can make changes quickly before things get too bad.

3. Supports peer camaraderie

Given that peers are the greatest motivator for increased productivity, look for surveys that offers peer-to-peer recognition, like TINYpulse’s Cheers for Peers platform. When offered a simple tool to recognize colleagues, 44% of all workers would do so. And just a simple virtual high five from a colleague can revolutionize your culture with happy employees.

There’s no limit to the benefits you can glean from your employee engagement survey. You can ask about anything — so you can work on improving anything too.


What Not to Expect From Employee Surveys


Of course, while employee surveys are undeniably useful, it’s important to recognize their limitations. There are some things that surveys can’t do for you, at least not on their own.

1. Building trust

Your survey should be anonymous, and trust cannot be built on anonymity. The survey can improve trust, but only when action is taken or conversations are had as a result of the responses. Use engagement surveys as the springboard to build trust with your employees, but don’t depend on it in a vacuum.

2. Making employees like you

If your employees have the chance to voice their concerns through a weekly survey, they will definitely appreciate it, but it won’t magically make them start liking you more as a manager. You have to build that relationship on your own, though your survey can help. Using the data you uncover, make it a priority to address the concerns and act on the suggestions. Listening and communicating honestly will help you build better relationships.

3. Making more money

Yes, engagement surveys can lead to happier employees. And yes, happy employees lead to higher productivity and improved retention, which can help your bottom line. But if your only goal is to make more money, it will fail. Why? You need to be invested in your people and genuinely care about their work experience. An increase in profit that comes from engaged, happy employees should be viewed as a wonderful by-product.

All these things can result from employee engagement surveys — but only if you do your part with follow-up.

Don’t expect your survey to be an all-in-one solution, but rather treat it as one (very important) tool in your tool kit. Used right, it can be the key to strengthening your company and boosting employee engagement.


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness. 



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