3-Step Guide to Drafting Your Employee Engagement Survey

When you’re in the process of revamping your employee engagement survey, it can be a struggle to find simple answers on how to design the perfect survey and what things to keep in mind along the way.

As companies switch survey providers or go from in-house to working with a survey provider, they are typically looking for a better way of conducting their employee feedback surveys and the first area looked at is survey design – and it’s never been easier to design a bad survey. 

There are a lot of templates out there, and a lot of times, teams will throw together a hodgepodge of questions. This usually leads to results that aren’t actionable and a survey that can’t be scaled or trended over time.

So how do you know if you’re soliciting employee feedback in an efficient, effective and statistically valid manner? When it comes down to it, there are THREE steps you should take when designing your engagement survey:

1. Define employee engagement for your organization.

2. Decide which topics are important for your organization to measure (indicators).

3. Draft a balanced employee engagement survey.

Step 1: Defining Employee Engagement

Defining employee engagement for your organization should be the starting point when drafting your survey. Having a clearly defined definition of engagement will set the pillars for what matters to your organization – and ultimately, what you decide to measure.

In addition, this will allow you to develop a culture and employee engagement model that helps you reconcile the engagement challenges that your organization may be facing.

For reference, here’s Workify’s definition of employee engagement:

Employee engagement is a motivational construct contributing to the level of involvement an employee has at work: physically, cognitively and emotionally.

Step 2: Decide what’s important for your organization to measure

Employee Engagement Indicators

Once you’ve defined engagement, you’ll need to start thinking about the drivers and drainers of engagement at your company. Think of these measures as “employee engagement indicators”. 

While engagement is an employee experience, indicator measurements can provide direction for action by your organization. With a simple model consisting of 5-6 firmly defined indicators, you will be able to increase the statistical accuracy and directional focus of your surveys. 

In other words, it will make it easy for you to pinpoint opportunities for improvement that your organization can take action on.

To give you an example of engagement indicators that can be tracked at your organization, here are six example engagement indicators and their definitions:

1. Communication – The flow of information within the organization.

2. Leadership – The leaders’ effectiveness in demonstrating and embedding the values, strategies, and goals within the organization while creating a clear purpose for an employee’s contribution.

3. Resources – The support an organization provides that enables employees to perform and incentives that encourage them to achieve at their highest levels.

4. Management – The quality and capability of managers in the organization to liaise a positive interaction between the employee and the organization.

5. Dedication – An employee’s loyalty and commitment to their work, the people around them, to the mission, the values and the direction of the organization.

6. Challenge – An employee’s experience in a variety of tasks that foster an energized focus in their work and an organization’s openness to support growth.

As you can see, with clearly defined engagement indicators, upon receiving survey results, you’ll know what exactly is going on with your workforce and how they are feeling. 

For example, if your survey results come back and Management is the lowest scoring engagement indicator, you’ll know that you need to do further digging to see where the problem is stemming from.

Employee Engagement Influencers

If you have a set of engagement indicators that you feel are crucial to measure, but still want to track additional topics, you may want to think about creating engagement influencers.

Engagement influencers are topics that don’t directly drive or drain engagement but influence one or more of the engagement indicators. These are topics that are important for your organization to measure but not as pressing of issues. 

Topics such as diversity and inclusion and accountability are examples of influencers. If you have a solid engagement indicator strategy, it should be easy for you to map influencers back to your indicators to see how they are impacting individual indicators.

Additional Metrics to Track: eNPS and Retention

In addition to measuring the set of engagement indicators that are directly driving and draining engagement, it’s a best practice to measure eNPS and retention at your organization. These are two critical numbers that you can report as an HR/People department up to your executive team.

What is eNPS? 

eNPS is a measurement of an employee’s willingness to recommend employment at their organization.

But more broadly, it’s a measure of employee satisfaction and helps companies establish a single, trendable metric that can be directly tied to business results. eNPS can be a leading indicator of employee engagement trends at a company and we continue to see a trend, or best practice, of companies including this critical number in company-wide and HR departmental Key Performance Indicator dashboards. But while eNPS is a strong measure of employee sentiment and is frequently tracked, it is not a precise indicator of overall engagement levels nor does it offer actionable insights.

Tracking retention is also great to see if there are any attrition risks within the organization. This is simply asking employees how long they plan on staying with the organization. Tracking this metric on a continuous basis will give you a snapshot into what attrition will look like over the next twelve months. You will be able to see how these numbers ebb and flow over time.

Step 3: Draft a Balanced Engagement Survey

You’ve now clearly defined engagement and the topics that are important for your organization to measure. Now you can begin the most tricky part of survey design – picking your questions. 

