Employee Surveys: The Complete Guide

What is an employee survey?

An employee survey is, at its core, a questionnaire designed to gather anonymous feedback from employees and evaluate the mood and concerns of the workforce, with the end goal of improving the work situation and boosting morale.

The questions are formulated to encourage employees to share their perspectives (both positive and negative) on their experience at work and the factors that affect their job satisfaction and loyalty. The surveys help paint a picture of overall employee sentiment and identify specific gaps or issues.

Employee surveys have long been a key part of the HR toolkit, but with the rapidly evolving expectations around transparency, personal development, and a well-rounded employee experience, these surveys are becoming even more critical in creating a highly attractive company culture and ensuring the success of any business.

In this guide, we’ll go through:

What is the purpose of an employee engagement survey?

It's not uncommon for management teams to feel hesitant about implementing a companywide system for employee feedback. However, the benefits of these surveys far outweigh the concerns or issues that may arise. There are a multitude of reasons why employee surveys are important, but we’ve highlighted the key ones below:

1. Give your employees a voice

Surveys empower employees to share their concerns, suggestions, and ideas, while providing you with the data to make informed decisions. Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6x more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. (Source)

2. Help reduce employee turnover

The war for talent is becoming increasingly intense. A well-crafted survey can help you avoid re-entering this battle unnecessarily by providing a more complete understanding of why people might be leaving your organisation.

3. Map out the employee journey

Surveys give you a detailed view of your employee’s journey with the company and identify risks and improvement areas – How can the onboarding experience be improved? Are your employees feeling left out from important management decisions? Do they feel they have enough support to take their career to the next level?

4. Alignment with the company vision

Understand if your employees are aware of the overall company vision and if their goals align with company objectives.

5. Promote a healthy work environment

Done right, engagement surveys help employees think critically about their work situation and provide insights into what works well and what doesn’t. It also allows you to offer a safe space for open conversations about important topics such as mental health struggles, isolation, meaningfulness and purpose at work. With the right follow-up practices in place, organisations can use this valuable feedback to foster a healthy, transparent work environment.

6. Improve employee engagement and satisfaction

Employees who feel their efforts are recognised and their voices listened to are naturally more invested and feel satisfied in their work life. They are eager to make change happen and are more motivated to ensure the success of the organisation. Read more: Everything you need to know about the new era of employee engagement

Read more: Everything you need to know about the new era of employee engagement

7. Improve profitability and the customer experience

In the U.S, disengaged employees cost organisations around $450-550 billion each year. Without regular engagement checks and follow-ups, it’s nearly impossible to identify the red flags of disengagement and do anything about it before discontentment turns into apathy.

According to this Gallup report, when businesses with high engagement levels were compared to those with lower scores for engagement, it was found that engaged employees increase productivity by 17%, increase customer ratings by 10%, increase sales by 20%, increase profitability by 21%, and reduce absenteeism by 41%. Additionally, they show greater commitment to quality and nurture better relationships with customers. A study by Forrester and SAP Concur showed that companies with the most engaged employees enjoyed 81% higher customer satisfaction than average and experienced half the employee turnover.


What are the different types of employee surveys?

Employee surveys come in many shapes and sizes. What they measure can be anything from the quality of an onboarding experience to how employees perceive leadership in their organisation. These surveys can gather numerical data (quantitative) or descriptive free-text (qualitative) -- or a mix of both.

Highlighted below are some common types of employee surveys:

1. Employee satisfaction surveys collect and measure employees’ perception of the organisation, their work situation, compensation and benefits, workload, inter-departmental relationships, career growth etc.

2. Employee experience surveys encourage employees to share their experiences at the company throughout their lifecycle. This typically includes preboarding, onboarding, and offboarding.

3. Employee engagement surveys measure an employee’s motivation levels, passion, and commitment to helping their organisation reach its goals. This helps the management team understand how engaged their workforce is and if they’re succeeding in providing a healthy environment for their employees to grow.

4. Feedback surveys are designed to gather unbiased, productive feedback from both employees and managers to enable personal development. The most common feedback surveys are manager feedback (bottom-up), management surveys, and employee development surveys, (which includes 360-degree feedback).


How to conduct an employee survey?

There are multiple ways to conduct an effective survey, but before thinking about the detailed logistics, start by defining the overall purpose. Surveys can end up being time-consuming and overwhelming without a plan of action, and importantly, buy-in from the management team.

6 factors to keep in mind before starting an employee survey:

1. The goal of the survey. What do you hope to achieve from the survey results? What’s important for you and the organisation?

2. Ensure the questions are designed to evoke thoughtful responses. Try to avoid open-ended, vague questions that are difficult to answer. Even the length of the survey matters – try to keep it concise and to-the-point.

3. Get everyone involved in the decision-making process. Communicate the purpose, the benefits, and the follow-up plan to the entire organisation to elicit a high response rate.

4. Set up a program for training managers. They will need to be informed about how to work with the results and encourage their team members to participate.

