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Employee surveys: A complete guide to planning, launching and reporting

Employee engagement or satisfaction surveys are a fixture in most corporate calendars. However, many either don’t provide useful results or else the results are not used in the right way (or at all). By large, this comes down to failures of planning, design or processes.

To help you navigate the various decisions you’ll have to make and answer many of the questions you or other stakeholders may have, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to planning, launching and reporting on employee surveys.

We hope this will be useful for anyone involved in running surveys. If you you’re also looking for help evaluating prospective engagement survey providers or tools, you may find a couple of our other guides, more valuable. One covers the cost of employee surveys and the second is a more general guide for prospective buyers.

Planning a survey

Why run an employee survey?

Having a clear purpose for a survey is really important. If it is to measure employee engagement, you’ll need to make sure the questions align with your business priorities and also cover important issues for employees.

Doing this should mean the survey helps to drive business improvement. It will provide business leaders with useful insights, helping them understand what engages their people and it will enable the employees to have their say on important issues.

How and when should you involve key stakeholders?

Make sure your different stakeholder groups feel involved in the survey process from the start. Hold stakeholder interviews with samples of line managers, ask them what they want to get out of the survey and what it should measure. Have similar sessions with senior managers and employees too before launch. This up-front research will mean you measure what matters most to your people.

When should you run an engagement survey? And how often?

Consider how and where survey results will be used. If your business plans each calendar year, it’ll be best to run a survey before October so that you have the results back in time to inform budgets and planning. Other companies that work to the fiscal year often choose to survey employees in the first quarter of the year.

Frequency-wise, there’s no right answer and we’d never advocate running more regular surveys just for the sake of it. Your business needs should guide how often you formally seek employees’ views. What we’re now seeing is that a single company-wide annual engagement survey is considered as a minimum requirement. Many organisations choose to supplement this with smaller and more frequent ‘pulse check’ surveys. Often these will only be for sample groups of employees, rather than the entire population.

What’s the lead time for launching an employee survey?

We recommend a 12-week lead time from commencement to survey launch. While we’ve frequently launched platforms more quickly, this timescale allows for things like IT checks, platform testing and sign-off from your stakeholders, and also ensures you have a chance to plan a communication strategy for the programme.

Designing a survey

What survey methodology should you choose?

Naturally, you want the channels or platforms that make it easiest for employees to participate in the survey. If you have large numbers of office-based employees, an online survey platform is probably best. However, in industries such as retail or manufacturing where lots of employees are based remotely or on the shop/factory floor, you’ll need to find other ways to reach them.

Establish whether employees have easy access to a PC. If they don’t, could you provide a shared one or a tablet in a communal room? Or do they have smartphones? If none of these options are feasible, a paper-based survey may be most appropriate. You can, of course, opt for a mixed-media survey methodology.

In our experience, average employee survey response rates vary depending on the survey methodology used, as follows:

survey-methodology-icons

How do you design an engagement survey questionnaire?

If you’ve run previous employee surveys, start by reviewing these and carrying out statistical and/or qualitative reviews to identify any questions that should be retained or reworded.

Employee engagement is organisation-specific so what makes an engaged employee at one company will be different in another. That’s why your questionnaire must be specific, actionable and relevant to your employees and to the decision-makers in the business. Having said this, you’ll still want to also include benchmark questions that have the same or similar wording as questions used in other organisations’ surveys and enable you to compare your results externally.

What list of questions should you include in an engagement survey?

As a starting point, here’s a list of 20 employee survey questions worth including:

Engagement

    1. I am proud to work for the company
    2. I would recommend the company as a great place to work
    3. I intend to be still working for the company in a year’s time
    4. Overall I am satisfied working for the company
    5. I feel a strong sense of belonging to [brand name]
    6. Morale in the company is high at present
    7. I am willing to go the extra mile for the company
    8. I have recommended the products and/or services of [brand name]

    Career & reward

    9. My basic pay is fair for the work I do
    10. I am satisfied with the performance appraisal system
    11. I am happy with my opportunities for career development

    Communication

    12. My ideas and views count (employee voice)
    13. Senior management communicates everything we need to know from them

    Company

    14. I believe that the company is well led
    15. The company encourages me to try new ways of working [be innovative]

    Manager

    16. I feel that I am well managed
    17. My immediate manager shows appreciation for the work I do
    18. My manager communicates information in a transparent manner (i.e. clear and honest)

    My role

    19. I enjoy my job
    20. I understand what is expected of me in my job (Role)

ets-questionnaire-list

It’s also worth looking beyond typical survey questions to gain real business value. You could, for example, include more detailed demographic questions by adding in gender, ethnicity, age, first language, etc, which will mean you can really ‘drill down’ into trends and gain additional insights from a diversity and inclusion perspective.

How long should an employee survey be?

The number of questions needed should take into account the areas identified as significant, as well as the culture and employees’ preferences. As a general rule though, the majority of our clients have between 30 to 40 questions for a ‘full census’ survey, but it can range between 10 and 60+. Ideally you should aim for a survey that takes no longer than 10-15 minutes to complete.

What rating scale should you use for an employee survey?

Four or five-point Likert scales are, overwhelmingly, most common. You’ll need to consider what will work best for your organisation, if choosing between the two:

  • Four-point scale – data is easier to interpret but forcing respondents to make a positive or negative response may mean that some issues appear better/worse than they really are
  • Five-point scale – it is easier to distinguish between strengths and weaknesses but it can be tricky to decipher clear issues between neutral and negative scores.

