The Ultimate Guide to Employee Engagement Surveys (2021)

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The world of engagement is packed with different platforms, varying question sets and a sea of advice on how to get employee engagement surveys right.

And we’re not surprised; the reality is that organisations around the globe are still facing the same disengagement challenges. So the real question is, how do we actually get employee engagement surveys right? When there’s been such little improvement in engagement levels everywhere, we need to challenge ourselves to do better and be better! 

And that all starts with the way we measure employee engagement, how we gather employee insights and how we take meaningful action off the back of that feedback. 

Our approach to employee surveying at Hive is driven by occupational psychology, experts in the field and endless amounts of industry research and experience; so let’s dive in, shall we?

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is a very difficult thing to define, but the essence of it is a combination of:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Motivation to perform
  • A sense of belonging
  • Intent to stay
  • An emotional commitment to organisational goals

Based on that, you can divide people up into three categories: engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged. Here’s how the UK workforce falls into each of those categories:

Gallup Engagement Wheel2

When it really comes down to it, employee engagement is just the output of something bigger—the overall employee experience at your organisation. So to really drive employee engagement, you need to focus on what creates amazing working experiences.

Purpose of employee engagement surveys

Employee engagement surveys are a series of strategically picked questions that help you to measure the likes of commitment, motivation, sense of purpose and advocacy across your teams.

They’re designed to give a big-picture view of your organisation, while also dialling into different demographics, like department, tenure or gender to help you spot trends at an organisation-wide level and a team level.

Why measure employee engagement?

Only by truly listening to your people will you have the insights you need to improve employee experience and boost levels of engagement. So, measuring employee engagement through surveys will: 

  1. Give you insight into what truly drives engagement in your organisation
  2. Provide data on what is hindering employee engagement
  3. Learn in detail about how effective your employee experience is
  4. Give people a voice and the opportunity to share their concerns, ideas and suggestions
  5. Continuously monitor key engagement metrics 
  6. Provide the basis for action-planning your employee engagement strategies using employee insights.

At Hive, our People Scientists measure engagement based on three key metrics: loyalty, pride and advocacy. But because engagement represents something slightly different for different organisations, some choose to add in other measures as well. So it’s important to take the time to figure out exactly what an engaged employee is at your organisation!

Where are we going wrong with employee engagement surveys?

Pretty much every organisation has measured engagement in some way or another in the past. But, looking at the numbers, there’s been little movement in how engaged the global workforce is! We’re still in the position where the vast majority of people are disengaged, so it’s clear that the well-known approach doesn’t work. So what are some of the common mistakes that organisations make when measuring their employee engagement surveys?

  • Only running surveys once a year: annual baseline surveys are super important, but it’s just as important to keep listening, running pulse surveys and gathering feedback when it matters most.
  • Not fully understanding feedback: organisations typically focus on what the highest and lowest-scoring areas are, rather than the actual drivers of engagement. To really understand your survey results, you have to dive into what drives engagement and where the biggest differentials are across your business; a single, big-picture outlook just doesn’t cut it. 
  • Not acting on feedback: the biggest mistake organisations can make is not taking action using the insights they’ve gathered. Without action, surveys are a pointless measuring exercise. (There’s more on how to action your results later—keep reading!)
  • Treating engagement programmes as a task to complete: employee engagement is a continuous cycle, not a check-box exercise. It’s an ongoing process that needs to be nurtured, so don’t simply stop after one survey and a couple of actions.

How to create an employee engagement survey

While pulling together an employee engagement survey might sound like a simple task at face value, creating a survey that actually helps you uncover insightful and meaningful data requires a more considered and strategic approach.

What you really need to be thinking about alongside what you want to ask is the mechanics of your survey; anything from the language to the length can affect your response rates and whether people are fully truthful with you. 

So, let’s run through some of the most important things to consider when building out your employee engagement survey:

Survey length

There is no right or wrong when it comes to the length of your employee engagement survey. But, it’s worth bearing in mind that the longer a survey is, the less likely people might be to complete it. 

So, as a general rule of thumb, your baseline employee engagement surveys should be 30-35 questions long. Then, if you’re running a pulse survey to get a snapshot of your key engagement metrics or to get feedback on a specific topic—like wellbeing or hybrid working—go for 10-15 questions. Or if you simply want really quick insight, don’t be afraid to send a 1-2 question survey if that’s what works for your needs!

