Employee Engagement Survey: A Guide for Meaningful Results

December 2, 2022 Ryan Stoltz
Employee Engagement Survey

We’re constantly hearing about the outstanding results of employee engagement surveys. Their outcomes benefit both employees and organizations as a whole. However, only 22% of businesses achieve these results. Why is that?

In a nutshell, if an employee engagement survey isn’t carried out correctly, it’ll be useless or, worse, result in a negative response. So, what are the factors that lead to meaningful results?

Conducting effective employee surveys consists of five major steps. There are also a few pointers to help you get the most out of them.

Read on to learn about all that, as well as tips for increasing survey completion rates!

What are employee engagement surveys?

Employee engagement surveys are questionnaires that assess the level of engagement or contentment in the workplace. Moreover, they highlight areas that require improvement or encouragement.

Surveys allow you to reach a large number of people and understand how employees feel at once. They are a great way to gather general information to analyze and start diving deeper on engagement.

How do surveys measure employee engagement?

employee engagement survey questions from Workhuman’s Moodtracker

An engagement survey uses a series of targeted questions to assess employees’ productivity, motivation, alignment, satisfaction, and passion for the organization.

Employee engagement survey questions can be formatted using a scale to measure the overall engagement and annual surveys used to measure the degree of engagement over time.

One of the mistakes that organizations make is only surveying employees once a year. Employee surveys should be sent out weekly or monthly to keep up with every workplace’s rapid challenges. Because there are few different drivers of employee engagement, more frequent and focused surveys should be used to collect meaningful data.

See also: 3 Popular Employee Engagement Models That Work

Pulse surveys are incredibly effective for measuring employee engagement. They can be used to follow up on longer annual surveys, or to check-in with employees during times of change or high stress for actionable insights.

Their shorter format also means that pulse surveys have an average response rate of 85%, whereas the average employee survey only gets 30-40%. You can’t gather actionable insights if you cannot get responses.

Why are employee engagement surveys important?

collect employee feedback to improve employee experience

Conducting employee engagement surveys opens a channel for employee feedback. They also pave the way for HR professionals and organizations to make better decisions. However, the significance of a successful employee engagement survey goes far beyond that.

Here’s how different organizational levels benefit from these surveys:

1. Improve employee morale

Effective engagement surveys that begin with communication and end with actions are an excellent way to boost employee morale. They show employees that their opinions are valued and that the company cares.

An American Psychological Association (APA) survey showed that feeling valued goes a long way with employees. Almost all employees who felt valued reported feeling engaged (88%) and motivated (93%) compared to employees who did not (38% and 33% respectively).

2. Point HR in the right directions

It’s no secret that all HR professionals constantly look for new ways to increase employee retention. According to new research, 63.3% of businesses claim that retaining employees has become more difficult than hiring them. High turnover rates are one of the things that don’t reflect well on any company, particularly its HR department.

This is because increased turnover can have immediate and severe consequences, such as:

  • Reduced employee morale
  • Decreased productivity
  • Drop in company revenue
  • High recruitment costs

What better source of suggestions for increasing retention than employees themselves? This is where the engagement survey comes in handy. These surveys facilitate the transfer of all internal employee data and turn it into something tangible for an organization.

Afterward, HR professionals will be better prepared to make impactful decisions. They’ll have accurate information and percentages to work with. Moreover, they can use this information to set a benchmark for the organization.

3. Achieve organizational growth

An employee engagement survey that increases employee engagement delivers remarkable results. You see, engaged employees directly impact an organization’s profitability and retention rate.

Simply put, engagement is a scale that measures an employee’s emotional connection and dedication to their job. If this scale leans toward overall employee satisfaction and commitment, an employee is more likely to stay with the company.

Nevertheless, if it displays low engagement, which can manifest as signs of a negative attitude or carelessness, it becomes clear how that’ll turn out.

That explains why engagement influences retention, but how does it affect profitability? This is the outcome of multiple factors such as increased productivity, lower absenteeism rates, reduced recruitment costs, and so on.

According to a Gallup study, companies with higher levels of engagement enjoy:

  • 23% higher profitability
  • 43% lower turnover
  • 81% lower absenteeism

How do you conduct an employee engagement survey?

Employee engagement surveys can either help or hinder HR leaders in turning things around. It all comes down to how they’re carried out.

The following are the five major steps for conducting a successful engagement survey:

1. Define the purpose of the survey

Although it may be tempting to cover multiple topics in a survey, this isn’t the best way to go. Since employee engagement has several aspects to measure, the first step will be to define the survey’s objectives.

Define what aspect of employee engagement you want to measure. For example, are you surveying alignment, company culture, or recognition? This also helps in narrowing down which survey questions to ask.

The more targeted the survey, the more relevant and useful the responses. Too many questions and jumping from one subject to another can be counterproductive.

