As you likely know, engagement is the main driver of strong performance, employee satisfaction, and long term retention at an organization. Because of this, management and HR must keep a finger on their organization's pulse at all times.
Employee engagement survey questions are a tried and tested technique that helps management understand how engaged employees are and what may be causing them not to be.
This article will serve as a guide on how to write effective employee survey questions and provide strategies you should be aware of to be successful.
What is an employee engagement survey?
Before we answer what an employee engagement survey is, let's take a step back to clarify what "employee engagement" is in the first place.
Employee engagement is the overall level of enthusiasm that employees have for their organization. It's a measurement of how motivated people are to put in extra effort and committed to remaining at the organization for the long term.
Therefore, an employee engagement survey is a tool that HR and management can use to measure the level of engagement at their organization. More specifically, it's how you collect, analyze, and action information about staff engagement.
Employee engagement surveys may be formal, informal, or anonymous surveys designed to collect employee sentiment about various aspects of the organization.
In the end, engagement surveys are designed to help identify and solve problems at the company to make it a better place to work.
Now that we've established what an employee engagement survey is let's detail how to create one.
How many questions should an employee survey have?
The short answer is: as many as you need to answer your key questions about employee engagement. But that comes with a caveat, of course.
According to SHRM, "the number and types of questions asked can significantly influence the survey's response rate."
Given that any survey provides the best results when most people complete them, a key consideration when creating your employee satisfaction survey is to ensure that the number and types of questions you include don't overwhelm the interviews.
To do so, SHRM recommends that you keep your survey questions short and straightforward and use terminology that will be familiar to all employees. We'd add that each question should only ask one thing. Don't try to cram two questions into one, as this will muddy your data and confuse the response.
With all of this in mind, the ceiling that SHRM recommends for employee surveys is around 75 questions. Or a target of around 20 to 30 minutes to complete.
This may strike you as long, and in some cases, it will be. You should also consider the timing and frequency of employee engagement surveys when deciding how many questions to ask.
If this is the first time you're ever sending one out, then 75 short questions might be required. Instead, if you send out engagement surveys monthly or quarterly, you can likely shorten them to around 10-20 questions that zero in on your areas of focus.
How do you design an employee engagement survey?
Before writing any employee engagement survey questions, it's important to go through the steps to design your strategy logically. You need to know why you're surveying employees and what you're looking for before you can effectively write questions.
Here is a typical workflow for designing an employee engagement survey:
- Understand why you're surveying the first place. What do you want to know? What do you hope to obtain? What are the catalysts behind this survey?
- Determine your focus. Consult with leadership and department heads to get a sense of potential problem areas. Review past surveys for unaccounted for trends. Use exit surveys to flag recurring issues.
- Determine what you will measure. What are your KPIs? How will they be measured and collected? How will they be analyzed? Who is in charge of that process?
- Determine who will receive the survey. Is this a company-wide survey? Just for a specific department? Will everyone receive the same survey?
- Determine when and how to conduct the survey. What survey platform will you be using? Will it be anonymous, named, or optional? How will it be sent to employees? Will it be a one-time survey or a recurring one? When will it be sent? When is the deadline to analyze results?
- Determine how you will communicate results. Do you plan to share the results with all employees? When? How will you communicate the findings? How will you address the findings and action change?
As you can see, there are six critical steps to take before you even begin to write your employee engagement survey questions. These are important stages to help you and your team wrap your head around this project's scope and outcome.
Failing to go through this process can mean that you're not asking the right questions or not responding to feedback in an appropriate way. Both failings can have further negative impacts on engagement and morale.
Once you're finished with this process, you can start actually to write your employee engagement questions. Here are some tips before you do:
1. Ensure that you know how to ask the right questions. Review employee engagement survey best practices. Make sure that your questions are:
- ~Pointed and unambiguous
- ~Only asking one thing at a time
- ~Worded neutrally (i.e., not leading questions)
- ~Asking about something that can be changed or improved
- ~Asking about the same issue in multiple ways to probe deeper into a potential problem
2. Segment the survey by areas of focus. Group questions by topic, priority, or question type. This often includes:
- ~Levels of engagement
- ~Open-ended questions
That last point will be the focus for the remainder of the article.
