The Ultimate Guide to Employee Survey Questions

How do you know your employees are happy?

It’s a simple question, really. Something it seems we should know – after all, it’s our company, they’re “our” employees, and chances are, if we’re happy with our business, we assume that everyone else is happy too just by nature of the fact that they show up every day and work. 

Once, I made that mistake as well. In my company of 20 employees I assumed, because we were a startup, because we were fun, because we had a light, casual atmosphere and because no one had left that everyone was happy. 

That was, until I did my first employee survey. 

And while it turned out that many employees were satisfied with the work and pay, there was a group of disgruntled employees who in fact did not regard the leadership very highly and did not like the direction of the company. 

I thought to myself, “if they’re not happy, why don’t they just leave”? And eventually, they did. 

But I realize now, the flaw in my logic. 

There are many reasons why employees don’t leave a company even if they’re not happy there. Lack of opportunities for one thing. Or, satisfaction with the pay, which in some industries is referred to as the golden handcuffs. 

This is how I learned the value of employee feedback surveys, which I will share with you now. 

What is the purpose of employee feedback surveys?

If the above anecdote isn’t proof enough as to why employee feedback surveys are important, let’s more explicitly spell out the details. 

Surveys can tell you what you’re doing well, and what you’re not 

The simple answer for why you should survey employees is to learn what they think; about you, about their manager, about the company – about everything. 

People respond differently when they’re protected by anonymity – just look at the comments on YouTube. 

Surveys, as simple and perhaps antiquated as they might seem, are still the perfect outlet for extracting feedback both in a qualitative and quantitative way that is standardized across everyone who takes it. This feedback can be measured against historical data to track the trend of the company and culture. 

Surveys give your employees a voice 

It’s easy to think about the benefits that we, managers and CEOs, derive from surveys – but what about the employees? 

Many employees are just looking to be heard. They want to express their opinions and ideally, they want to see the company act on these opinions i.e change. 

Unfortunately, publicly expressing opinions in company culture is often seen as taboo. Let’s face it, if your opinion is unpopular or negative, no matter how true it might do, you will be labeled a negative nancy, which does not bear well for advancement and promotions. 

As a result, employees often keep their opinions to themselves (or complain to their spouses at home).

As rudimentary as surveys are, the simplicity of being able to answer questions, provide a rating, and provide qualitative feedback can be a powerful voice for the average, shy employee. 

Surveys are easy to create, execute, and analyze

Creating a ten-question survey takes about ten minutes if you’ve already got the app picked out.

And there’s plenty of them, and many of them are free!

Taking a ten-question survey takes about the same amount of time, and the data is instantly aggregated and summarized on most platforms. 

This is the beauty of surveying because collecting and analyzing feedback shouldn’t take a long time – after all, the challenge isn’t about collecting the feedback but acting on it. 

This way, surveying doesn’t get in the way of your productivity or your employees.

What kinds of employee surveys are there?

Just like employees – surveys come in all different shapes and sizes. Here are a few popular ones to consider:

Pulse surveys 

Similar in nature to annual employee surveys, the goal of these is to quite literally “feel the pulse” of your employees. That means that they are much shorter and that they should happen more frequently. Ideally, several times a year.

A pulse survey should be up to 10 questions with a simple yes or no answer. Moreover, the questions should remain the same each time when you repeat the survey. That way, you’ll get an objective view of how things have changed and whether they have changed at all.

Kiosk survey

A kiosk survey is when you have a device in your office (such as an iPad) where employees can quickly do a survey as they pass by. In a world where many of us are working remotely, a kiosk survey is not exactly feasible. However, with vaccinations happening, it might be a good idea to consider in the future.

Just like a pulse survey, a kiosk one should be short and sweet, with a handful of questions. Some employers let their employees vote with smileys rather than a yes/no answer. Ideally, you want the “kiosk” placed in a lobby or some other area where there is lots of foot traffic every day.

Annual survey

If you’ve ever done an employee survey, chances are high that it was an annual one. These are mammoth surveys with a few dozens of questions, whose aim is to determine how your employees feel about working with you.

Annual surveys are slowly becoming obsolete because of the time they take and the fact that a year is a lot of time to wait for employee feedback. However, they’re a decent idea if you’re looking to set standards for future comparisons.

Likert scale

This is a neat survey format where you give your employees statements and a 5-degree scale to rate those statements, from “completely agree” to “completely” disagree. 

Invented in 1932, this scale has been around for almost a century for a good reason. Provided that you choose the right types of questions, it will give you a “positive response score” which determines your employees’ attitudes towards your workplace quite well.

360-degree feedback surveys

This is a model of a survey where multiple raters (employees) are given the task to assess the performance of one employee in different areas of their role. The way they lead, communicate, instruct others, and more. The idea is to get feedback from a diverse set of employees.

Once you have all of the information, that feedback is then given to the person/role being assessed, and ideally, they get a 360-degree view of what they do and how well they’ve been doing it in the eyes of their peers.