What’s more, from the perspective of an HR leader, specific data makes it easier to extract accurate conclusions and, thus, faster actions.

work-life balance pulse survey analysis from Moodtracker

2. Design or choose the right survey template

It’s up to you whether to create the survey template yourself or choose a survey provider. We’ve established that an organization can’t rely solely on yearly surveys, so you’ll need to design more frequent ones.

If a particular issue comes up and you want to address it clearly, you can create your own engagement survey. Survey tools made it much easier and more efficient for HR leaders. Otherwise, Google forms can help with this DIY template version.

Scientifically backed data

It has an infinite number of surveys that approach many of the challenges businesses face today. The interesting part is that behavioral psychologists created these surveys, so all data is scientifically supported.

Easy-to-read results

The results are then displayed in simple, interactive dashboards that compare the survey results to global and industry benchmark data. In other words, you’ll spend much less time analyzing data.

Unlimited reach

To drive potent decisions you must consider the majority of employees’ perspectives. 

Surveying a subset of employees won’t provide you with adequate information as surveying all of them, the more, the merrier!

3. Gather qualitative and quantitative data

The majority of survey questions generate qualitative data. These are known as closed-ended questions because, as the name implies, the answers to them are limited. For example, responses can be “yes” or “no,” as well as a score or rating on a scale.

Closed-ended questions are essential in surveys. They make it easier for employees to complete surveys. Similarly, they make it simpler for HR leaders to analyze data and extract accurate percentages or ratios.

Nonetheless, you shouldn’t rely exclusively on qualitative data. When an employee chooses a number on a scale rather than speaking his mind, many words are lost in translation.

You should include a few open-ended questions that allow for two-way communication.

Here’s an example:

  • Closed-ended question: Rate your motivation for work on a scale of 1 to 5.
  • Open-ended question: Do you look forward to going to work? Define your motivational drivers and how we can support them.

You’ll obviously get an average unexplained answer to the first question. Yet, in the second one, there’s space for expressing thoughts, feelings, and, most importantly, recommendations.

In addition to open-ended questions, you can conduct one-on-one check-ins. These meetings are also excellent for gathering quantitative data.


4. Connect results to external factors

After you’ve compiled all of the necessary information, you’ll need to take one more step before taking action.

Numbers, while accurate and reliable, can also be misleading at times. Therefore, you’ll need to consider what these results mean for your company by comparing them to other variables.

Suppose the results revealed high employee engagement levels. This is fantastic news, but if you don’t dig deeper, you won’t see the need to change anything.

However, let’s say you drew records from HR systems and found out that the absenteeism rate is relatively higher. This type of information will draw your attention to a recent change. It could be related to changes in management, workload, initiatives, etc.

So maybe employees were engaged because of how your company supports their career growth. Yet, due to a recent change, they’re no longer showing up as they used to.

When survey responses are linked to external factors, the bigger picture emerges. Answers like “no” and “2” scores will then begin to make sense to you.

5. Take actions

Creating a meaningful action plan is one of, if not the, most essential steps in conducting a survey.

At this point, you might want to review the results and insights with the company’s senior leadership or upper management. This collaboration is mainly to formulate an effective, doable action plan.

As a general rule, employee engagement surveys should always end with actionable steps. Otherwise, it’ll backfire. Gallup found that businesses that send out surveys with no follow-up action have lower levels of engagement afterward.

employee answering survey questions about improving company culture

Next, we’ll go over how to use results to improve employee engagement.

How to get the most out of engagement surveys

Indeed, the five major steps outlined above lay the groundwork for successful employee engagement surveys. Nevertheless, some minor details that HR professionals may overlook can make all the difference.

Here are seven tips to help you get more useful results and thus maximize the survey’s effectiveness:

1. Keep it short

First things first, keep the survey brief if you want higher completion rates. Be mindful that employees will complete it while working or outside working hours.

In either case, it shouldn’t consume much of their time, or they’ll perceive it as a task and may not find the time for it.

A study conducted to measure the impact of survey length and completion rate found that shorter surveys had nearly 2x the completion rate of longer ones.

What’s the magic number? In general, include 30 to 75 employee engagement survey questions. You’ll decide how many questions to add based on each scenario. The survey should take no longer than 30 minutes to complete.

2. Consider the relevance

Always read the room before sending out surveys. For example, it’d be unwise to survey employees’ alignment with company goals while they’re complaining about a lack of appreciation.

They’d rather be asked why they feel undervalued and how the organization can improve things. Consequently, participation rates will fall as employees find it irrelevant to their current needs.

To summarize, try to find a relevant topic that’s been circulating and make it the primary focus of the survey.

3. Ask the right questions

Several factors contribute to the formulation of the “right questions.” Here are three pointers to help you stay on the right track:

Incorporate relevant questions

Begin by becoming familiar with the various aspects of employee engagement. Then you’ll have the right employee engagement questions for them. That’ll help you keep all survey questions linked to the topic you’re surveying.

