5 steps to running effective employee engagement surveys



Understanding employee engagement levels – and driving improvements – starts with listening to your people and collecting their feedback. It’s therefore vital that the surveys you run are effective if they are to deliver results and contribute to a high-performing employee engagement strategy.

In our previous blogs in our series we:

Building on these articles, this blog looks at how to run employee engagement surveys based on our experience working with large and mid-size organizations. We’ve highlighted 5 key steps to take for effectively measuring employee engagement.

Focus on communication to create awareness and commitment

Ensuring staff happily provide feedback relies on them understanding the benefits they’ll receive by responding. That means you need to explain clearly why you are carrying out the survey, putting a big focus on communications. This effort must be led from the top. Senior management must communicate the importance of employee engagement (and the survey) to organisational success and business outcomes.

Build momentum by starting your communications well before the survey begins. This will give sufficient time to explain the purpose of the exercise and create interest with employees, improving survey open and participation rates.

Make sure all your communications stress:

  • The purpose of the survey
  • Results from previous surveys – highlight areas where feedback has driven change
  • The length of the survey – how long it will take to complete
  • That confidentiality will be respected
  • What will happen to the results – when will any actions be taken?

In addition to communications to staff from senior leaders, you need to engage line managers. Ultimately, they must encourage their teams to take part and act on their results. Explain the process to them in detail, including how it will benefit them and their teams’ working life. Be clear on their responsibilities for communication and action.

Employees also respond well to their peers, so recruit survey champions. These are staff members within departments that are briefed on the survey. They can then provide help and support to their colleagues across the entire survey process.

Essentially survey success relies on employees feeling that their feedback will be acted upon.

Make the survey engaging to deliver the right experience

Like all of us, employees are used to giving feedback in their daily lives as consumers. This means they have high expectations around the experience and the design of the surveys they take.

Ensure your design is engaging and helps drive high response rates. For example, consider branding it (and giving it a catchy name such as Your Say or Viewpoint) to communicate its importance and increase awareness and interest.

Tailor and focus your questions for maximum impact

When it comes to surveys, it is tempting to ask hundreds of questions, but keep it focused. Aim for a reasonable timeframe, such as 10-15 minutes, and make sure you don’t go beyond that length.

The survey questions themselves should be clear, jargon-free, and easy to understand. Define any potentially ambiguous terms that you use so that they are understood. Test it first (such as with survey champions) to ensure that your questions are clear and provide relevant results – you don’t want people to misinterpret what you are asking.

If you are surveying your whole organization, then make the questions relevant to everyone. Consider either separate pulse surveys or routing of participants to additional questions based on their answers if you want to look at specific groups or areas. Also, be sure that your questions don’t raise false expectations. If you ask people about areas that you cannot change, it raises their hopes and leads to disappointment and disengagement.

Questions will be specific to your organization. However, make sure that you cover the areas that matter to engagement such as advocacy, pride, and discretionary effort. We sum these up in our Head, Heart, Hands approach.

Look at having a mix of closed and open-ended questions in your survey. Just be sure you have the resources or technology (such as text analytics) to analyze qualitative, open answers effectively. For quantitative, closed questions use a balanced response scale, such as a five-point Likert scale. This ranges from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree, with a neutral option in the middle to give a realistic range of answers.

For regular feedback exercises, such as the Annual Employee Survey, include a mix of repeat and new questions. This delivers the ability to track trends over time and address current challenges, particularly in a rapidly-changing world.

Here is a recommended list of elements in a typical engagement survey:

  • Introduction from senior manager setting out aims of the survey
  • Completion instructions and definitions
  • Demographic questions around age and gender (if required)
  • Open comment questions (free text)

Opinion questions – falling into three main groups:

  • Engagement levels
  • Key engagement drivers (such as leadership, communication, resources, and wellbeing)
  • Business-specific questions (such as pay and reward, innovation, market competitiveness)

Encourage a high response rate

Clearly, the greater the volume of responses you receive, the more relevant your results will be. Ensure you reach everyone by allowing employees to complete the survey online on their device of choice securely. This could be their work or home computer, smartphone, or tablet.

Strong management support, an engaging design, and straightforward questions all help completion rates, as does highlighting positive actions and benefits from previous surveys.

Give sufficient time to complete the survey, with a clear deadline. Not everyone will fill it in the first time you ask. Therefore, ensure you plan to send multiple reminders to those who have yet to complete it.

You can also consider incentives, such as making a charitable contribution for every completion. Also, don’t be afraid to encourage friendly competition between teams by publishing daily response rates and rewarding top-performing teams. However, balance this with the risk of staff simply filling in surveys by randomly ticking boxes, which helps no one.

Have a clear plan for action on survey insights

The key aim of running a survey is to use employee feedback to drive changes and improve employee engagement. Before you begin, make sure you have a clear plan of how you will communicate the survey results and how you will take action on them.

Start by providing everyone in the organization with a high-level summary of the results, whether negative or positive. This should be from a senior leader and be followed by more detailed action planning around next steps, such as holding in-depth focus groups or running more detailed surveys. It is vital to engage the whole organization, especially line managers, in this process to drive any changes you make.

Running a comprehensive employee engagement program that collects and acts on feedback from your people can appear daunting. However, it is crucial to business success. In our next blog, we’ll explain how to turn your insights into effective improvements across the business.