What is an Employee Survey? Are They Important in 2023?

What is an Employee Survey? Are They Important in 2023?
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Workhuman Editorial Team |   December 9, 2022 |    17 min

An open company culture promotes trust and improves your business because it improves one of the most important company metrics: the employee experience. When employees feel heard at work, they are nearly five times more likely to give their best effort.

An employee survey is a handy way to help understand exactly how your employees are feeling, where to direct your efforts according to their feedback, and whether those efforts to increase engagement and productivity are effective. When conducted correctly, these surveys can provide useful data that can help you improve your workplace culture.

What is an employee survey?

An employee survey is a questionnaire designed to evaluate morale, engagement, achievement, and overall employee satisfaction. Think of this survey as an essential employee feedback medium you can use to gauge how productive and motivated your employees are at work.

With the information gained from these surveys, you can create strategies to help motivate employees and increase overall job satisfaction.

Why employee surveys are important

Employee surveys are essential to growing your company culture and championing employee retention and satisfaction. With surveys, you can get to the source of potential organizational issues by hearing the problems directly from the employees.

When a company’s management implements employee surveys and addresses the issues raised, they foster open communication and trust. With that kind of atmosphere, the return on investment regarding your efforts is substantial, as employees are more likely to stay in their positions and give their best effort at work.

Remember, both executives and employees must recognize the benefits of employee surveys. Too often, people don’t take surveys seriously, as they have just a 30% average response rate.

What are the pros and cons of employee surveys?

Surveys have much to offer, with the primary benefit of obtaining the necessary employee feedback to improve your workplace’s efficiency and employee satisfaction. Pitching these surveys to upper management is easier when you can clearly explain the benefits and respond to potential disadvantages.

Here are the pros of employee surveys and responses to relevant cons:

  • A company’s true value lies in the quality of its people. Gauging that value is what employee surveys do best. If upper management claims surveys focus on the past rather than the future, they fail to recognize the value of constructive employee feedback driving change rather than simply responding to policy.
  • Employee retention is always more affordable and productive than replacing talent. Employee surveys can help companies hold on to their best people. While surveys can generate a lot of information for larger organizations to sort through, they still offer insight into greater trends like engaged employees and employee morale.
  • Employee surveys can cause mistrust if handled poorly, which is why ensuring they’re done right is important. Working with data scientists to help avoid biases in questions is a great first step. Getting information from employee surveys is only useful if you act on that information after, which is why we’ve found success in employee surveys that cultivate an atmosphere of open communication.

Five types of employee surveys

You can use these five common types of employee surveys to gauge your employees’ feelings on everything from business practices to the totality of the employee experience:

1. Employee satisfaction survey

Also known as opinion or feedback surveys, employee satisfaction surveys measure and identify points of employee dissatisfaction. Findings from these surveys can present easy wins for employers and employees, so you can quickly implement solutions with positive changes.

  • Job satisfaction surveys empower teams and give them a voice.
  • These surveys offer immediate insight into how employees are feeling.
  • They promote trust between employees and management by relaying an openness to change.

2. Employee engagement survey

An employee engagement survey is designed to measure an employee’s commitment level to their jobs and how fulfilling they find their roles to be in the greater organizational structure. These surveys spot the differences between satisfied employees looking to make themselves and the company prosper and employees who are doing the bare minimum to keep their jobs with no professional growth.

  • Employee engagement surveys help foster employee happiness and satisfaction.
  • Surveys help gauge retention and offer insight into how to increase it.
  • They show which employees are committed to their work and how many might be considering leaving.

Build, send, and act on employee engagement surveys with ease using our Guide to Employee Engagement Surveys.

Download the free guide now!

3. Workplace culture survey

These surveys help identify how employees feel about the general workplace environment. Focusing on notions of comfort and inclusiveness, they include questions about how comfortable employees feel sharing their ideas and whether those in leadership roles promote positive environments in the workplace.

  • Workplace culture surveys help gauge how included employees feel.
  • They offer insight into any worker’s ability to share their ideas.
  • These surveys foster an atmosphere of diversity and inclusion, which creates a more positive work environment.

4. Employee experience survey

Think of an employee experience survey as a big-idea survey that seeks to determine how employees feel their overall work experience has gone so far. These surveys should stretch back all the way to onboarding and cover daily responsibilities and the prospect of future opportunities.

  • Employee experience surveys help gauge the overall feeling of all employees.
  • These surveys offer insight into how employees perceive the organization and its processes.
  • They tend to narrow issues down to the most important to help employers prioritize changes.