Even if you’re surveying multiple areas of engagement, you’ll be able to categorize the questions better. The key is always to keep it relevant to engagement. In these surveys, avoid addressing any other issues concerning the organization.

Avoid using negative words

A negative word can always be turned into a positive one. We try to create a positive overall experience during the surveying process, so we set the tone accordingly.

Here’s a quick comparison to show the difference:

  • A poor question: How bad is our current employee recognition program?
  • A good question: Do you believe we should improve our current employee recognition program?

Questions must be actionable

Make sure only to include action-oriented questions. Put differently, don’t ask employees about things the organization has no intention of changing. That’ll only give them false hope. For example, asking employees if they’re satisfied with their pay rate makes no sense if the company isn’t currently changing the salary structure.

4. Make it anonymous

When a survey is anonymous, employees are more likely to provide honest feedback. One of the aspects examined in a study of factors influencing survey response rates was the assurance of privacy and confidentiality. According to the results, 75% of participants prefer anonymity.

In the workplace, this is primarily due to employees’ fear of repercussions if they express their opinions with their identity revealed.

When you assure them of confidentiality, they’re more willing to write openly about their true feelings and opinions about the organization. That’s when you’ll be able to receive valuable data to make impactful decisions. On a side note, be aware of the drawbacks of anonymous surveys so that you can find ways to balance them out.

5. Send reminders

Reminding employees to complete the survey is essential, so they don’t forget. Explain briefly how higher response rates can lead to positive changes in these reminder messages.

The more employees see how taking the survey will benefit them, the more likely they’ll complete it.

6. Show that it matters

After the survey is completed, show your employees how their responses make a difference; you’ll know more about this point in a moment. Remember that acting on feedback is a critical aspect of improving the employee experience.

Not to mention, according to a recent report on employee recognition, 92% of employees are more likely to repeat an action if they’re recognized for it. In other words, showing them how their responses are valued will result in higher rates of survey participation in the future.

7. Don’t overdo it

You want to make all your engagement surveys count, so don’t overdo it. Moreover, try to change the types of engagement surveys you conduct and avoid sending the same one every week/month.

Employees will eventually stop participating because they’ll no longer see the need to add the same answers over and over. Repetitive forms won’t provide you with the diverse information you require.

We mentioned an example rate above for sending out weekly or monthly engagement surveys. However, it’ll be up to you to determine the optimal frequency for your workplace and business goals.

engage employees in constructive conversations based on survey results

Using results to boost engagement

The main objective of employee surveys is to identify and address areas that require improvement. What’s concerning is that most companies fail to recognize this.

More specifically, 58% of businesses don’t take meaningful actions after gathering survey results. This statistic is based on an online quiz completed by over 3,000 HR executives.

Each of the following steps in this post-survey process will ensure you’re not adding to that statistic:

1. Thank your employees

Generally speaking, gratitude is necessary for any workplace. After the survey is completed, make sure to reach out or gather the employees to thank them for their time.

Robert A. Emmons, an American psychologist, and professor at UC Davis, described it best.

Most of our waking hours are spent at work, and gratitude, in all its forms, is a basic human requirement,” he said. “When you combine these factors, it’s critical to both give and receive thanks at work.”

2. Communicate results

Compiling qualitative and quantitative data and comparing it to external factors can take a while. Even discussing and developing targeted plans for areas that need improvement can require multiple discussions and approvals.

You have the intention to make changes during this time, but there are no visible results. To avoid losing employees’ trust and decreasing their engagement, communicate tangible data to them as soon as possible.

When reading through the response, you’ll almost always encounter one or more common issues. Share these concerns with employees while providing an overview of the actionable plan that’s being developed.

3. Organize discussions

While analyzing data, discussing some of the findings with employees is essential. To clarify, results may require additional explanation before taking any action.

Consequently, you’ll need to hold listening sessions, which can be done individually or in groups. They can even take the form of meetings to take a broader view of the situation and brainstorm some solutions.

This will allow HR professionals to get a better picture of different topics and employees will be a part of the decision-making process, which will improve engagement.

4. Create a viable plan

The goal isn’t to solve too many problems at once. Instead, you should concentrate your efforts on a few areas that require development and create a viable action plan for them.

Make sure to link some of the plan’s objectives to the survey results. For example, employees want to see the outcomes of their responses, discussions, and brainstorming.

When the final plan is complete, you can share its goals with employees. It would be wonderful if you could include some of their comments and how they influenced some of these decisions.

5. Track progress

Continue to monitor progress in the areas that require attention. Consider whether your decisions are working as planned or need to be tweaked. The more committed you are to making positive changes, the more the employees will trust the surveying process.

You can also conduct check-ins or send pulse surveys to see how they react to the progress and what they would change about it.


Final words

Your company can easily join the 22% who reap the endless benefits of a successful employee engagement survey. The steps outlined in the article will assist you in achieving results that will make a difference.

All you have to do now is decide how frequently these surveys will be sent so you can stick to a schedule. Good luck!