PEOPLE OPS PLAYBOOK

How to Run an Employee Engagement Survey

What are employee surveys? Why are they important, and how effective are they?


TL;DR:
Employee engagement surveys consist of sending out a set of questions to get employee feedback on any topic. The answers will allow you to gauge your people’s motivation and frustrations, unearthing areas for improvement. Your team will feel heard and you’ll have the insights you need to take the right actions to boost their happiness, performance, and retention. Everyone wins.

Also known as employee satisfaction surveys and organizational feedback, engagement surveys are your most powerful tool to understand areas for concern with your most valuable assets: your people. You might read the best books on management and take tons of courses — that’s great, but top employers know that, without survey insights, you’re likely to put efforts into the wrong areas.

With the data collected in survey rounds (and interpreting this data), you can develop actions to increase performance, satisfaction, and reduce turnover and absenteeism. You can also surface the positives and discover your Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS), benchmarking your results against other companies. Long story short, well-designed employee engagement surveys are your best bet to predict behavior and discover how to transform your company culture into a humane culture of high performance that your people will love to be part of. What’s more, organizational feedback can strengthen your company’s values and make everyone accountable to live up to them.

Now that you know just how useful employee engagement surveys are, we’ll show you how to set them up.


What you’ll need for
this playbook

A defined survey goal

Do you want to have a broader overview of overall engagement, or would you like to focus on specific areas (e.g., diversity, equity, and inclusion topics)? Are there hypotheses you’d like to test?

A defined audience

Do you want to send out engagement surveys to all employees or only to a specific department?

When to use
this playbook

You can use employee engagement surveys to gather data as a one-off questionnaire or as a recurring People Ops process. Ideally, you’ll run frequent surveys to measure how responses change over time.

The most common frequency would be monthly or quarterly; this is usually determined by the survey's scope, as explained below.

HINTS & TIPS
  • Surveys should be anonymous, and your employees must know that their privacy is protected (so ensure that happens). Otherwise, you would risk insincere responses — or no responses at all.
  • Single surveys can be relevant to address specific situations, but investing in recurring surveys communicates that your interest in employee satisfaction is not a one-time effort.
  • To avoid survey fatigue, we recommend a lower frequency for long recurrent surveys. To show consistency, avoid changing survey frequency too many times.
  • Don’t overwhelm your team with a survey that is too extensive. If running a recurrent survey, rotate questions and consider “smart sampling” — meaning that not every participant is asked the same questions.
  • If this is your first survey, ask colleagues to help you test it. This way, you can assess if something is confusing and improve the wording.
  • In general, you want a minimum of 40% of the selected group of employees to respond before you draw conclusions from your data.
  • Although your survey should be anonymous, you might want to know which departments or seniority levels are most responsive. This can help you understand how to get everyone involved and pick up on potential issues.
  • It’s a good idea to share recurrent surveys on the same weekday each time, depending on how your company functions. E.g., are Fridays the best day for it, or is there a chance your people will be too focused on wrapping up tasks and starting the weekend? Or perhaps Fridays are typically calm at your company and a good day for responding to surveys.
  • Once you analyze the results, develop an action plan with your employees, so that they can also take the driver’s seat and think of what can be done on individual, team, and company levels.

How to run this People Ops Playbook:


1. With a defined audience, choose your survey’s questions

Keep in mind that the questionnaire must serve your goal, giving you insights into how to tackle an issue; be specific and focus on questions related to topics you intend to act upon — e.g., eNPS, values, work environment, process and product improvements).

Don’t collect data for data’s sake. Your employees may get annoyed (and understandably so) if they have to fill in too many questions. It’s best to be thoughtful and selective with the questions you include.

If in doubt, look into best-practice questions.

2. Determine when and how frequently you’ll run the survey

Just like you shouldn’t overwhelm your people with too many questions at a time, there should be a reasonable amount of time between each survey round. Companies typically run more thorough employee satisfaction surveys annually, twice a year, or once per quarter. You just need to find out what works best for your company.

Consider that, by running recurrent surveys too further apart, you may not have the clearest picture of your company’s ebb and flow. You can even run a quick pulse survey to find out if the current recurrence works for your team.