5. Business process feedback survey

A business process feedback survey seeks to solve logistical problems within the normal operations of the workplace. Questions in this survey might inquire about the tools employees have at their disposal to complete tasks and the resources available for relating to clients. Solutions derived from this survey’s data should streamline tasks and boost efficiency.

  • Business process feedback surveys help increase employee happiness and improve efficiency through logistics.
  • These surveys highlight gaps in resources that might be impacting employees.
  • They offer insight into how to structure the organization more effectively.

Six common mistakes companies make with employee surveys

While employee surveys can certainly be helpful, you’ll want to avoid a few common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Only survey once a year

A full year covers a long time, and employees aren’t going to feel heard if you’re only asking what they think once a year. An annual employee survey also loses one of the key components of good feedback: recency.

Implementing regular, short surveys can be a game-changer for leaders seeking to engage their workforce, gather employee input, and practice effective change management during these trying times.

Here are some insights that can be gleaned from more frequent surveys:

  • Determine how employees are reacting to the current challenges like social and racial unrest and COVID-19
  • Understand the impact remote work is having on employees
  • Determine how to address morale issues driven by feelings of isolation and stress
  • Understand concerns about returning to offices and collect feedback on policies

To effectively survey more frequently, you need to have a tool that is simple to administer with recommendations based on the survey results. Moodtracker™, the free survey tool from Workhuman®, provides out-of-the-box questions driven by science to help organizations keep a pulse on morale, engagement, and productivity.

Whether in check-ins or surveys, you want to capture feedback as close to the moment as possible. The further removed from any event, the less reliable a person’s memory will be, and the same goes for the accuracy of their feedback. Monthly surveys are far more effective, though weekly surveys can be helpful too.

Some organizations survey their employees daily. Each morning at Amazon, employees are asked a different question related to leadership, length of meetings, and other work-related topics.

That gives rise to another common mistake: survey fatigue.

Mistake #2: Not taking into account survey fatigue

Survey fatigue happens when employees are more frustrated by surveys than they are motivated to give feedback. There are two types of fatigue:

  • Survey response fatigue happens when employees fail to complete surveys because of the high number of surveys they’re asked to complete.
  • Survey-taking fatigue occurs when employees fail to complete a survey because it takes too much time.

When surveys are not seen as worth the effort, it can spiral into indifference that hurts engagement and morale.

Survey fatigue often results from employees feeling disillusioned with previous surveys. The disillusionment most commonly stems from a perceived lack of action by leadership. It can also occur when giving feedback is time-consuming, confusing, and, from an employee’s perspective, meaningless.

Organizations can simplify, clarify, and condense questions to reduce fatigue. Leaders must ensure that action is a focal point so that employees understand their input is essential to the organization.

By asking just one or two questions with intelligent action from leadership after the survey, it can minimize the impact of survey fatigue (see Mistake #1).

Mistake #3: Asking biased questions

One of the key functions of company surveys is to collect a variety of perspectives to help foster an atmosphere of inclusion. This falls flat when the surveys themselves are victims of biases.

Biases can negatively impact how surveys are written, affecting their reliability and effectiveness.

Some examples of the biases that get embedded into surveys include:

  • Confirmation bias, which happens when the survey writer seeks out data that confirms their point of view
  • Selection bias, which occurs when the survey sample isn’t representative of the group you want to apply the data to
  • Social desirability bias, which is when the respondent selects options or gives responses that present them in a positive light in front of their leaders

Response bias must also be accounted for within the survey design. Aspects of the survey, such as the order of questions, language (e.g., metaphorical, ambiguous), and types of questions (e.g., open-ended, agree/disagree, scale), can all result in inaccurate responses. For example, a question may use terminology the employee does not understand.

Administering a survey should involve basic scientific methodology to ensure accurate data drives decision-making. It’s always a good idea to construct the survey with the help of data scientists. Ensure data scientists are engaged with the analysis of results as well.

Moodtracker was created by behavioral psychologists and comes with insight derived from more than 50 million moments of connection. The science enables organizations to:

  • Bypass guesswork around what, whom, or when to ask
  • Avoid survey fatigue with surveys powered by smart sampling
  • Ensure every employee gets the right survey at the right time

Mistake #4: All talk, no walk

Even if the questions are perfect, another mistake is still possible: failure to act. Taking results-based action after the survey is critical if you hope to improve the work environment.

According to Gallup, when organizations send out internal surveys and do not take action, they have lower engagement levels afterward. Surveying with no follow-up is worse than doing nothing at all.