What questions are included in an engagement index?

Your engagement index should include a small number of questions that are statistically proven to be key measures of engagement for your employees. Our ‘Think, Feel, Do’ model (below) underpins all questionnaires we design. It helps you measure what’s most important for your employees. This works by assuming that what employees think drives what they feel and do in the workplace – their engagement.

ETS think ,feel, do model

What’s the best method for accessing an online survey?

There are a few options here – most of our clients use either a unique link, team code or open link access. The most suitable one depends on the workforce, how the survey will be communicated and what devices employees have access to. Where possible, we usually recommended using unique link access due to data accuracy. However, where not all employees will have a company email address – like it retailers – team codes can work well. And open link access is favoured where it is not possible to preload employee data.

Launching a survey

How can you ensure smooth survey rollout in bigger businesses?

To ensure clear and consistent messaging when surveying across different regions, provide template materials for local HR teams or business units to use. A central survey administration hub could also work well as a source for materials like template emails, manager guides and action plans.

How can you create a communications plan for a survey launch?

Identify your audience groups, which will likely include managers and employees, and tailor your approach and messaging to each accordingly. Consider how best to tap into what each group’s motivation is to participate in/support the survey.

For managers, show how increased engagement could help them lead a more successful team, aiding their own rewards and development. If they buy in to the rationale for the survey, they’re more likely to champion it to their teams and encourage participation.

For employees, make the survey relevant by showing how giving their views will benefit them personally. Explain what the survey is to be used for – for instance, to improve the work environment and practices – and use ‘you said, we did’ messages to play back to them how previous employee feedback has led to improvements.

How can you create a buzz around an engagement survey launch?

Engagement surveys are likelier to be successful when the process is more collaborative and feels less business-led. If you involve your stakeholder groups from the outset, this should happen naturally with these people helping to increase ‘buy in’ across the population.

Also, create a survey brand. By giving your survey its own name/identity that fits the culture, it will be easier to embed engagement and the survey process and to get your people interested and excited about giving their views.

survey-branding

Find more survey communications ideas in our ‘Excelling in survey communications’ e-book .

How can you encourage higher survey participation?

It’s important to get authentic participation. Never coerce employees into taking part. Instead, explain what’s in it for them, make it easy to participate and use senior leaders as ‘survey champions’. Also, stress the confidentiality of the process.

If you use an online employee survey tool, see if you can access live completion rates. This data can be used in strategic communications targeting regions or business units where participation is low to encourage employees to take part.

After the survey closes

What’s the best way to report back on employee survey results?

Reporting the results and highlighting what will change as a result of the survey is essential in reinforcing the value of the survey, for employees. It’s also good to share results quickly after the survey closes, to maintain momentum. You’ll also want to deliver the results in the optimum format for your stakeholder groups. Think about who needs access to what.

For senior executives and leaders – present survey headlines underpinned by some analysis and commentary of the main trends.

For line managers or business area heads – provide them with a summary report that highlights what’s going on in their team/area. You could also perhaps include a comparison with other teams and the business as a whole, for context. Separately, you can also provide them with access to the full survey data to allow them to dig deeper into the data, where necessary.

For employees – use a high-impact summary of the results and key themes and, just as importantly, tell them what comes next and how the results will be used.

How should you support post-survey action planning?

Usually action planning is seen as a stage in a linear engagement survey process, which naturally comes after the results are in. However, for it to work best we strongly suggest you consider the following key themes from day one. By keeping these things in mind throughout, your survey is far likelier to lead to targeted action being taken with the involvement of teams and managers at a local level:

  • Process – what’s the most appropriate action planning approach for your organisation? Think about your organisational culture and structure. Should local line managers lead this, HR teams or business area heads?
  • Accountability – which stakeholders are crucial to ensuring action plans take place? As already mentioned, make sure these people are consulted over the questionnaire content to ensure the survey will be relevant to them and offer valuable insights
  • Translating data into action – provide useable (and user-friendly) data for your audience. As we covered earlier, this means creating different reporting outputs for groups. Beyond this though, provide them with action planning templates and tips to get teams involved in the process.

Learn more about this in our ‘Acting on survey results’ video .

A few final action planning pointers

How do you know which areas to focus actions on?
Your lowest-scoring survey questions are unlikely to all be priority areas for action. That’s not to say that understanding and addressing them isn’t important, just that they may not be the highest priority. This is where it’s essential that managers understand the areas and factors that most drive engagement for your employees. Naturally, questions that are low-scoring in these areas will be ones to consider for possible action.

How do you define and develop your chosen actions?
Leading a collaborative process within teams works really well. Support managers to involve employees in a post-survey discussion to explore survey findings for their team, consider where to focus actions, and even what the best solutions might be. Above all, make sure managers and teams keep action plans targeted on a manageable number of areas (maximum of three).

How do you track and measure progress of actions?
Make action plans visible to increase accountability and ensure they remain on the agenda. You could provide a central hub (on company intranet, for example) where managers record their team actions. As well as creating transparency, this also helps ‘action owners’ to identify other owners of similar actions, encouraging knowledge-sharing. Furthermore, survey actions should be an on-going agenda item in team meetings to check in on progress and progress could also be communicated in workplace public spaces or staff areas.

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Related resources

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This guide sets out tips and advice and explores the possible costs involved in running an employee engagement survey.

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Employee research: Annual census, pulse surveys or always-on surveys?

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