The Big Guide to Employee Surveys With Sample Questions

Engage your employees by sending surveys and gathering their feedback. This guide will provide you with strategies, how to start, and sample questions you can use.

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Now, more than ever, it’s critical to keep your finger on the pulse of employee engagement. But how do you get an honest read? After all, most employees don’t trust surveys distributed by management, right?

Maybe yes. Maybe no. How open employees are willing to be is directly correlated to the company culture and the amount of trust that has been fostered.

So how do you know the best way to gather honest employee feedback? This guide will set you up for success by providing you with:

  • Strategies
  • How to get started
  • Sample questions

5 Strategies for collecting quality employee engagement data

Let’s start by digging into some strategies to set you and your staff up for meaningful information gathering and sharing.

“Research indicates that workers have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company.” – Zig Ziglar

Make sure you create an open atmosphere

If you want to get candid feedback from your employees, the first thing you want to do is engage a 3rd-party service provider who will guarantee participant anonymity.

Why?

It comes down to trust.

You want to be able to look your staff in the eye and tell them in no uncertain terms that their answers will be completely confidential. Nobody’s name will be aligned or identified with any responses — regardless of how the information is collected.

You want honest feedback and suggestions about how to make your company better. Assure your team members that they’re safe.

Be honest

There’s a reason you want to gather this information. Be honest about what that reason is. Set the tone of trust by being transparent with your staff:

  • Share observations you’ve had about things that don’t seem to be working well
  • Admit that you don’t have all of the answers and that you hope the team has some suggestions to improve things and provide solutions
  • To gain trust, providing the reasons behind decisions is critical. If there are things that you consider out of bounds, first challenge yourself about why you feel that way and whether it’s in the company’s best interest to not allow that item to be discussed. If, afterward, you decide to continue in that vein, tell your team what’s off-limits and why.

Ask what the team feels should be included in the survey

If you want to know what to ask, let your team members define the questions. If you still want this to be an anonymous process, provide old-fashioned suggestion boxes where employees can submit questions. Set some boundaries for the questions:

  • Do they have possible and reasonable solutions?
  • Are they inclusive and apply to everyone?
  • Will they make the company better for the employees and the customers?

This doesn’t mean that you are prescribing what questions should be asked, but you are framing how they should be asked.

Solutions benefit everyone.

Be open to the feedback

Your company is your baby. And nobody is allowed to call your baby ugly, right? Wrong.

It’s business. When receiving feedback, it may be tempting to feel defensive that things aren’t going well in areas you thought were rocking. That’s ok. But challenge yourself to be open to that information. You will likely find some positive solutions.

Take action

When you get the survey results and have had a chance to digest them, choose the items you will take action on:

  • Immediately
  • Over the next 6-to-12 months
  • Over the next 2-to-5 years

Then share the survey results and action steps with the team members.

If you want employees to own some of the suggested solutions, empower them to implement the changes.

Set an intentional direction

Before working with a company to create an employee satisfaction survey, it’s critical that you know what it is that you want to measure. You’re interested in results. Improvement.

Getting the results you’re interested in requires intentionality.

Typical areas of measurement

Being specific about what you want to measure ensures you move your company in the direction you have set with your vision and mission statements.

“If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood, sweat, and tears.” – Simon Sinek

Therefore, there are some general categories that companies tend to focus on.

  • Strategic alignment. When you include this on your employee engagement survey, you learn whether or not your team feels that the company actually acts the way it says it will in its vision and mission statements.
  • Communication. This category can take several different directions. You can measure whether employees feel they hear about the company’s goals, or you could measure whether the team feels they hear from various levels of the company’s leadership. You could also look at whether employees feel that communication flows in both directions — up and downstream.
  • This will give you insight into whether you are creating a culture of collaboration or if it is more of an atmosphere where everyone is out for their own best interests.
  • Focus on the customer. Whether you are offering a service or selling physical products, you have customers. Understanding how your team views their relationship with the customer is integral. Whether they realize it or not, everyone’s role impacts the customer. This is a great chance to see if the team is on board with that concept.
  • Personal development. Getting a read on how employees feel their contributions are valued and how important they are to the company is critical. If employees feel they have a chance to improve their skills and contribute in more significant and different ways, your goal of employee satisfaction will be heading in the right direction.
  • Leadership. This will tell you how transparent your managers are being with you. How do employees feel about their direct management, senior management, company owners, etc.?
  • Satisfaction. Why not just ask? This is where you can learn if your staff is happy with the benefits you’re offering, how they feel about the physical environment, or even how they feel about the company. You want people who are proud to work for you, which can help you understand where they are.

You are not limited to these categories, but they will give you a place to start brainstorming the direction you want your employee satisfaction survey to take.

Be transparent

You want to get employee buy-in on the survey. The best way to do that is to share what your goal is. Let them know what you’re working on learning — the direction the survey will take.