So before jumping in, let’s first discuss the three most common mistakes we see made during survey design:

1. Asking Too Many Questions – In an effort to get a “complete picture”, companies will often ask 50-60 questions thinking that they’re covering all of their bases. While this is noble, the modern employee doesn’t have the patience to fill out a survey this long, and if you have a focused approach to surveying, you won’t need this many questions to get a complete understanding of how your employees are feeling.

2. Over-Indexing – If you’re going to target 5-6 engagement indicators, over-indexing means focusing heavily on 1-2 indicators. For example, if Company X is asking 10 questions a piece related to management and communication, but only 2-3 questions for the other indicators, they will not be adequately measuring all of their indicators. Further below, we’ll discuss what the right mix of questions looks like.

3. Asking For Excessive Qualitative Feedback – We see a lot of companies wanting to ask for qualitative feedback after every single question that’s on a rating scale. By the end of their survey, they’ve already asked for 10-15 qualitative responses. The risk is that you will get inundated with too much data OR your employees will leave feedback that is unrelated to what you’re asking for feedback on. We think instead you should be very focused with the qualitative questions that you do ask.

So you may be asking yourself, how many questions should I ask to ensure that I’m getting a balanced view of engagement and driving high participation? 

In order to get a balanced view of engagement, the right mix of questions should look something like this:

– 30-35 Questions Pertaining to Engagement Indicators

– 2 Questions Measuring eNPS and Loyalty

– 2 Qualitative Questions

Add 30-35 Questions Pertaining to Your Engagement Indicators

The IO Psychology rule of thumb is that you should be asking at least 5-6 questions per indicator that you’re targeting. Keeping the amount of questions per indicator around 5-6 is long enough to provide statistically relevant direction but short enough to drive high participation.

So if there are 6 engagement indicators that your organization is tracking, then the sweet spot will be around 30-35 questions specific to your employee engagement indicators. 

Let’s say you wanted to measure “Communication” as an indicator. You would need to include at least five questions specific to communication to give you a statistically relevant dataset for that particular indicator. Doing so will allow you to look at communication on multiple levels: at the leadership level, within teams, between managers and employees, and cross-departmental. It’s important for you to think about the challenges that your organization is facing within a specific engagement indicator to come up with your indicator level questions.

Here’s what five questions pertaining to the communication indicator could look like:

1. At COMPANY NAME, we communicate well with one another. [Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree]

2. Communication between managers and employees is good at COMPANY NAME. [Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree]

3. Communication between senior leaders and employees is good at COMPANY NAME. [Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree]

4. There is alignment between the information I receive from my manager and the leadership team at COMPANY NAME. [Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree]

5. I do not know where to go to get the information I need to do my job well. [Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree]

Add 2 Questions Measuring eNPS and Retention

It’s important to track metrics that you can report up to your executive-level team and that you can trend over time. For the reasons, aforementioned, eNPS and retention are both great ways of doing this. Luckily, because these questions are more straightforward, not as much thought will need to be put into crafting these questions.

Measuring eNPS and retention is as simple as asking the two questions below:

eNPS QuestionHow likely are you to recommend COMPANY NAME as a place to work? (Rate 0-10 where 10 is highest)

Retention QuestionI can see myself working at COMPANY NAME for the next: Options:  0-6 months, 6-12 months, 1 year – 2 years, 2 years – 4 years and 4 years +

It’s important that these two questions are included on every survey that you send out. If measured on a frequent basis, you can accurately predict attrition as well as keep a pulse on overall employee sentiment.

Add 2 Qualitative Questions

Although there are risks associated with asking too many qualitative questions, there is still a ton of value in asking for qualitative feedback in the right way. Your qualitative questions should lead to constructive feedback that can be used to devise an action on. After all, nine out of ten times your people are the ones with the answers, so why not take their advice into account when your team is crafting action plans.

Below are two examples of “focused” qualitative questions:

1. What is the best thing about working at COMPANY NAME?

2. What one thing would you improve about working at COMPANY NAME?

Picking a Rating Scale that Employees are familiar with

You should be following and using rating scales that are research approved. Using a rating scale that is atypical will give you less reliability in your results. 

What matters most is that you’re using a scale that employees are used to seeing.

– For eNPS, the most widely used scale is 0-10.

– For likert questions, it’s a 1-5 scale (from strongly disagree to strongly agree).

– A higher scale is more reliable than a lower scale.

– Having a midpoint in your scale can help remove positive bias.

What’s Next?

As you can see, there is a lot that goes into designing the perfect engagement survey, but as long as you are aware of all of the pieces that go into a balanced survey, you’re one step closer.

In sum, once you’ve (1) clearly defined engagement at your company and (2) clearly defined the metrics that are important for your organization to measure, you can start to draft a balanced survey. 

The next step in your employee engagement strategy once you’ve established your survey questions is to start thinking about an approach to drill down and get additional feedback on the areas where you’ve scored low.

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