Actions and discussions can be at the organizational or team levels. Don’t replace dialogue with data.

Survey results should encourage productive and focused discussions based on employees’ challenges. These discussions can generate new questions and new ideas. Just brainstorming alone can increase the sense of connection between employees, improving engagement and morale.

Mistake #5: Using surveys managed by a third party

Most organizations designate a third party to administer and deliver results, but the entire communication and change management process must come from your senior leadership team. With Moodtracker, science-based survey questions and analyses are included with the product, so organizations can focus on building support, taking action, and communicating results.

There should also be one member of the C-suite (typically the CHRO) who is tasked with ensuring engagement remains a priority and survey results are included in business planning processes. The leader must be visible and should collaborate with employees across the organization to identify pain points, make recommendations, and implement solutions.

Mistake #6: Assuming correlation is causation

Statistics don’t come easily for most of us.

When survey results indicate that two items are trending in the same direction, they may be causally linked (linked by something related to both), correlated (related), or simply a coincidence. For example, when both survey results and productivity results trend together, without more analysis, there’s no way to know which caused the other.

Including a survey methodologist as part of your strategy is key to getting the most accurate results and insights from the data.

How to develop your employee survey

Developing your own employee survey is straightforward when using best practices as a guide. Whether you’re trying to design your first survey or refine one you already use, these can help you retrieve useful, honest feedback that you can turn into action.

1. Leverage employee survey tools

Employee survey tools help you develop questionnaires that will engage employees. They also won’t fall prey to survey fatigue and the frequent disconnect between employees and management.

Use our free survey tool to get started.


2. Set your goals and define your topic

To gather effective data, any survey you create should have a focused topic.

Asking questions about different aspects of the business can be tempting, especially if you’ve had limited engagement with surveys in the past. However, mixing the focus for survey questions will only confuse employees and lead to useless results.

Set a clear purpose for each survey and communicate those goals internally. Make sure your topic is relevant to employees and your company’s current issues, goals, or questions.

This step will also help you get buy-in from leaders, stay aligned during development and communicate expectations to employees when you’re ready to launch.

3. Establish a length and frequency

Annual surveys don’t get the job done. Your company needs to change much faster than that, and employees won’t feel their voices are heard if management is only interested in what they have to say once a year.

Opt for short, more frequent surveys. Not only will they ensure your employees are reflecting on their fresh experience, but they won’t bog workers down with multiple pages of questions.

Pulse surveys are particularly effective because they target the core of how employees feel. Staying on the pulse, as it were.

Exit surveys, onboarding surveys, and yearly performance reviews also play essential roles, but frequent employee surveys best supplement them.

4. Find the right survey format

Think about how the format of your questions and how your employees take the survey will impact results. For example, a page full of open-ended questions will likely result in low-quality answers that are hard to analyze company-wide. A multiple choice or scale survey question provides a more accurate average across participants.

Using technology can also help boost your survey’s effectiveness. For one, a digital survey is easier to send and collect data from. Additionally, you make sure your survey presents participants with one survey question at a time and require answers before they move on, keeping participants focused.

We built Moodtracker to be an interactive, smart-sampling tech working that can help make your employees feel heard and help management implement actionable change. Thanks to its natural language processing capability, it can offer a greater level of analysis for survey results, which leads to actionable responses that make a greater difference for employees.

5. Choose questions, yield results

Survey questions should lead to actionable responses. Considering how many employees already feel their feedback doesn’t lead to actionable change, asking the right questions is key to increasing employee engagement levels and improving the overall work experience. Leave room for employees to elaborate on their responses or phrase short-answer questions in such a way that simple responses are still highly useful.

With a positive employee experience, we’ve found the financial returns are substantial, with the top 25% of organizations on the employee experience report getting nearly three times the return on assets compared to organizations in the bottom 25%.

6. Survey results and action planning

Even the best surveys won’t mean much if you don’t follow up. Have a plan in place to analyze the results and discover the core issues at your company. Consider personal bias when analyzing results. Our Moodtracker system organizes results into in-depth interactive dashboards that come with actionable recommendations and insights.

When it’s time to communicate the survey results to the team, outline the next steps you plan to take in your response, what areas you intend to focus on, actions you’ve taken, and when the next survey will go out to analyze follow-up actions.


Final thoughts

An employee survey is key to improving workplace conditions for all employees, which can lead to better performance for the business. Getting surveys right, however, requires consistent refinement and testing, so don’t hesitate to evolve your surveys over time and issue them more frequently than the typical annual survey.