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2022 Research Report: Learn why employees are leaving their companies and what HR leaders can do about it.

Using an Employee Engagement Survey to Measure Engagement

By Alex Larralde
Updated May 26, 2022
8 minute read

Employee engagement can make or break your business: A highly engaged workforce is a primary differentiator between companies that lose talent and companies that retain their best workers. An employee engagement survey is a vital piece of this equation. The data they produce can help you determine whether your workforce is actively engaged or whether you need to revisit your engagement strategy.

With the Great Resignation on every employer’s mind, you can’t afford to let your talent slip into disengagement. An annual employee engagement survey and frequent pulse surveys can help you take the temperature of workforce engagement and make adjustments as needed.

Here’s how to assess employee engagement via your annual engagement survey.

What Is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement refers to the degree of which an employee is absorbed in their work and how enthusiastic they are about their role and the company. Engaged employees typically have a positive attitude about work.

Engagement may be expressed through an employee’s sense of connection to the work they’re doing. It could be displayed by their motivation to do well and make progress within the company. It typically becomes visible through an employee’s passion and participation in the workplace and its culture.

Employee engagement is essential to driving a thriving business and fostering a happy workforce. When employees are engaged, they’re more invested in their work, more productive, and better overall performers.

What Is the Purpose of Employee Engagement Surveys?

While employee engagement drives retention and productivity, active disengagement drags the organization down. Employees who are disengaged tend to “check out” during their daily tasks, avoid participation in cultural activities, and often just try to get by (also known as “coasting”). This can be damaging to your work outcomes and your company’s morale and culture.

Employee engagement surveys play a crucial role in identifying the signs and causes of disengagement before it becomes a bigger problem. Through robust, customized annual surveys and frequent pulse surveys, you can track engagement and develop a plan for re-engaging employees who have lost interest and investment in their work.

5 Tips for Writing Survey Questions

Good employee survey writing is a complex balancing act. You have to find the right mix of controlled and open-ended questions to produce survey data that’s meaningful and quantifiable. Here are some tips for writing survey questions that help you pinpoint risks and uncover drivers of employee engagement at your organization.

Avoid Using Too Much of a Good Thing

Your first instinct might be to ask open-ended questions, which don’t provide a list of options from which to select, to avoid putting limits on employee feedback. While open-ended questions are uniquely capable of providing insights into emotions and other qualitative data, they’re most effective in limited use.

Asking too many open-ended questions can result in inconclusive data. If you receive survey responses that are too diverse, you won’t be able to find trends in the data, making it difficult to derive definitive insights from your survey responses.

Use open-ended questions with purpose by attaching them to a specific topic in the survey. This can provide greater context for responses so you can make the most of your qualitative data.

Use Well-Worded Questions

Be clear in the language you use when writing employee engagement survey questions. Any ambiguity in your wording could skew the results of the survey. A poorly worded question can confuse employees and could prompt them to provide answers that don’t accurately reflect how they feel.

Repeated use of questions that aren’t clear, or that take effort to decipher, can also lead to employee frustration, causing employees to drop out before completing the survey.

Keep your sentences short and simple. Avoid using any jargon or terms that employees may not be familiar with. Employee engagement software like Betterworks Engage can provide a bank of customizable questions to draw from when building your employee engagement survey.

Mind Your Culture and Environment

Form questions are a good starting point for an employee engagement survey, but don’t just pull one-size-fits-all questions from the internet. It’s important to take context into account and revise questions to make sense for your organization.

Customize questions to reflect your company culture and environment. Add your specific values to a generic question about company values, for example, or ask targeted questions about your mission and vision.

Choose Short-Term Subjects

Focus your questions on items you can feasibly influence in the next nine to 12 months, such as changes to benefits options for the next open-enrollment period.

If you survey employees about items you can’t quickly change, you risk losing the trust of your workforce. When employees don’t see changes based on their feedback, they may begin to wonder why you asked for their opinions in the first place.

But if you survey employees about changes you can implement quickly and then follow through, employees will see that their opinions matter, which on its own can be a strong driver of engagement.

Measure Employee Sentiment

It’s important to gauge how the workforce feels about important matters: culture, values, processes, workloads. This data will help you make better decisions in the coming months.

Natural language processing software can assess responses to determine employee satisfaction and engagement levels over time. Monitoring changes in sentiment can help you predict when employees are beginning to disengage so you can intervene.

8 Types of Employee Engagement Survey Questions

Not all employee engagement questions are created equal, and they aren’t always necessary. There are many types of questions you can ask to gauge employee engagement on a variety of workplace issues.

From improving employee experience to assessing job satisfaction, here are eight types of employee engagement questions to incorporate in your survey.

Leadership Effectiveness Questions

Leadership effectiveness questions are important for gauging how supported employees feel at work. If employees don’t think they’re getting the resources and support they need from leadership, they can become frustrated and disengage from their work.

Ask employees whether they receive the resources they need from their managers and whether they feel leaders are invested in helping them succeed. The data you gather from leadership effectiveness questions can help you determine what learning resources to provide for managers.

Leadership effectiveness questions can also gauge the workforce’s overall attitudes toward senior leadership, too. If employees perceive upper-level management as failing to put in the same amount of work or not appreciating the value that front-line employees drive, they may become cynical and disengage further.

Workplace Wellness Questions

Company culture, the work environment, and the work itself can support or detract from employee health. Employee engagement surveys offer an opportunity to gauge how the workforce feels about wellness in the workplace.

Workplace wellness questions can include questions related to physical safety or the effects of the workplace and culture on mental health. If employees feel that the work is too draining or that workloads aren’t distributed effectively, for example, they may pull back and begin looking for a job that meets their basic wellness needs.