5. Make sure the surveys are truly anonymous. Include form fields (e.g., gender, office location, etc.) that will help you segment the data at a later stage without compromising respondents’ anonymity. If you’re conducting a 1:1 survey, ensure that the answers are kept confidential. Let the employees know about the measures you’re taking to make the surveys anonymous.

6. Have a communication plan ready to announce the results of the survey and to thank the employees for their participation.

Which survey is right for your business?

1:1 Interviews
Pros Cons
  • Provides detailed feedback on individual concerns
  • Helps HR staff engage with every employee on a personal level
  • Expensive to run
  • Not suited to companies over 20 employees
  • Can be subjected to confirmation bias
  • Difficult to find patterns in the data

Stand-alone survey tools
Pros Cons
  • Easy to set up
  • Easy to scale
  • Can be cost effective
  • Lacks the integrated functionalities of a HR tool
  • Lack of protocol to guarantee anonymity and employee privacy
  • Difficult to interpret the data
  • Doesn’t provide insights or action plans

Employee engagement platforms
Pros Cons
  • Built-in survey templates help ensure you’re measuring the factors that impact employee wellbeing the most
  • Fully automated
  • Provides data-driven, real-time insights
  • Can be integrated with existing HR solutions
  • Interactive dashboards provide easier data visualisation
  • Anonymous, GDPR-compliant
  • Can be time-consuming to achieve buy-in from the management team
  • Tend to cost more than survey-only solutions
  • Can be difficult to implement in larger organisations with ingrained processes

How often should I conduct an employee survey?

Finding the right cadence for your employee survey can be a trial-and-error process as there’s no right or wrong answer to this question. It depends on the current state of the organisation – how the employees are distributed geographically, day-to-day functions, maturity of the leadership team, resources available to bring about change, etc.

Time-bound surveys such as employee experience and development surveys or one-time opinion surveys can be sent out during specific periods in an employee lifecycle, whereas the employee satisfaction or engagement surveys can be triggered any time. The two most common survey frequencies also sit at two opposite ends of the spectrum: annual surveys and pulse surveys.

Annual surveys

Annual surveys are sent out once per year (sometimes twice) to gather employees’ thoughts around a long list of topics, from on boarding, growth, and development to leadership and job satisfaction.

Pulse surveys

Pulse surveys are micro surveys mainly consisting of one to five questions. They are sent out on a routine, repeating basis. The questions tend to revolve around a few key topics that the organisation wants to stay in tune with, but they can also be used more reactively to gather intel around problem areas that demand attention.

Annual Pulse
Average frequency Once per year Once per week
Average length 50-75 questions, can take anywhere between 2 - 5 hours 1-5 questions, typically take less than 1 minute, including comments. Without comments, as little as 15 seconds.
Direction of communication Communication is more or less one way. Employees send in the survey and wait to hear a company-wide response. Most pulse surveys allow for two-way conversations. Employees can add anonymous comments to start an open conversation.
What is measured Employee’s thoughts around the broader themes of engagement and satisfaction. While intended to collect data around sentiment throughout the whole previous year, the input may or may not be influenced by what happened more recently. Employee’s thoughts around specific topics/themes that impact their day-to-day productivity and job satisfaction.
Uniformity All employees receive the same survey at a specific point during the year. Employees may receive surveys at different times throughout their lifecycle as an employee, for example, to collect data around recruitment onboarding.
Data produced Generates a huge amount of text-heavy data very quickly. Difficult to visualise. Generates a consistent amount of numerical data each week, enriched by some free text comments. Easy to visualise.
Data processing times Often takes HR teams up to a few months to discern the key themes that emerge from everyone’s responses and to formulate the appropriate actions. This delay means that feedback can become irrelevant. Swift processing and response times thanks to the real-time data collection. Employee feedback will still be relevant when a response is formulated.
Anonymity Anonymity can be jeopardized given the amount of text feedback is asked for. Anonymity can be guaranteed thanks to the option to only submit numerical answers.

Read more: Annual employee engagement surveys vs pulse surveys: Is it time to make the switch?


What does an ideal employee pulse survey look like?

What are the factors that should be considered while creating an effective employee survey? Find the most important ones below:

  1. Easy setup and automated functions: The surveys should be easy to set up without (or with minimal) IT support.
  2. Email-based or app-based: A given — you don’t want anyone to have to log into a platform to answer their surveys. They should arrive directly to their email or app and be answered within a matter of seconds.
  3. Interesting, thought-provoking questions backed by inductive reasoning: The survey questions should make it easier for employees to answer in a definitive manner.
  4. Length of the survey: Research shows a 15% drop in response rate when a survey has more than 12 questions and up to 40% drop when it takes longer than 10 minutes to complete.
  5. Data collection and parsing: The survey engine should collect relevant, concrete information and parse the data to provide you with self-explanatory insights.
  6. Right frequency to avoid survey fatigue and inconsistencies: Relevant surveys at regular intervals are effective in getting a real response from the target group. This practice allows you to analyse the effect over time and identify behaviour patterns that can prove to be harmful in the future.
  7. Option to respond with comments: Importantly, you need to give employees the opportunity to give context to their responses.
  8. Closed-loop feedback: Delve deeper to get the required insights by triggering follow-up questions based on the mood/response of the employees. The process can be automated with AI-powered tools that study employee reactions and send more follow-up questions to get to the bottom of the problem.

