Employee engagement is a term increasingly bandied about in human resource circles. The recent Great Resignation during the COVID pandemic showed how critical engagement is to a company’s sustainable growth. If employees are happy, they are typically productive. If not, they are likely to exit through the front door.
In efforts to attract and retain talent, executives are paying increasing attention to the levels of employee engagement in their organizations and looking for ways to boost staff well-being. However, making decisions for change requires data, which is the whole point of employee engagement surveys.
Read on to find out what an employee survey is, what role they play in an organization's engagement strategy, how to design one to obtain the data you need, and how to integrate them into a strategy for sustainable growth.
To explain what an engagement survey is, let’s first explain employee engagement. Employee engagement is another way to refer to staff morale, which refers to how happy and fulfilled team members are in their work environment. If people feel fulfilled, they tend to be high-performing, more interested in their work, and keen to learn and contribute to the company’s mission. Ultimately, they are more productive.
Employee engagement is a problem for hr leaders, as the Great Resignation exemplified. According to a poll by Gallup, in 2021, only 34 percent of full- and part-time employees surveyed reported feeling engaged at work, and 16 percent said they were actively disengaged in their work and workplace. Many people left their jobs because they had no work-life balance or were just plain burnt out.
Companies are increasingly collecting data on staff morale because if they can identify why and in what areas staff are unhappy, the company can make changes to improve retention. Employee engagement surveys monitor the pulse of employee opinion so that leaders can build a more inclusive and supportive culture.
Related:“Inclusive Leadership: What Is It and How Do You Cultivate It?”
Typically, an employee engagement survey will be composed of a variety of survey questions designed to obtain certain information on levels of engagement. For example, a survey may focus on any issue concerning the employee experience, like whether staff are satisfied with their career development, their salaries, or the policies for remote work.
An engagement survey is often filled out online on a Google doc or through other digital software. Gallup offers a sophisticated platform for companies looking to create customized customer engagement surveys and collect employee feedback. The data is then gathered and analyzed to obtain meaningful and actionable results.
Let's say the responses reveal that staff are deeply unhappy with the lack of flexible work arrangements, or they have concerns that safety guidelines are not being enforced. There can be many factors that affect engagement levels, and the trick is finding out what they are and what to do about them.
Engagement surveys are often designed so the responses remain anonymous. This, supposedly, encourages people to answer more honestly.
The purpose of employee engagement surveys is to provide data for executive decisions that will ultimately lead to growth. A survey that is not well planned and strategic in its design will not yield the information required for optimal decision-making.
Here are the steps to creating an effective engagement survey and a results-based action plan (because this last part is critical!)
You could randomly draft a bunch of employee engagement survey questions to gauge morale overall, but that will only yield random data that is of little use when it comes to executive decisions.
To launch a useful survey and measure employee engagement purposefully, decide what information you are trying to get and then design the questions for the survey around that. Targeted metrics will give you the true drivers of employee engagement for your organization.
If you have retention problems, you might design a survey that collects data on the onboarding process. Or, you might ask questions about whether employees’ career goals are being met and suggest options for staff development integrations.
Let’s say you are interested in metrics on employee performance. Specifically, you might want to know whether staff have the tools they need to do their jobs or whether you should invest in better training and resources. Below is a sample engagement question and answer set for a survey.
Question: Do you feel you have the right tools and knowledge to do your job?
o Yes. I have the tools and knowledge I need to do my job.
o Somewhat. But I could do my job better with updated tools and better training.
o No. I feel that I cannot do my job well because I need updated tools and better training.
If most respondents select the second or third answer, you have clear data indicating a need to invest in new tools and staff training.
Minimize open-ended questions (those that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no response) in surveys because they take longer to answer. Respondents are likely to get frustrated and check out early.
It’s hard to make people fill out pulse surveys, surveys that “monitor the pulse” of the workforce. Staff may not think that it directly impacts them and it's not worth their time. To encourage them to fill out the survey, explain the purpose, what it is trying to achieve, and how long it will take them. Ideally, make the survey as brief as possible (five to 15 minutes at the most) so that employees know how much time to allocate.
As well as making the survey as brief as possible, offer incentives like a gift token to encourage employees to fill it out. Also, make sure that responses are anonymous so that people will feel safer giving honest feedback.
There is no point in collecting erroneous data from staff who do not dare express their true opinions for fear of retribution. This is another reason why the transparency described in point 3 is so important to ensure engaged employees.
Employees may consider the survey to be a waste of time. They may think that even if they do express their opinion, the company will make no changes anyway, whatever the survey results. This attitude is the epitome of disengagement!
The worst thing a company can do is to take a survey and then never follow up with real initiatives. Instead, a transparent and proactive approach to improving employee satisfaction is to publish the survey responses and provide actionable insights from the survey to all staff. Next, take action on the most pressing issues.
For example, inform staff that new tools and training will be instituted as a result of the survey and their feedback. Inform them that new policies for hybrid work will be forthcoming. Taking quick and visible action in problem areas will encourage staff to respond honestly to surveys in the future, which will give the company even better data to make positive changes to improve productivity.
For more on inclusion and engagement, read “The Power of Employee Resource Groups and How to Create Them”
It will take a series of questionnaires and significant time and resources to make lasting changes within an organization, so it is important to prioritize, set benchmarks, and not try to fix everything at once.
The good news is that even one attempt at collecting feedback and one visible change will make a difference and be a catalyst for change in company culture. Staff will immediately feel that their opinions matter and that they can influence executive decisions. That realization alone will boost response rates and overall engagement.
Annual surveys miss the mark to a large extent. Make engagement surveys and purposeful action an ongoing practice in your organization’s lifecycle. Empower your workforce to make lasting change. After all, they are on the front line with the best vantage point.