14 steps to consider when creating an effective employee engagement survey

by Ana Lopez

In many organizations, individual year-end reviews are one of the few times an employee is invited to provide feedback. However, between tying up loose ends and preparing for Q1 planning, it’s easy to put off responding to employee comments until things finally reach a breaking point.

This approach to feedback has no place in an organization if managers really want to understand how employees feel about the company and the work they do every day, and take steps to make improvements. Therefore, investing in process research and regularly examining those processes is critical to attracting and retaining employees.

To help, 14 businessupdates.org Business Council members each make one recommendation that managers should keep in mind when designing an employee engagement survey and why.

1. Promote open communication

Promoting open communication in my company has really helped me improve our work processes in all areas. I constantly ask my team how it can be improved and what they need from me to do their work more efficiently. This is essential because I can measure in real time how they are doing and what can be improved. – Hani Anis, kahani digital marketing

2. Provide space for psychological safety and honest feedback

It is incredibly important for organizational leaders to ensure that an employee engagement survey is managed in a process that is clearly safe and that makes all employees feel motivated to share their honest feedback. This is especially important when dealing with smaller departments and organizations. Many people will choose not to take a survey for fear of retaliation. – Jeffrey Roche, Core education PBC


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3. Take action on the feedback

Ask for honest feedback and answer in aggregation. When employees feel safe to share what’s on their minds and see their feedback valued and changes being made, they feel more engaged. They also have more trust in management. Only then will your survey be worth their time and only then will they start to open up and share real insights. – Kevin Koker, Proxima Clinical Research, Inc.

4. Ask tough questions

When designing an engagement survey, managers should prioritize asking tough questions. These questions include things that may be difficult to answer but, if acted upon, can change the culture and overall level of happiness throughout the organization. Be sure to take action based on the survey responses. What good is getting people’s opinions if you’re not going to work to make changes in a positive way? – Meighan Newhouse, Inspirational group

5. Make surveying a regular process

I survey my team every year. I was amazed at some of the assumptions I made and the true feelings of my team. I first ask them what they like to do in their role, what they don’t like to do and what they want to do in their role. Then I adjust to that. Everyone feels heard and is happy with the changes in their job. – Natasha Miller, Full productions

6. Look for trends

We may all be in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat. Each person has their own experience, so it’s important to look at different trends when reviewing engagement data. Look for tools that allow you to see trends by tenure, race, gender, department, etc. This kind of data (even if it’s anonymized) can help you spot new patterns that might otherwise be hidden. CultureAmp does this well. – Mark Rickmeier, TXI

7. Talk to your employees

Here’s an easy and surprisingly effective solution: go out and talk to your employees. This should be done regularly, not just when you send out surveys. Getting an accurate picture of your business isn’t a matter of surveys, it’s a personal thing. Make the connections, have the conversations and get to know your people to understand their needs, goals and challenges. – David Lenihan, Tiber Health

8. Design employee listening programs with employees in mind

If your partner only asked how you are once a year or even once a quarter and it took months for him to answer, what would that say to you? Now consider how important the relationship is between employees and their managers. Design employee listening programs with the employee experience in mind, then honor that relationship with meaningful responses and action. – Ethan McCarty, Integral

9. Diversify survey questions

Try using a few Likert-style questions instead of many questions that require a written answer. This will reduce survey fatigue as most people don’t like to sit still for a while and write down answers. Using this style of questions will also help standardize answers and give numbers to what you are trying to research. – Josh Thompson, Thompson construction

10. Focus on the company vision and goals

People like to contribute to the greater purpose and vision because they want to feel like they are part of something bigger. If they don’t understand or support something, there will be poor engagement. Remember this. Ask them if it’s clear where you are going as a team and if they need anything to make it easier to be a part of that. Help them help you. – Jean Paul De Silva Clauwaert, Web content development

11. Clearly define the purpose of the survey

It’s critical to make the purpose of your survey clear. Every potential participant must understand “What’s in it for me?” and how their responses can have a greater impact on your company, culture, workplace, etc. – Vikram Ahuja, Talent500

12. Ask what the company is doing well

It’s easy to get stuck in the negative or ask questions about what could be better. Be sure to also ask questions about what your business is doing well and should continue to do! – Renee Schafer, Data Security Inc.

13. Offer multiple feedback formats

It’s important to have multiple formats for employees to use when providing feedback. Employee experience surveys are important, but there are always gaps no matter how watertight you think the survey is. Leaders should consider conducting live “Ask Me Anything” sessions and encouraging employees to ask honest questions. This open format has enabled my leadership team to address the real questions and concerns of our employees. – Nicholas Vandenberghe, Chili Piper

14. Hold leaders accountable too

Assuming that leaders and employees are aligned on what that experience should be is the first mistake. It’s essential to make sure your survey questions align with the behavioral expectations you’re setting for your leaders. Don’t misrepresent your leadership culture by asking questions that are inconsistent with what you hold your leaders accountable for. – Doctor Donte Vaughn, CultureWorx

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