10 key employee engagement survey questions

When choosing questions for your survey, it can be helpful to think about how you plan to work with the data to find patterns and diagnose issues. To do this, it’s important to concentrate on specific themes for your questions and to ask them consistently over a set period of time.

Here are 10 examples of questions you can send out in your surveys to gather meaningful engagement and wellbeing insights:

  1. Employee Net Promoter Score: On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend working at 'Your Company’ to a friend or acquaintance?
  2. Commitment: Would you put in a significant extra effort to ensure that 'Your Company’ succeeds?
  3. Team spirit: Do you and your colleagues have a good collaboration with one another?
  4. Personal development: Do you feel you get the learning and development you expect?
  5. Participation: Do you feel that you are able to influence decisions made in your department at 'Your Company’?
  6. Work situation: Do you feel that you are free from stress negatively affecting your work?
  7. Autonomy: Do you feel that you are able to take your own initiatives in your work?
  8. Meaningfulness: Do you feel that ‘Your Company’s’ values are meaningful to you?
  9. Leadership: How satisfied are you with the support you receive from your immediate manager/supervisor at ‘YourCompany’?
  10. Job satisfaction: Do you feel motivated in your work?

How to interpret employee engagement survey results?

Follow these 6 steps to get started with analysing the results of an employee engagement survey:

1.    Review the response rate: A “good”response rate is entirely subjective -- it depends on the number of participants, the involvement of the leadership team, the nature of the industry, etc. If it’s below 50%, try and figure out what would motivate your employees to participate the next time. That said, participation should be voluntary. Random responses will end up churning out inconsistent, inaccurate data. For your first survey, however, focus on the quality of responses rather than the number of participants.

2.    Revisit the purpose of your survey and the themes you set out to address. For instance, if learning and personal development is important to the organisation, pay close attention to the answers to development-related questions, such as, if the employees feel they have enough support to pursue up skilling opportunities.

3.    Focus on strengths and areas for improvement: Choose the top 3 questions where respondents answered positively and the bottom 3 questions that elicited the most negative answers.Do not get discouraged if certain questions/categories get lower scores than expected. Try to evaluate the significance of the question category and investigate the reasons behind the low scores.

4.    Benchmark the data: Compare the results between various locations, departments, and subdivisions to uncover unique challenges and strengths within various teams. It will give you a holistic perspective of the health of the organisation and help you establish a forum for the teams to learn from each other.

5.    Qualitative analysis: Analyse and filter the free-text comments to understand why employees are flagging certain issues. Kasia Domanska, HR Advisor at Bookassist describes her experience with using Winningtemp’s ‘Comments’ function:

“If someone is giving positive feedback, they can have a conversation around how to sustain that. However, sometimes it transpires from the comments that something is not going all that well. But if your people can tell you the bad things as well as the good, it means the platform is doing its job and enables us to focus conversations on the correct topics and a closer working relationship develops.”

Read why Book assist deployed Winningtemp in the middle of a global pandemic

 6.    Follow up: Send follow-up questions to dig deeper into the highlighted issues and train managers in how to lead team meetings where they discuss practical solutions.

Analysing the survey responses can get overwhelming, especially if you’re doing it manually. It’s one thing to compare numerical values, but to also pair that data with qualitative input in order to identify patterns and make logical deductions takes a significant amount of time. If you would rather skip this legwork, invest in a plug & play engagement software that completes segmentation, analysis, and trend identification for you.

Read more: How Winningtemp's employee engagement survey works


How do you make employee surveys a success?

3 tips to guarantee the success of your employee surveys:

1. Buy in from senior management: If the management team isn’t fully onboard and committed to listen and act on the employee feedback, a survey canend up giving employees false hope, which in turn can lead to resentment.  

2. Train the managers: Managers need to encourage their teams to participate in the surveys, hold team meetings to discuss the insights, and find solutions together. This will not only help managers be better leaders but will also empower employees to drive engagement forward.

Read more: Ownership culture: How to let employees drive engagement

3. Track progress and update the organisation: Communicate the results of companywide surveys and the action items (both the quick wins and long-term plans) to let your employees know that they are heard and their feed back is appreciated.

Christer Snäll, Production Service Manager at Nexans, articulates the importance of sharing the results with the organisation:

“We’ve worked up a response rate of 93% by actively presenting the results each week. I feel that these discussions and allowing employees to participate and influence make me a better leader. The entire organisation gets a boost from increased job satisfaction, and employee opinions are valued.”


Do you want to learn more?

Employee surveys can give you a strong insight into how your teams are feeling, if you want to see how Winningtemp's software can help you do this quickly and efficiently why not watch our quick demo video alternatively, you can book a time to speak with one of our specialists who will help you plan your engagement strategy.

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