This way, when you ask for employee input, you will have set the tone for the types of questions they should submit. Questions they feel would produce valuable results relating to your specific measurement direction.

Will all employees stick to that direction? Not likely — there will be those who have their own agenda and issues they want to have addressed. With that in mind, make sure they know that you will value all input, but you will be looking for general themes relating to the measurement goal and based on what is submitted.

Getting started with the questions

Soliciting employee input on the survey doesn’t mean that all questions on the survey should come from the proverbial suggestion box.

As you already told the team, their suggestions will help you discover overall themes that seem to be consistent.

When you begin developing the questions that will be included on your survey, there are a few things to keep in mind.

What your questions should focus on

You want to ask questions that are easy to read and not complex. The questions need to be:

  • Singular in focus. Your survey is the time for yes and no questions or questions that can be ranked. These should not be either/or questions or questions that involve two or more topics.
  • Straight forward. These questions should be clearly defined and understood or interpreted the same way by all participants. Ambiguity in your questions will lead to inconclusive results.
  • Not leading toward a preferred answer. This is tough. It’s human nature to want people to answer things favorably. Unfortunately, that undermines your goal of getting truthful information.
  • Directly related to your measurement goal. Keeping your purpose in front of you will help you determine your questions.

How many questions should you include on your survey?

You want your survey to take a reasonable amount of time to complete. You don’t want your team stressing out over how long the survey is; that would be counterproductive. Best practices suggest that your survey shouldn’t be more than 40 relevant questions.

Another approach is to focus your survey on one or two specific topics but conduct quarterly surveys with entirely different focuses. When you do this, you can ask employees to fill out the same survey questions once per year and get year-over-year data on each topic.

“There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow.” – Jack Welch

The quarterly approach also prevents employees from getting survey fatigue — provided you are taking action and clearly communicating based on the survey results.

Preparing for ratings

When you’re structuring your survey questions, you’ll want to make sure they are created in a manner that they can be answered based on a balanced, defined scale.

Some may suggest that you force answers by using a scale of 1-4, but this becomes counterproductive. When the middle-of-the-road “3” answer is taken off the table, employees become frustrated, and you typically end up with negatively skewed results.

A popular study from the late 1990s indicates that scales ranging from 5-, 7-, or 11-point options may have benefits. Most often, a 5-point scale will provide meaningful results when looking for quantifiable information that can provide actionable data.

A “balanced” scale means that there will be the same number of positive options available as negative options. Therefore, a balanced, 5-point scale could look something like this:

  1. Extremely dissatisfied/Strongly disagree
  2. Dissatisfied/Disagree
  3. Neither dissatisfied/disagree nor satisfied/agree
  4. Satisfied/Agree
  5. Extremely satisfied/Strongly agree

Granted, these, as any quantifiable response to an emotional measurement, will be subjective and subject to interpretation by each team member. However, adding the qualifiers to the 1st and 5th ratings provides valuable separation from the standard response levels.

There is value in a few open-ended questions

Although open-ended questions will result in pages of sentences, they are other ways to:

  • Let employees have an uncensored voice
  • Gather information on trends
  • Gather actionable suggestions

You don’t want to have many of these. Still, there is value in ending each of your survey sections with an open-ended question that encourages written responses.

Some sample questions

When you think about creating a list of questions that can be rated, you want to state each line in a way that becomes personal to the respondent. Here are some examples for each of the categories we discussed earlier:

  • Strategic alignment: I feel [Company Name] fully embraces and lives [insert company mission statement].
  • Communication: My immediate manager gives me timely updates about the company’s priorities.
  • Teamwork: I feel my team works together to achieve the same goal.
  • Focus on the customer: I understand how my job affects our customers.
  • Personal development: I have opportunities to learn new skills and apply them to my job.
  • Leadership: I feel that senior management understands the challenges my team experiences.
  • Satisfaction: I feel the company values my contribution.

If you want to ask some open-ended questions that encourage employees to provide responses, you could ask questions along the lines of:

  • Strategic alignment: It would make me feel more engaged with the company’s mission if…
  • Communication: I would like updates from leadership that include …
  • Teamwork: Our teamwork would be more effective if …
  • Focus on the customer: I could better serve our customers if …
  • Personal development: I wish I had chances to…
  • Leadership: If management _________________, I would feel they were interested in my contribution.
  • Satisfaction: __________________ would improve my job satisfaction.

Be brave. You will get many different levels of comments. Although it will be tempting to dismiss some of it as unimportant or even whining, there is always something of value in each response.

“Customers do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers.” – Richard Branson

Tying it up with a bow

Strong leaders value employee feedback. By gathering information via employee satisfaction surveys and taking action based on the results, you will demonstrate that you value your team members and are serious about making your company one of the best places to share their talents.

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