Examples of employee engagement survey questions
This section will provide examples of employee engagement survey questions for each of the groupings listed above:
- Levels of engagement
- Open-ended questions
This section is designed to get you thinking about how to frame your questions.
Levels of engagement
These are questions designed to gauge the current engagement level at your organization and provide benchmark metrics for improvement.
"I am proud to work for [company name]"
"I consider [company name] to be a great place to work."
"I see myself working at [company name] in two years."
The goal here is to get an idea of how many employees take pride in working at the company. These answers will act as an engagement Net Promoter Score that can be used as your benchmark statistic to improve.
Low scores on any of these questions might indicate a lack of engagement or commitment to the company, as well as potential employee retention issues on the horizon.
These questions measure employee sentiment around the quality of leadership at your organization.
"Leadership at [company name] provides clear and timely communication."
"My supervisor is invested in my success."
"'Executive leadership communicates a vision and mission that motivates and inspires me."
The goal here is to get an idea of how your employees feel about their managers and senior leadership.
Round out these questions with a focus on leadership's performance with regard to communication, professional development, vision and values, and any other area of importance for your company. You should include questions about executive leadership, departmental leadership, and supervisors.
These questions measure whether or not employees feel that they are supported and enabled to do their jobs effectively.
"I have access to the training and tools I need to do my job well."
"The processes at [company name] help me work more effectively."
"The culture at [company name] is one that enables success."
The goal of these questions is to get an idea of what roadblocks might hinder employees' abilities to do their jobs well. Ask specific questions about tools, processes, systems, and development to probe areas that might need improvement.
If you're noticing that employees are showing frustration with your existing processes, then it might be worth revisiting how you do things. It's possible that some processes are old and do not reflect modern agile workflows.
These questions ask employees to express how aligned they feel to the company's mission and whether they feel a commitment from the company.
"Do you find your work at [company name] meaningful?"
"Do you receive recognition for your accomplishments?"
"Do you feel that your values and those of the company are aligned?"
Answers to these questions can help to identify potential rifts in your company culture. If you're seeing trends that indicate your employees do not find their work meaningful or that it doesn't align with their values, then there's likely a disconnect between leadership and the rest of the company.
These questions are similar to Enablement but zero in on employee sentiment around professional development and career growth.
"My manager has shown an interest in my career aspirations."
"There are good opportunities for me to develop at this company."
"I feel empowered to try new things and grow my skillet set."
One of the leading causes of attrition and low engagement is a lack of development and growth opportunities. This line of questioning will give you a benchmark for how employees feel about their future prospects at your company.
If you see underwhelming enthusiasm about your development plans or growth opportunities, then this should be an area of focus once the survey is analyzed.
Always be sure to include opportunities for employees to give candid feedback. The majority of your survey will likely be binary or scaled answers that can be used to identify trends. Open-ended answers are where the best insights, suggestions, and opportunities lie for your organization.
Include open-ended questions after each of the sections mentioned above and at the end of the survey. This will allow employees to expand on their answers and offer insights that you would not have known otherwise.
"Is there any question that you wish we had asked in this survey but didn't?"
"Is there anything we do particularly well for [leadership/development, etc.]?
"Is there anything we're not doing well for [leadership/development, etc.]?
"Are there any problems with our culture that you'd like to address?"
"How can we improve your overall engagement with work?"
"How can we improve your quality of life at work?"
Once you've written your survey questions, sent them out to your team, and gathered the results, the real work begins. The analysis of answers from your employees should be treated with the utmost importance. Remember: this is direct feedback from across your organization about what the majority of people like, don't like, and want to change in their workplace.
Once you have made sense of the answers, the next step is to prioritize your course of action. Which trends show the most urgent need of attention? Which can wait a quarter or two before addressing?
Create a plan of attack for how you will address issues, and implement change across the company. Remember to communicate your findings and action plan to your employees. They will want to know that their voices have been heard and respected.
As mentioned at the start of this article, employee engagement is the main driver of strong performance, employee satisfaction, and long term retention at your organization.
Leadership must take potential hindrances to engagement seriously. After all, it is directly related to the long-term success (and revenue) of your company.