Employee Engagement Surveys: Why They Matter and How to Use Them

AJ Beltis
January 6, 2023
employee engagement surveys, employee surveys, employee sentiment surveys, employee engagement, employee sentiment

How are your employees doing? 

No, seriously—what are your employees thoughts and opinions about working for your company right now, how have their opinions shifted over time, and what changes do they want to see? 

If you don’t know the answers to these critical questions, you need to start running employee engagement surveys. When you run these surveys, dig into the feedback, and act on employee comments, you set up your organization to boost worker engagement, reduce churn, and ultimately end up with happier employees. 

Related resources: How Gathering Feedback Will Improve Your Office Culture and Employee Experience

But first, what are employee engagement surveys, and how do they impact work culture and process?

What is an employee engagement survey?

An employee engagement survey (also called an employee sentiment survey) is a questionnaire to measure and understand employees’ satisfaction and engagement in their roles. 

Questions focus on discovering:

  • What excites employees about their jobs
  • What frustrates employees in their jobs 
  • What employees want out of their jobs
  • The likelihood of employees to stay at the organization

What goals do conducting employee engagement surveys accomplish?

These surveys accomplish two main goals when it comes to employer-employee relationships

First, simply running employee engagement surveys signals to your workforce that you actually care about their feedback and want to offer the best working experience for them. Right now, there are more jobs than there are people to fill them—and your employees know this. 

By sending these surveys out, you’re letting them know you appreciate their employment and their thoughts and don’t take their efforts for granted. 

Second, these surveys actually let leadership know exactly what employees both love and hate about working for the company. Rather than waiting for this feedback to come in during exit interviews as stellar employees are on their way out, these surveys give you specific insights to make improvements to the company and its culture before it’s too late. 

Best practices for employee engagement surveys indicate that you should conduct surveys annually, as well as sending out short, light-lift “pulse surveys” on a regular basis. 

The exact cadence will depend on the size of your company, among other factors, but it’s ideal to find a balance of regular surveying in order to maintain a healthy understanding of employee sentiment, without creating “survey fatigue” and requiring them too frequently.  

Related resources: How to Boost Employee Happiness: 4 Strategies for HR and People Teams

How to run an employee engagement survey

Step 1: Choose your questions

Employee engagement surveys can source authentic, actionable feedback from employees—but only if you ask the right questions. 

Before making your survey, think about the themes you want to learn more about, such as:

  • Points of friction
  • Satisfaction with pay and benefits
  • Thoughts on the org’s DEI initiatives 
  • Understanding of advancement opportunities 
  • What makes them stay at the organization
  • What it would take for someone to leave 

Questions can rotate whenever you run a new survey, according to the feedback your leadership team is the most interested in receiving. 

Some questions to consider asking include: 

  • On a scale of 1-10, how likely do you see yourself working here in twelve months?
  • Do you feel like you understand what’s required of you to progress in your current role? Why or why not?
  • What is something that this company should start/stop/keep doing?
  • On a scale of 1-5, how much do you agree with these statements? 
  • I am compensated fairly for my work
  • I can bring my full self to work
  • My opinions are valued at this organization
  • I am treated with compassion and not just as a “cog in a machine”

Questions should allow your culture team to collect qualitative data through comments on why employees feel a certain way, plus quantitative data to get a snapshot for what overall employee sentiment is and how it shifts over time. 

Step 2: Alert your employees

Before sending out your survey, remember to give employees a heads up that it’s on the way. These alerts help boost response rates, so a simple Slack or email explaining when the survey is coming, how long it will run for, and—most importantly—why it’s happening can go a long way. 

When giving the heads up, don’t forget to highlight that the reason you’re running the survey is to improve the employee experience. Encourage employees to be candid and let them know that their comments will be read and acted on. 

Lastly, if you plan to run the survey anonymously, clarify that in your pre-survey communication. Anonymous surveys have their pros and cons: while they’re more likely to result in honest feedback, it makes it more difficult to directly follow up with people whose comments you’d like to address personally. 

Overall, it’s best to tie responses to an employee—so consider workarounds. For example, with confidential skip level surveys, employee’s names are still connected, but management aggregates responses and anonymizes them when conveying results to leadership. The result is understanding employee sentiments by team and department, in addition to the organization as a whole. 

If you do choose to make your surveys anonymous, one way to meet in the middle is to provide an optional open field for people to provide their name or email address, should they be open to those direct follow-ups. 

Step 3: Send out the survey

The final step is the simplest one—get the survey in front of your employees. To boost response rates, remember to leave the survey open for a few days (or even a full week) and to send a reminder message towards the survey’s deadline. 

While email is a tried-and-true method for getting out surveys, this can be cumbersome—not only do you have to use a tool to set up your survey, but you’ll have to aggregate responses, share them with all relevant stakeholders, manually follow up, and so on. 

Using a product that integrates employee engagement surveys with communication platforms like Slack (such as Eden’s engagement surveys tool) helps you cover all your bases, makes it easier to share and store results, and get a response from people who might let messages in their email inboxes pile up. 

Related resources: Free 360 Review Template: Running an Effective Performance Review Cycle

Using employee engagement surveys to make improvements

The feedback you get from these engagement surveys is essentially a to-do list of how to improve your corporate culture. Your employees did their part and provided honest sentiments about working for you. Now, it’s your responsibility to follow up on your end of the deal by making changes where possible. 

First, analyze comments and metrics to find common themes. Feedback can often be lumped into categories such as compensation, work-life balance, growth opportunities, feeling of belonging, etc. 

Then, work with appropriate company leaders to see what changes can be made. For example, if employees are feeling less-than-optimistic about internal growth opportunities, consider creating a resource center for upward mobility and requiring managers to have bi-annual career chats with direct reports. 

Finally, reach back out to employees occasionally with pulse surveys, which are one- or two-question surveys that quickly gauge employee feelings. You can use these surveys to ask specific questions based on recent actions taken, like “since the last survey, do you feel growth opportunities have become clearer?” 

Remember, these surveys should ultimately yield a higher engagement from a more satisfied staff. The best way to see if your efforts are working is with a tool specifically designed for measuring employee engagement and maintaining a record of responses, which gives you insight into employee sentiment in the moment, and also helps you see changes in engagement over time. These details help your HR and People teams understand if any changes have affected employees positively, negatively, or not at all. You can even dig into how attitudes have swayed in certain departments, on certain teams, or for those working from different locations, to target your efforts moving forward.

Employee engagement directly improves company culture

When the findings from these employee surveys are used properly, your team can make the right changes to your organization and its culture for the betterment of your company overall—from employee experience, to retention, to the bottom line.

Investing the resources into an employee sentiment survey tool and actually listening to your workers’ feedback can help retain high-performing employees and reduce churn. And with turnover costing one-third of the lost employee’s salary, it’s never a bad idea to start building a better culture and workplace experience before it’s too late.

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