This is especially important for employees from historically excluded groups. Including demographic questions can help you determine whether those employees feel differently about the workplace than employees with more privileged backgrounds.

Work Environment Satisfaction Questions

Questions about the work environment can help you determine how satisfied employees are with resources and working conditions at your company.

Ask employees whether they believe they have the resources they need, whether they’re working remotely or from a central location. If employees are working from a central location or at a worksite, ask them whether they find the physical environment accessible and supportive of their needs. In this category, consider how user-friendly workplace technology tools are and whether employees can easily access information when they need it.

These types of questions can help you identify barriers to productivity and engagement within the work environment itself.

Compensation and Benefits Questions

Workplace wellness questions are important for gauging how supported employees feel by benefits and other wellness programs. This is especially important for identifying programs to add to your benefits cue. Benefits such as financial counseling or dependent care can remove stress and other barriers to employee engagement.

Don’t make assumptions about the benefits employees need. Just because your workforce is primarily made up of millennial and Generation X employees, for example, doesn’t mean they have children or prioritize dependent-care benefits.

Explore what benefit options and packages are available to your business, then ask targeted questions about whether employees would be interested in or actually use those benefits.

Future-Oriented Questions

To prepare for future needs, ask employees questions about what they want to see from upcoming HR and workplace initiatives. These can include questions about HR processes, options for mobility, and learning opportunities, for example. Future-oriented questions can help you determine what programs employees are most interested in and feel will be most beneficial to their careers.

These types of programs might take longer to implement, making it difficult for employees to see movement from HR. To mitigate that, try to provide a timeline for having those changes up and running.

To expedite the process further, develop specific suggestions for each program (specific reskilling tracks, for example) and have employees respond to targeted proposals.

Team Culture and Team Learning Questions

Survey the workforce about their personal team experiences and learning opportunities. Ask employees about the practices within their teams that drive engagement and productivity. Some teams have better communication between managers and employees, for example, that helps those team members work more effectively.

By identifying trends in respondents reporting the highest engagement, you can determine best practices to implement across the rest of the workforce.

Open-Ended Questions

It’s important to give employees the option to leave open-ended feedback on some questions, but use them sparingly. It’s more difficult to identify trends in qualitative survey responses. Open-ended questions are most effective when you’re identifying solutions to a specific problem.

General Feedback Questions

Leave some room for general employee feedback, as employees might provide answers to questions you didn’t know you had. Bear in mind that general feedback — unless a representative sample of employees leave the same feedback — won’t be statistically significant. It’s good for getting you thinking about items to incorporate into future surveys to explore at greater length.

3 Examples of Bad Employee Engagement Survey Questions

Some employee engagement questions simply don’t produce the data you need to make effective workplace changes. Here are some examples of employee engagement questions to avoid.

Sliding-Scale Questions

Sliding scales can be too subjective to produce actionable data. If you ask employees to rank how much their manager cares about their development on a scale of one to 10, for example, the accuracy of your data depends on all respondents agreeing on each of those definitions represented by points along the scale. For the best data, avoid sliding scales and ask more targeted questions.

Questions About Things You Can’t Change

Don’t ask employees their opinions on subjects you have no control over, such as decisions that would require a significant budget to implement. Limit your questions to items that produce survey results you can draw actionable insights from. If you ask employees about a business decision that they aren’t happy with but that you can’t change, you risk appearing insensitive to employees’ interests.

Questions That Are Too Open-Ended

If questions are too open-ended, the answers can spiral into territory that you can’t control. Asking employees to describe their relationships with their colleagues can produce answers so varied, for example, that the data isn’t useful.

How to Get the Most Out of Employee Engagement Surveys

Engagement surveys provide vital information about employee sentiments and satisfaction. To make the most of your employee engagement survey and get the most useful results, consider these best practices.

Should You Use Anonymous Engagement Surveys?

Employees are most likely to feel comfortable responding to surveys if they know their identities are protected. Using anonymous survey collection software, such as Betterworks Engage, can give employees the confidence they need to respond honestly without fear of repercussions.

Even with anonymous surveys, you can dissect the data to evaluate what respondents reporting high engagement do differently from less-engaged employees.

Investing in Automated Follow-Ups

Automated follow-ups can serve several purposes. You can use them to check in with employees who haven’t responded, for example, or to send pulse surveys throughout the year to gauge the impact of specific changes.

During the data collection itself, set your email software up to reach out to employees who didn’t respond to the initial email blast. Your marketing team can help you configure settings and coordinate email campaigns.

Send out pulse surveys throughout the year to gauge sentiments on a particular issue or measure responses to a particular change you’ve made. Pulse surveys should be limited to two to five questions and distributed on a monthly basis.

Creating a Transparent Response Plan

The key to effective employee engagement surveys is to act on the data you collect. Failure to respond could work against you and create a worse engagement problem. As you tabulate the data, develop a plan to address the concerns employees raise.

Of course, you won’t be able to solve every employee’s concerns. There are some benefits decisions your company may not be able to afford to make, for example, or issues that employees can’t reach a consensus on. If there are changes you can’t make, or the workforce is too sharply divided, it’s important to explain why. Not responding may leave employees feeling like their voices don’t matter, which can have a severe impact on future response rates.

Simply let them know that you can’t afford to make the requested change, and share lower-cost solutions you plan to implement instead, if applicable. If responses are divided, inform the workforce that you’re seeking a compromise that will work for everyone.

Prioritize Employee Engagement Survey Results

Employee engagement is a pivotal piece of your talent strategy. High employee engagement is associated with better performance and business outcomes, while disengagement often leads to low morale and limited productivity.

The importance of employee engagement to business results simply can’t be overstated.

As you collect employee engagement survey data, compare historical business performance with engagement rates. This can help you make the case to leadership to invest resources into programs and initiatives that can improve engagement — driving even better business results.

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