Types of employee engagement survey questions

1. Scaled questions

Majority of your employee engagement surveys should be made up of scaled questions because they support a simple but effective user experience for your survey participants. 

Scaled questions should use a Likert scale—a scale that lets people express to what extent they agree or disagree with a particular statement. They’re a universally recognised and valid way of gathering data; it’s a win-win for both parties!

a. Writing your scaled questions

Write your scaled questions as statements that all work with the setup “to what extent do you agree with the following…”. When statements are used as scale questions in surveys, they:

  • Prompt a stronger response from the respondent by referencing something they do (or don’t) identify with.
  • Create a validated and accurate dataset that is easy to benchmark over time.

Make sure that an answer above 5 (out of 10) in your scale questions always represents a positive sentiment towards the question, and a score below 5 is unfavourable, otherwise things will get complicated analysing data on an inverted scale. Here’s a quick example:

“I worry about my long-term job security”

“I never worry about my long-term job security”

b. Setting up your scale

We recommend a 0-10 scale as it’s more sensitive to movement in scores, making it easier to measure the impact of actions being made off the back of feedback. Make sure you always have a neutral option—in this case, 5 out of 10—otherwise, results may become skewed as positive or negative.

Also make sure that, whatever scale you use, you stick with it; standardising this makes it easier for people to respond as they don’t have to keep thinking about what the descriptors on the scale represent.

2. Free-text questions

A free-text question will provide you with much richer insight into how your people are thinking and feeling.

But, to avoid free-text boxes becoming an opportunity for people to vent, try to really focus your questions around the future or what characterises a good day at work for your people. We often recommend “How might senior leaders/managers improve the employee experience here?” or “What can our organisation do to better support your wellbeing?”. 

Use free-text questions sparingly to avoid having too much data to analyse. Stick to two in a baseline survey and one in a pulse survey.

3. Option questions

This is a multiple-choice question, where employees choose between preset answers. These are useful for ‘yes or no’ questions, as well as longer lists relevant to your organisation, like asking respondents to pick which they value most from a list of employee benefits.

4. And, finally, what about comment boxes?

Some questions lend themselves well to enabling a comment box, like “I feel mentally well at the moment”, where it is good for respondents to comment on why they are feeling that way.

But, similar to free-text questions, use comment boxes sparingly so you don’t end up with too much data. And make sure they’re optional rather than mandatory—not everyone will want to provide more detail!

Picking your question set

Your survey questions will vary depending on what it is that you want to achieve. But, to make things a little easier and give you a great head-start, our People Scientists have pulled together a series of questions proven to track employee engagement! Download yours for free now:

Free EBook

7 Survey Questions Proven to Track Employee Engagement

Our 7 scale survey questions that are proven employee engagement trackers; making them awesome core questions for surveying.

7 Survey Questions Proven to Track Employee Engagement

Whilst fixed question sets allow for direct comparisons and benchmarking, because there is no definitive definition of engagement, every organisation will have its own unique idea of what engagement should look like.

That’s why, at Hive, we design bespoke surveys that are tailored to our customer’s own values and needs! It enables organisations to focus on what good should look like for them, assessing how they measure up against their own aspirational culture and engagement criteria.

Survey anonymity vs confidentiality

Anonymous: Anonymous employee engagement surveys involve no employee data at all. There will be no employee records tied to responses—like age, gender, department—that help you deep dive into results on a granular level.

Confidential: Confidential employee engagement surveys still keep the identity of the person protected, but their employee data will be linked to responses, meaning you can segment results to identify trends and figure out the all-important “why”.

So, which is better?

To really take meaningful action at a team or group level, you need that demographic information from confidential employee surveys to help you figure out exactly what action to be taken and where.

The right platform (like Hive) will still have all the bells and whistles needed to protect your people’s identities—like Hive, where demographic data is automatically hidden for groups with too few respondents. That way, there’s no way that you can identify a respondent, giving your people the confidence to still be open and honest.

What to do with employee engagement survey results

Actioning the results of employee engagement surveys and consistently communicating about the process is absolutely vital

If employees believe their feedback will be taken on board and lead to some action, they will be more likely to respond open and honestly. On the flip side, if they think their feedback will disappear into a black hole, they’ll choose not to take part in future. Survey apathy is very real, so when people see little to no action off the back of their previous feedback they’ll lose interest in providing more insights.

