Jump to section
You can learn a lot simply by asking questions.
Any sort of relationship is dependent on feedback. To work well together (whether it’s a friendship, colleague, or partner), checking in is important.
So, why wouldn’t we do the same between employees and their companies?
Employee engagement is how connected and enthusiastic employees are about their company. It’s a relationship where both employees and employers shape how they think, feel, and behave.
Employee engagement surveys can help your organization measure and assess the employee-employer relationship. With employee engagement surveys, you can pinpoint what’s working well — and what isn’t.
And in the end, you can leverage employee engagement surveys to help empower a thriving workforce. Let’s dig into why.
What are employee engagement surveys?
Before we can talk about the types of employee engagement surveys and how to use them, let’s understand them.
What are employee engagement surveys?
Employee engagement surveys are surveys that measure employee engagement. Employee engagement surveys are used to get a pulse on your employees. It can help capture thoughts, attitudes, and feedback toward their workplace. It can be a useful tool to measure employee engagement and the employee experience.
But like companies, employee engagement surveys don’t come one, uniform size. Let’s discuss what employee engagement surveys measure. We’ll also look at different types of employee engagement surveys.
What do employee engagement surveys measure?
Well, this depends on what you’d like to measure at your organization. It also depends on what type of survey you choose to use.
In general, we see organizations measure employee engagement with the below key themes:
- Employee commitment
- Employee motivation
- Purpose and passion (to the organization and their work)
- Job satisfaction
- Career development opportunities
- Organizational culture
- Employee recognition and appreciation
6 types of employee engagement surveys
The employee experience is a lifecycle. Throughout the employee lifecycle, there are different touchpoints to help measure employee engagement.
That means different surveys can be used for different moments in time. You should work with your HR leaders to identify the goal of your survey and what you’d like to measure. From there, you’ll be able to identify what type of survey would work best for you.
- Annual employee engagement survey. This is usually a once-a-year survey that’s fairly in-depth. Questions in this survey dig deep into the employee experience. This type of survey measures how committed employees are to their work and the organization.
This survey digs into things like leadership, value, recognition, benefits, culture, and more. It surveys a range of employee engagement topics.
- Annual performance review survey. Your organization might still be doing an annual performance review. In the formal annual review process, there’s an opportunity to pair an employee engagement survey with the review.
This type of survey takes a close look at employee performance. It also helps measure the relationship between performance and professional development.
- Company culture survey. Some employee engagement surveys dig purely into the culture. If you’re looking to change your culture, many organizations create surveys targeting company culture.
This type of survey assesses company behaviors against its core values. Companies can identify improvement opportunities with leadership, culture, and organizational strategy.
- Pulse survey. I’ve worked at companies that preferred delivering surveys in bite-sized, digestible pulse beats. Every Friday, we received a push notification to complete a two-minute (or less) survey. Different weeks covered different topics, especially as the pandemic revved into full force.
Think back to the once-a-year, giant employee engagement survey. That survey covers a LOT of topics about employee engagement. This includes value, career, manager relationship, culture, employee well-being, and more.
Pulse surveys essentially take that massive employee engagement survey and split it up into bite-sized bits. One week might be three questions about employee well-being. The next week might cover the manager and employee relationship.
Over time, pulse survey results can give your organization a holistic view of employee engagement. But it’s important not to cause any “survey fatigue” at your organization.
These are intended to be short, quick, and easy to participate in. If frequent surveys take place weekly and take too much time, employees are likely to disengage altogether.
- Management performance survey. Managers have incredible influence over employee engagement. This type of survey measures leadership and management. It can help identify what’s working — and what isn’t.
It can also help identify where managers might need additional support and enablement. Your managers need support — like coaching — to help thrive in today’s workforce.
Exit interview survey. Employee engagement can be measured at any stage of the employee lifecycle. That also means when an employee chooses to leave the organization.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of employee engagement surveys. Your human resources professionals will be attuned to what your organization should be measuring. And there’s no shortage of components to measure in the workplace when it comes to employee engagement.
4 reasons why employee engagement surveys are important
We looked to Harvard Business Review for some experts’ insight. Here are four reasons why employee engagement surveys are important.
Surveys can help predict behavior (good and bad)
You can predict behaviors with surveys. For example, in the HBR article cited above, one company looked at survey participation. People who don’t fill out annual surveys are 2.6 times more likely to leave in six months.
Seeing a decline in participation — or lack of participation — can signal future behavior. It might mean trust and psychological safety is low. It signals employees aren’t currently engaged and might be at risk of leaving.
But good, strong participation can also show a culture of trust, psychological safety, and growth. It shows employees feel like the survey is worth their time and energy. It might signal employees feel heard and valued.
