How to Interpret Employee Engagement Survey Results

No matter what industry you’re in, your employees will always be your most valuable resource. This isn’t just from the perspective of handling day-to-day operations. When your workforce is effectively engaged, they have the potential to spur innovation. This isn’t something that tends to happen without effort and investment. As such, employee engagement surveys are a key tool in measuring that investment so that your team achieves growth. 

It’s important to remember, though, that issuing a survey is pointless if you don’t know how to interpret the responses. An impactful survey process has a strategic flow to it. These steps include designing the questions, encouraging interaction, utilizing the data, and campaign assessments. Without an effective response analysis, this flow gets blocked. You just have a lot of data that isn’t effectively influencing your company to its full potential.

So, let’s take a closer look at some of the primary considerations when interpreting the results of employee engagement surveys. 

Create Data Segments

Organization is essential when interpreting employee engagement survey results. After all, depending on the size of your company, you’re going to be faced with a potentially huge volume of data. Taking this all in one chunk will be overwhelming for even the most experienced business leader. So, you need to separate the data out into manageable portions. The most effective way to approach this is with clearly defined segments. These data segments often include:

Department Yellow Box
Generation box

One of the most practical ways to categorize the survey data is by specific demographics of the responding employees. This could be by familiar forms of segmentation like age, socioeconomic background, and gender — particularly if you want to gain insights into how successfully your company is engaging with traditionally underserved groups. 

But you should consider employment specific demographic groups too. Categorizing data based on how long an employee has been with a company can allow you to review how engagement differs at different stages. Segmenting the data based on the department can make it easier to identify where organizational gaps may be.  

Another approach to segmentation is basing it on the survey indicators — otherwise known as factors — you’re looking for. This refers to the elements the questions are designed to measure. This could include employee perception of diversity, communication, and leadership efficacy among others. By separating the results into these indicator categories, you can better assess them based on the specific areas of interest for your business.

You’ll find this process is usually easier when you utilize engagement intelligence software that allows you to organize data on this basis and switch segmentation choices whenever necessary. Engagement surveys are an agile tool and different members of your organization can make use of the information for their individual reasons or to inform certain projects.    

The meat of interpreting employee engagement survey results is in identifying and understanding the trends. You’re looking to see what patterns emerge among your staff’s answers. This doesn’t mean to say the opinions and experiences of individual employees aren’t valuable. They are, and we’ll come to that in the next section. But by establishing clear trends from the responses, you get a good impression of areas your business is consistently succeeding or failing to engage workers.

However, it’s important not to take trends on face value alone. This is where many businesses fall down in engagement interpretation. Patterns can be deceptive and certainly don’t always tell the full story. For instance, just because the core of your workers answered that they are mostly satisfied with your company, this doesn’t mean they are engaged. In context, it can mean they’re about as satisfied as they were before you started making changes in your business, meaning your efforts have been largely ineffective. You always need to drill down into trends further.  

Once you’ve identified the patterns in your data, treat them as jumping-off points. Establish what your workforce being mostly satisfied actually means. What are they comparing it to? What needs to take place to raise them to be fully satisfied? Equally, if you notice there are clearly negative responses in certain areas, this doesn’t mean you should treat it as a failure. Rather, take it as an opportunity to dig further, to learn something more about not just your business but also how your workers coexist with this element of their experience.   

Assess Qualitative Responses

A lot of businesses focus purely on the quantitative data from their surveys. It’s easy to see why this might be the case. After all, it is faster and therefore a better use of resources to collate and analyze standardized responses. But the answers in these instances don’t give you enough actionable information. You need to dedicate time and attention to reviewing the qualitative data provided by each employee so you can have a better chance of understanding their experience in their own words. 

This attention to qualitative data is an important element to understand. The quantitative questions in your survey are asking workers to provide information on your experience limited to the descriptions and responses you provide them. The qualitative responses give your workers a chance to get their voice heard. Dedicating time to individually assessing these sends the message to your workforce that you’re treating their contributions with respect.

It’s also worth considering that your assessment of the qualitative responses shouldn’t just be limited to reviewing the actionable ways they can inform your company direction. You can categorize the responses so you can more effectively use them to tailor different levels of attention and action. This could be based on the net promoter type (eNPS) or even the working arrangement (in-office, remote, hybrid). Identifying what responses make some employees detractors rather than promoters can give you practical insights into how you can improve retention and employee experience for each. It’s all about fine-tuning your assessment of the results so you can in turn create the most appropriate way forward.

You should also look at the types of qualitative responses you’re getting. If you’re getting a lot of vague, one-word, or even omitted answers, it can mean you’re not giving your workers incentive to elaborate. Indeed, consistent vagueness when replying can suggest the question itself or the expectations of the respondee are not clear.  Use this information to inform both your further exploration of the issues and your future engagement surveys. 

Avoid Bias

Alongside the practical elements of interpreting employee engagement survey results, you should be aware of how perspective impacts the process. As part of your diversity and inclusion program, you and your staff are likely to have received training on how conscious and unconscious biases can negatively impact your daily activities. This is no different when it comes to interpreting survey data. The lens through which you’re analyzing your survey can impact how effectively you’re able to use it.

This doesn’t necessarily mean traditional toxic forms of bias like racism or sexism. It can be as seemingly innocuous as your self image as a business leader. Your personal belief that you’re an inspirational manager can leave you inadvertently blind to the management elements your workers feel negatively impacts their experience. It’s also not unusual to treat the responses of workers with formal university qualifications more seriously than those without, perpetuating socioeconomic biases. These issues both damage your work culture and see you missing out on truly valuable insights into your company.   

As such, it’s important to take steps to avoid bias in data interpretation. These can include: 

  • Create a diverse survey analysis team featuring representatives from various backgrounds and all levels of seniority. This helps to ensure you have various perspectives contributing to understanding the results. 
  • Maintain an awareness of your own biases when studying the results. Be open to questioning your knee-jerk responses to data. Seek assistance from others if you’re unsure. 
  • Utilize an independent data analysis contractor or service provider. They’re unlikely to have the same unconscious biases in respect of personal connection to your business. As such, their reports will be based purely on the facts and the professional’s expert perspectives.
  • Crosscheck the survey data with applicable historical trends from web traffic tools like Google Analytics. Certain segments like age and gender can also be found in Google Analytics, and can be used to pair with survey data to limit certain biases. Collecting this data from Google Analytics and into spreadsheets can be done automatically so that it can be referenced whenever survey responses are collected.

In Summary

Knowing how to interpret employee engagement results is the key to being able to use them effectively. You should first take the time to segment the data to make it more manageable. Look for trends in quantitative data, but also treat qualitative results with the attention they deserve. Importantly, you need to take steps to avoid bias in interpretation so you can get the most out of the results. Remember that interpretation is about establishing areas you can affect positive change in your organization and improve the experiences of your talented workforce. 

This can certainly be a challenging process to pursue, even for experienced business leaders and entrepreneurs. If you need guidance in better understanding your employee engagement survey responses or how this fits into your engagement strategy, book a free 30 minute consultation with a Workify engagement expert.