Creating action plans, tracking improvements and communicating progress will go a long way for building trust in both your employee survey strategy and the organisation as a whole. So, here are some steps for you to follow with your employee engagement survey results:

1. Reflect on results

Reflect

Once the results are in, take a look at your data. Start with the organisation as a whole, then filter down into teams and demographic groups to see where the root of any problems lie. Ask yourself: how does the feedback compare to your expectations? Are there any results that took you by surprise?

With that insight, you can decide which areas to focus on with your managers and action-planning. Consider the most prevalent themes and which areas are lower-scoring than you’d like them to be—particularly those which you have more resources to improve.

💡 Our People Scientists run a regression analysis on survey results for our customers. This analysis uncovers the true drivers of engagement and helps shape better-informed action plans for maximum impact!

2. Involve your managers

Managers

Next, armed with a good understanding of results, it’s time to introduce your managers to the data. Walk them through the results and dive into what they look like across their teams.

Managers are arguably the biggest influencers of your people’s engagement, so it’s important to make sure they have a clear understanding of results and know what actions to take!

3. Start action-planning

Action

Action-planning can come in many forms; here are two approaches to get you started:

  • Team level: take a bottom-up approach to action-planning and get your managers to involve their teams in coming up with employee engagement ideas and solutions that directly benefit their team’s challenges.
  • Organisation level: HR, execs and senior leaders need to take charge in areas where managers are unable to drive change, focusing on the organisation as a whole—like benefits packages or flexible working policies.

The key thing to remember here is: don’t try to tackle too much! It’s better to find a few key themes and do them well. Once you’ve identified the themes, it’s then much easier to figure out what can and needs to be done first, and what can wait—before sharing solid actions with your people.

Look for quick wins that you can tackle immediately, things that can be done in the next month or so, and things that can be done longer term until you’re ready to take your next baseline engagement measure.

4. Delve deeper with additional feedback (if needed)

Feedback

If you feel like you’ve hit a roadblock with your action plans and are lacking insight in some areas, then follow up! Just because your employee engagement survey ended, doesn’t mean your feedback gathering should.

You can send pulse surveys to gather feedback on specific themes—either to the full organisation or targeted at individual teams, depending on where you need the information from. You can conduct focus groups or take your problem to an employee forum. There are so many avenues for you to continue collecting the insights you need.

5. Turn plans into action

Action 2

Now, it’s time to put your plans into action. Make sure to communicate with your people exactly what’s going to change and why so they’re fully aware of what to expect and have the opportunity to provide more feedback on the change if they wish. 

At this stage, no matter how long your action plan takes, it’s important to keep communicating, keep tracking your progress, and make sure that it remains a top priority at all levels of your organisation.

6. And repeat

To do

Re-running surveys is the best way to get an idea of how things have progressed over time, which is useful in determining the impact of the actions you took. 

But the downside is that people can become disengaged with the survey process if they feel like they are always answering the same questions—especially if nothing is happening as a result.

So, the emphasis here is again on action! Don’t run another survey until you’ve made significant changes and communicated them to your teams. If you re-run a survey and nothing has been done since the last time, you’ll probably get the same set of results—or slightly worse, and with a lower response rate.

Hive is your partner, not just your platform

Our employee voice platform of course includes intuitive, flexible and easy-to-use employee surveying, alongside three other feedback channels to help you listen at scale. 

Plus, our team of expert People Scientists can support you in your employee voice journey, every step along the way—helping you to:

  • Create an employee voice strategy and get leaders on board 
  • Build bespoke surveys, analyse results and presenting the findings back to leaders
  • Plan the right actions to take based on what employees have said
  • Plus much, much more

To find out more about our employee voice platform and strategic HR partnership, simply book a chat with one of our friendly experts and we can get started!

And in the meantime, check out this handy guide on creating employee engagement surveys that truly work for your organisation 👇

Free EBook

Creating Employee Surveys that Work for Your Organisation

Get well-prepared for your timely new survey launch with our guide; from getting leadership buy-in to getting started with results!

Creating Employee Surveys that Work for Your Organisation