Surveys give employees a voice
Employees need to have a vehicle for feedback. Employees need to feel heard, valued, and like their feedback matters.
While surveys shouldn’t be the only vehicle for feedback in your organization, they should be a part of your feedback strategy. It’s also an opportunity for employees to be more candid and honest in their feedback.
Sometimes, providing feedback in conversation can be hard. In my own career, I’ve worked at places where I’ve felt uncomfortable voicing my opinion in a team meeting or a one-on-one with my manager.
But when the employee engagement survey hit my inbox, I was able to provide more candid feedback. It relieves some of the stress and tension around feedback.
Surveys can identify what’s working (and what isn’t)
Surveys are vehicles for feedback and data. With employee engagement surveys, you can gather data and feedback from your employees to identify trends.
You might find pockets of information that tell you what your organization is doing well. For example, employees might share consistent feedback around leadership, culture, and employee well-being.
But more importantly, surveys can identify what isn’t working. For example, you might dig into the survey data and find some issues around purpose.
Employees might not understand how their work contributes to the purpose of the organization. Or data might show employees want more from their benefit offerings, like compensation, family planning, and parental leave.
Surveys can help change behavior
Psychologists in the HBR article cited above shared some interesting data around surveys. It’s similar to how you’re more likely to accomplish a goal once you write it down.
If you survey people and ask if they’d like to volunteer, volunteer rates will spike. If you survey people about whether or not they’ll show up to an event, their attendance rate will jump. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, explained why in the article.
“Part of the effect is consistency: saying yes creates a commitment and many people follow through. But even people who say no are more likely to shift their behavior, because questions prompt reflection. As long as the behavior is desirable, some of them will end up convincing themselves to do it.”
Adam Grant, organizational psychologist, BetterUp Science Advisor
How do you conduct an employee engagement survey?
There are a lot of ways you can go about conducting an employee engagement survey. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to conduct an employee engagement survey.
Before you start to put together a survey, it’s important to consider your holistic feedback strategy. How does your organization approach feedback? How does your organization leverage surveys? How have surveys been executed and how successful have they been?
By answering these questions, you can help establish a benchmark. You’ll also consider how this type of survey fits into your larger strategic initiatives.
1. Identify what you want to measure
First, it’s important to understand what you want to measure. Employee engagement is a big phrase. There are a lot of topics you can measure within employee engagement.
What’s important to your business right now? Is your company growing fast and you’re worried about preserving culture? Are you seeing higher employee turnover rates and wondering what’s going on?
You and your HR leaders should work together to define what exactly you want to measure. Defining what you want to measure will lay the groundwork for your employee engagement survey.
2. Define the audience
This is a step of the employee engagement survey process that can be stickier than you may think.
Who is your target audience? What employees do you want to hear from? This is critical to figuring out how to best execute on a survey.
For example, your HR leaders might have identified more and more managers are leaving. You might consider a survey specifically built for people leaders.
3. Decide which survey works best for your organization
First, you’ve identified what you want to measure. Next, you’ve figured out who your audience is. Now it’s time to pick the right survey.
More and more organizations have opted for pulse surveys. Pulse surveys allow for that ongoing drumbeat of feedback in small, digestible chunks.
But depending on your topic, you might need a more in-depth survey. Or perhaps you’re redoing your employee engagement strategy. You might need all sorts of feedback points in different parts of the employee lifecycle.
4. Create the survey questions
Now, it’s time to build your survey.
At BetterUp, we’re big believers in the power of collaboration. Work with your team to create messaging and questions that’ll help empower participation, invite feedback, and create a safe space.
We’ll dig into more about how to create the survey questions in the section below.
5. Consider the role of internal communication
My background is in internal and corporate communication. Internal communication was often an overlooked step of rolling out an employee engagement survey.
A stakeholder would build an incredible strategy. They would create a beautiful survey that was timely, well thought-out, and intricately designed.
But without the right internal communication support, the survey simply wasn’t successful. Work with your internal communications team to thoughtfully communicate to your target audience.
Who should be included in an employee engagement survey?
There isn’t one right answer to this question. If you’re wondering who to include in your survey, revisit your survey goals.
What do you hope to get out of the survey? What data are you looking to collect? What stakeholders need to be informed? Who are you key decision makers? What’s the timing, and how are you communicating the survey?
These questions should help guide you to the right folks that need to be involved.
24 employee engagement survey questions
For any questions with statements, consider using a scale of strongly disagree to strongly agree. Survey tools like SurveyMonkey have the capability to accommodate different types of questions.
- Do you believe your leaders have your best interests in mind when making decisions?
- The leaders at this organization role model the company’s core values.