The research behind employee surveys

With all that said and done, you may still not be convinced that employee surveys are a good idea. After all, you can just ask your employees occasionally if everything is going right. Right?

The good news is, there is quite a bit of data confirming that employee surveys benefit everyone in your company, from the management to the employees.

Benefits of conducting employee surveys

The biggest benefit of conducting surveys is that they are good for the morale of your employees. They will feel more motivated knowing that their voice is heard and that it matters to the company leadership.

Second, you’re giving them a new platform to voice their opinion, and you may have quite a few great business ideas pop up this way.

Third, you can set benchmarks that will tell you whether you are improving in your areas of focus or not.

Fourth, you will lower your turnover rate and increase retention, making a major impact on your bottom line. As employees feel more valued, they will leave less frequently and you’ll spend less money on hiring.

What makes a good engagement survey question?

You may be tempted to ask questions such as “Is Sharon a good CEO?”, but the right kind of engagement questions require a specific approach.

These questions should be short and simple and worded neutrally. In other words, you should not (un)intentionally push the respondent in either direction. Speaking of which, the question can be in yes/no form, but the fewer the choices, the better.

Last but not least, only ask questions for those things which can be improved. That way, you’re giving hope to the employees that their vote makes sense.

What should an employee engagement survey measure?

You have a pretty good idea of the type of survey you want to use and the questions you want to ask. Now is the hard part – what should you really measure once you get the survey data back?

The truth is, it really depends on your organization and goals, but here are some pointers.

First and foremost, you should measure the behavior of the management towards the employees, as well as the way the employees collaborate and communicate with their colleagues.

Second, it should measure how challenging and meaningful the job is. You want your employees to feel involved in their work, not bored doing repetitive tasks. Moreover, you should measure the career development aspect of the job – how they feel their current work impacts their future career development.

Finally and perhaps most importantly for COVID-19 times when everyone works remotely, it should measure work-life balance. You want your employees to feel like they have a good balance of rest and focused meaningful work.

When is the right time to conduct an employee survey?

There’s a good time and a bad time for everything. Let’s talk about some ideal employee milestones that might make sense for surveying.

Employee Onboarding

While employee onboarding might come across as an early time to be asking questions, on the contrary, it’s an excellent time to understand expectations and just how someone relates to the company with a clean slate. Down the line, there’s going to be no better reference point than Day 0.

Exit Surveys

Similar in nature to the above is the exit survey – when an employee is leaving. This is the perfect time to ask them questions to learn more about why they left, where they’re going, and what could have helped them stay. Naturally, these surveys aren’t necessarily anonymous, but they can be incredibly valuable as a way to understand what is motivating your employees to leave. 

Work Anniversaries

Another milestone somewhere in between the onboarding and exit survey is the work anniversary. These are ideal because the employee is still, likely, fully engaged with the company but has also been around the block enough to give substantial feedback. 

Appraisals, Promotions & Performance Reviews

Promotions can come at any time, but, it’s a great time to have the employee reflect on the company and on themselves. Personally, I like to use this time for more self-oriented surveys, the answers of which can be brought into the performance discussion.

Start, Middle, or End of the Year

If you’re looking for something company-wide, well, any time can be a good time, as long as you haven’t done one too recently. I would try to space them out. For example, at least every 90 – 120 days, to make sure the surveys remain productive and not intrusive. 

A step-by-step approach to conducting successful employee surveys

When you set out to create a great employee engagement survey, the first thing to do is set your goals. You want your goals to be SMART – you probably heard of this acronym before, so let’s break it down.

S – specific: you want to focus on one aspect of your employee engagement, or several – but make them specific. For example, reducing your turnover rate, reducing employee absenteeism, or something else.

M – measurable: for each of the goals mentioned above, you can set a specific measurable goal. For example, decreasing your turnover rate by 20%, decreasing turnover rate by 50%, or similar. Make sure that what you’re working on, it can be quantified.

A – attainable: whichever goal you set, you should ensure that it’s reasonable and that it can be achieved.

R – relevant: each employee engagement goal should be relevant to your higher company goals. For example, lowering your absenteeism rates will improve overall employee morale and benefit your bottom line by giving you more revenue.

T – time-bound: the goals you set should be tied to a certain time period. Setting out to decrease your absenteeism by 50% is good, but doing it within the period of 6 months is an even better, more specific goal.

Ask the right questions

To get the most out of your surveys, ask the questions that will give you the right feedback. Primarily, you want to ask three types of questions:

  • related to their specific job
  • related to their relationship with their managers
  • related to the company culture

You can hit all three groups of questions at once or even better, focus on a single group at once, and do several shorter surveys. We’ll get into the specific questions a bit later.

Getting the appropriate survey tools

Employee engagement surveys have been around for a while and as such, there are lots of tools built specifically for this purpose. Once you get started, you’ll see that a simple Google Form can do the job, but you can also use more specialized tools for this job specifically.

General survey tools:

Employee engagement survey tools:

If you’re just starting out, a simple Google Form will do the job. However, if you have a larger organization and you run employee engagement surveys more frequently, trying out something more specialized like TinyPulse would be a good idea.