3. Decide how long participants have to respond

Don’t set a deadline that’s too far in the future — people might take too long to respond and not be as engaged. But don’t forget that your employees are busy and have personal lives to take care of. Strive for balance (e.g., a one-week deadline, not one-month).

4. Send out reminders to increase participation

Don’t be forceful, but also, don’t be afraid to remind your team that surveys are essential so that you can work to give them the best employee experience possible.

A best-practice tip is to use multiple internal communications channels to share these reminders. E.g., company all-hands meetings, chat, email. You can also ask managers to remind their team members during 1:1s and department meetings.

Follow-up best practices for employee engagement surveys


Dig into the data

This is how you’ll understand what’s most crucial and flag key insights. Without interpreting quantitative and qualitative responses (which can be put through a sentiment analysis), you’ll have plenty of data, but no way to inform an action plan.

Share the results

Research proves that transparent communication increases engagement, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to share results or keep them confidential. At the very least, managers should have access to results to better understand how to support their teams.

There’s no need to make this overly complex. Easy-to-understand statistics and basic graphs with strong and weak points will do the job. Just don’t take too long — there’s most likely no point in presenting results from a survey done five months ago.

You may also want to include anonymous quotes from employees to show that you are listening to them. Gaining further anonymous feedback on comments you may not have fully understood can also be very helpful.

Take action

Outline specific ways the company plans to respond to the data surfaced in the survey. If possible, make your actions time-bound, so that your employees know that you aren’t making empty promises for the distant future.

— Interested in learning even more about employee engagement surveys? We’ve got you covered: Check out the ultimate guide to employee engagement surveys. 😉

Frequently Asked Questions

Are pulse surveys the same as employee engagement surveys?

Pulse surveys and employee engagement surveys aren’t the same. Pulse surveys are usually shorter, more frequent, and don’t include as many questions as you would typically have in an engagement survey. Choose those for fast — but still valuable — insights to inform the strategy you already have in place (and which you hopefully designed with the help of engagement surveys).

How many questions should I include in an employee survey?

Pulse surveys typically include 5–10 questions. Employee engagement/satisfaction surveys may have up to 20–30 questions.

How to motivate my employees to work effectively?

Employee engagement surveys and pulse surveys are great tools for motivating your people, provided that you analyze the results and take action to boost engagement and satisfaction. Research shows that happier, engaged employees are more productive and less likely to churn.

How can I analyze employee survey results?

Survey data can be intimidating, but remember: it’s the most valuable asset to help you take action to boost employee engagement. Without these insights, the chances of wasting valuable time in initiatives that bring no results are too high.

The easiest and most time-effective way to turn survey data into insights is to use a platform to do the hard work for you and present findings in an easy-to-visualize way; even qualitative data can be better understood via sentiment analysis!

But even if you do it manually, you’ll want to closely examine sections in addition to reviewing a score or a batch of comments as a whole. For instance, knowing if your team would describe your company as a great place to work is rewarding — no doubt about that. Still, you need a more precise diagnosis to take action.

Knowing that your junior employees are unhappier than senior employees can show you a path for action; other survey data can, for example, show you that this demographic (junior employees) feels overworked or not adequately compensated. And you can get even more precision by adding more layers to this data. With more filters, you can ask yourself: Do junior employees of all gender identities and ethnicities have negative sentiments about the company? If not, you’ll have a clear view of structural problems to tackle.

You’ll also want to know what to aim for instead of picking a random number. Of course, everyone would love to get top scores for every question, but that’s not realistic. It’s a good idea to benchmark your data against other companies of similar sizes and in similar industries — which you’ll need software for.

What to do with employee engagement survey results? 

Once you’ve analyzed the results, it’s time to create an action plan. Make sure that other leaders are on board, as they can provide additional insights about their specific departments.

A good practice is to focus on a few initiatives at a time — you won’t be able to implement everything you want in one go. If, for example, your company encourages learning and survey data shows you that employees don’t feel that they have enough time to learn during working hours, you could make learning time part of your employee handbook. This way, no one will feel guilty for blocking a few hours per week (you can also define that with other leaders of your company) to focus on learning.

Remember that feedback is a gift — and that also goes for the feedback you receive as a company. So don’t just justify yourself: take it and focus on action.

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