- Feedback is taken seriously by the leadership team at this company.
- My manager recognizes my full potential and capitalizes on my strengths.
Culture, purpose, and trust
- I clearly understand my company’s purpose and mission.
- I know how my work contributes to the company’s purpose.
- I would recommend this company’s products or services to a friend.
- I understand the company’s core values and how they transpire in the workplace.
- I feel respected by my managers and co-workers.
- I have fun at work.
- I’m satisfied with my work-life balance.
- I’m comfortable speaking up about problems at work.
- I know where to turn for help if something unexpected or confusing comes up at work.
- I’m able to use my strengths in my job every day.
- I have good opportunities for professional growth at this company.
- I’ll be able to reach my full potential at this organization.
- I have a good understanding of how to grow my career in this company.
- Learning and development is strongly encouraged in this company.
- I understand what professional development opportunities are available to me.
Value and recognition
- Have you received any recognition in the last month?
- How could your supervisors make you feel more appreciated?
- How do you like to be rewarded?
- I’m recognized regularly for my contributions to the company.
- Employees are given opportunities to be recognized regularly.
3 factors to keep in mind when interpreting employee engagement survey responses
Great Place to Work® (GPTW) is an organization dedicated to evaluating employee engagement surveys. It’s hard to not mention employee engagement surveys without mentioning GPTW.
So, when it comes to analyzing your survey responses, let’s look to their advice.
Focus on areas that will have high-impact
Great Place to Work® has identified a few high-impact areas that will reap big benefits for your company should you invest in them. If your survey results show opportunity for improvement in one of these five areas, consider what changes your organization can make:
- Showing appreciation for everyone in the organization
- Seeking and responding to peoples’ ideas
- Involving employees in important decisions
- Approachable leadership
- Ensuring employees can get direct answers from leaders
When you’re analyzing your results, keep in mind how you can maximize your impact. At BetterUp, we adopt a mindset called “Do less, deliver more.” It helps us to focus on the areas of our work that will have the greatest impact.
Don’t overanalyze the low-scoring areas
It can be tempting to zero in on your problem areas. And, of course, you should acknowledge and look at your problem areas sincerely. But it’s important to not hyperfocus on the bad — it could lead to skewed outcomes and decisions.
According to Great Place to Work®, “Employees tend to be most critical about the same topics.” These topics include fair compensation, favoritism, fair promotions, and workplace politics.
As the experts at Great Place to Work® mention, “low scores in these areas should really only be a focal point if they're low compared to an industry benchmark.”
Slice the data by employee persona
Individual contributors are going to have different experiences than people managers. People managers are going to have different experiences than executives. And your executive and leadership team will also have different experiences.
If possible, slice and dice the data by employee persona. This can help identify your highest impact.
You might find that individual contributors are having a good employee experience. But you’re seeing a gap when it comes to people leaders.
You might learn that people leaders need more personalized support — like coaching. But without looking at the data from this angle, you might not have realized where these gaps lie.
How to improve employee engagement
Improving employee engagement is a hard nut to crack. There are a number of employee engagement tools that can help increase your organization’s employee engagement.
But beyond tools, try some of these drivers of engagement:
- Encourage managers to regularly ask for feedback in one-on-one meetings
- Offer career development and learning opportunities to employees
- Up your internal communication game to help build trust
- Encourage leaders to model company core values more publicly (if they aren’t already doing so)
- Encourage leaders to show vulnerability in the workplace
- Invest in resources — like personalized, virtual coaching — to help empower personal development
- Regularly recognize and reward employees
- Create forums for employee feedback — and create a culture of feedback within your organization
- Listen to employees’ ideas
- Create opportunities for team members to pursue their career goals
- Create a work environment with a deep sense of belonging
7 best practices for your employee engagement survey
Employee engagement levels are bound to ebb and flow. Especially with remote work, organizations everywhere are trying to keep engaged employees happy.
Keep these seven takeaways in mind as you put together your employee engagement questionnaire.
- Examine and determine what you want to measure (and what metrics you'll use to analyze data).
- Determine your audience.
- Consider what engagement questions will have the highest impact for your business.
- Set goals for things like survey response rate.
- Analyze data and metrics thoughtfully.
- Benchmark against other companies in your industry.
- Once you've analyzed your data, create your action plan. What initiatives can you put in place to help increase levels of engagement? Keep high-impact follow-up in mind.
Start engaging your employees
Your organization might be struggling with employee retention or attrition. You might want to increase the well-being of your organization and find more work-life balance. Or you can see fluctuating disengagement in pockets of the business but aren't sure of actionable insights.
It starts with surveying your employees and getting a sense of how respondents are feeling. But once you've identified actionable insights, what's your next step?
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.