Designing the questionnaire

Once you chose your tool and got that decision out of the way, it’s time to work on your questionnaire design.

The first rule is that questions should be short and simple and require a straightforward answer. Just because these tools give you options to create countless detailed questions, remember that real live humans have to answer them – and their attention spans aren’t the best.

As mentioned above, keep your questionnaires anonymous. Any tool from the list above will allow you this feature. You can let your employees sign their surveys but be aware that they will not be as honest as they could be.

Last but not least, decide how often you want to run your surveys. Depending on the type of survey and the goal you choose, you can run them once or several times per year.

How to boost participation rates

Even if you have the best employee engagement survey in the world, it won’t mean much if your employees aren’t willing to participate in them. There are a few good ways to increase your participation rates, though.

The easiest hack out there is to give out incentives for completing employee engagement surveys. From lunches to gadgets and more expensive gifts, the sky’s the limit. One of the best incentives you can offer is days off – they’re guaranteed to increase participation.

One major hurdle for participants is that there will be retaliation if you don’t like their answers. Make sure your surveys are anonymous so that your employees have no fear of speaking their minds openly and giving you honest answers.

Also, they won’t be so willing to participate if there are too many questions and if the questions themselves are too long, complex or worded in a way that will skew their answers. To get straightforward answers, ask simple questions and only ask a handful at a time, especially if you do surveys often.

Lastly and most importantly, when you get feedback from your employees, take action immediately and show your employees that you walk the walk.

What is employee survey fatigue and how to reduce it?

The name is pretty self-explanatory: employee survey fatigue happens when employees are tired of engagement surveys. As a result, you get results that are inaccurate, insincere, irrelevant, and waste your company’s time and money.

Fatigue can happen because of several reasons. First, employees can feel fatigued because of the frequency of your surveys, so make sure to space them out accordingly and not have one taking place every month.

It can also happen because of the length of the survey if there are too many questions to answer. Moreover, the questions themselves can be too complex or challenging, also causing this issue.

Finally, insincere answers happen when your employees don’t feel like you’re taking any actions based on their responses, and this is another form of fatigue.

To combat all of these shapes of employee survey fatigues, plan your surveys ahead of time. Space them out, write them with highly specific goals in mind, make the questions short and easy and most importantly, act upon the feedback that you receive.

After the survey

Once the survey is done and your responses came in, it’s time to put them to good use. The first thing to do is to communicate and share them publicly with your team. That way, you’ll show that you are transparent with the results and that you have nothing to hide in front of your employees – not even the bad news.

Follow up by thanking each respondent for their time and effort during the survey. Depending on the size of your company, you can even do this manually and write emails one by one. This way, you’ll acknowledge the feedback that you get.

Once you find out a problem exists (and you’ve already made it transparent to your team), publicly ask your employees for a solution. You may be surprised by the ideas they come up with.

Finally, determine the next steps to take. Based on the data and the suggested solutions, find areas for improvement and act upon them immediately to show your employees that you take your employee surveys seriously.

Employee survey questions to ask

We’ve told you everything except the most important part – what kind of questions to ask. Once again, it all depends on your goals, but there are general types of questions you want to include in each survey.

Employee satisfaction survey questions

Put simply, these questions will show you how satisfied employees are with certain aspects of working with you, such as company culture, relationship with their managers, and more.

Employee engagement survey questions

Their aim is to see how engaged employees feel in their roles. Here are a few templates to push you in the right direction. In general, you want to see that employees feel motivated to perform well and want to recommend your workplace to others.

Employee training survey questions

How do you know your employee training is effective and actually meets the goals you set? You should ask them with a simple survey. The questions you ask will depend on your company and role, but here is a good starting point for inspiration.

Employee evaluation survey questions

These questions will tell you all about the employees’ experience and what they feel needs changing in the workplace. This is a decent template to get you started.

Company culture survey questions

Company culture is a major buzzword in recent years, especially in the wake of businesses working remotely. How do you know if your culture is what you claim it to be? Ask these questions first.

The role of the engagement survey in 2021 (shifted focus because of COVID-19)

Given the conditions we live in nowadays, everything has changed because of the pandemic. Work is remote and employees need more help than ever before.

Primarily, this relates to employees’ mental health. An employee engagement survey will help you find out whether your employees are under too much stress or have a poor work-life balance. With the pandemic affecting every aspect of our lives, it’s a good idea to check if your employees need some kind of support.

Also, you want to show yourself as a leader in these unprecedented times. Even if your company is doing well, you want to maintain a great communication and assure your team that you have their back, no matter what.

Then there is remote work – which is completely new to many companies that started working remotely in 2020. If you’re new to remote work, employee engagement surveys are a great way to assess if you’re doing it the right way or not.

Finally, an employee engagement survey will improve and strengthen the relationships employees have with their managers. With sincere, timely feedback, you will be able to improve your operations and instill trust in your employees.

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