An employee survey will directly and indirectly communicate messages about the priorities and concerns of your business and critically it will tell your employees that they have a voice and enable you to develop effective strategies to improve your organisation's performance.
Your business, your people and your strategies are unique. A well-crafted survey will provide you with critical data you need to understand your people and shape the best policies and approach.
The bottom line for any survey is to improve organisational performance.
There are many paths to achieving this goal. Enhancing employee experience to attract and retain talent, increasing employee engagement to raise productivity, improving wellbeing to reduce absence, enhancing diversity and inclusion to foster innovation, changing organisational culture for better customer service.
Essentially, surveys help to identify what needs to change, suggest where to focus efforts, evaluate the effectiveness of actions and celebrate successes.
So an important first step is to be clear about your objective - the thing that you would like to improve. It might be employee engagement, wellbeing, organisational culture or something else or a combination of things.
Once your objective has been decided, the next step is to identify the things that could lead to improvements - the drivers of your objective.
You might have identified increasing employee engagement as your objective. There are many factors that drive employee engagement but which ones should you consider measuring in your survey?
To get some ideas you could review what's been written about your objective to see what, according to research, drives it.
Looking at employee engagement, there's lots of research on the job demands - resources model and engagement. Guided by this model your survey might include things like workload, emotional demands, support, autonomy, organisational climate.
A good starting point but does this fit your organisational context?
Interviews with senior leaders, asking for their views on what they would like to get from the survey and what it should focus on will help to refine your thinking. Furthermore, consulting and involving leaders from the start will help to secure their buy-in to the survey process.
Focus groups with employees is another great option for identifying and refining the drivers measured by your survey. It’s helpful to consult employees to get a sense of their concerns and get close to the issues. They're best placed to provide insight into what helps and hinders engagement in your organisation.
Plus focus groups are an opportunity to communicate clearly that employee concerns are taken seriously, and the survey is more than a top-down exercise.
The next step is to identify suitable questions to measure your objective and drivers.
You will need questions to measure your objective and drivers you have identified as potentially being important in your organisation.
Questions about your objective will usually focus on individuals and their thoughts and feelings. They are fairly universal and apply across organisational contexts. You will find lots of examples of questions from practitioners and researchers.
For engagement, a good source is the work of a group of psychologists from Utrecht University who define work engagement as a state of mind characterised by high levels of vigour, dedication and absorption.
I feel full of energy at work
I am enthusiastic about my job
I am proud of the work I do
Time flies at work
Other measures of engagement focus on commitment - employees' attachment to the organisation.
I feel a strong sense of belonging to my organisation
I would like to be working here a year from now
I feel emotionally attached to my organisation
My organisation has personal meaning to me
Driver questions differ in their focus to questions about your objective. They are focussed on tangible aspects of working life in your organisation. A critical feature of driver questions is that they should be actionable. In other words it should be clear from the question what action would be needed to improve the thing it is measuring.
Your driver questions will be more tailored than your objective questions to fit the context of your organisation. Data collected from senior leader interviews and employee focus groups will help you write suitable questions.
Care should be taking when creating questions to ensure they will provide useful, reliable and valid data. There is a fair amount of skill in asking the right questions in such a way that you end up with useful data you can use to inform decision making.
Aim to keep questions short and simple
Take care to avoid writing double-questions which lead to confusion for respondents and ambiguity when interpreting results.
My organisation provides the training I need to do a good job and opportunities to develop my career - No
The question would be difficult to answer for respondents who have different views on training and career opportunities. Ask two questions instead.
My organisation provides the training I need to do a good job - Yes
In my organisation there are opportunities to develop my career - Yes
Be aware of the effect of social desirability.
I always work according to safety guidelines - No
Almost everyone will agree with this despite knowing that the survey is anonymous. It will not provide useful, reliable data.
My colleagues always work according to safety guidelines - Yes
Asking about colleagues would be a better approach, giving a more reliable indication of how seriously safety guidelines are taken.
Try to make your questions actionable. Describing specific, tangible or observable behaviours helps.
I have a good manager - No
For better feedback on managers, ask questions about specific behaviours you would expect from managers.
My manager gives me useful feedback on my performance - Yes
Consider your questions' difficulty or in other words how high the is bar for a positive response. Your organisational context will determine the appropriate difficulty level.
My manager would be open to new ideas
The bar for this question might be too low for your organisation and while it might achieve a high score, it would not be particularly insightful. A better option might be:
My manager actively seeks new ideas from our team
Pilot test your questions with a “think aloud” approach.
Ask colleagues to answer your questions and share aloud their thoughts and reactions as they do.
It will help you get a sense of how easy the questions are to answer and whether there are any questions which are confusing or ambiguous.
Likert scales are the most common. You will have seen these many times before. The most common scale for employee surveys is a scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.
The key features of Likert scale are:
Other scales can be created to suit your questions. For example,
Four to seven options are best – longer scales use up too much of respondents’ cognitive energy deciding on their response.
Likert scales are popular because they allow respondents to indicate whether they feel positive or negative as well as the strength of their feeling. Dichotomous (yes / no) scales can be used but Likert scales give more options for follow-up statistical analysis.
There are differing views on whether to use a neutral option such as neither agree or disagree or to force respondents to choose a positive or negative response by not including a midpoint.
Research shows that results are not distorted either way. In other words, there’s no right or wrong answer, but importantly, once a decision has been made the same scale must be used across surveys to ensure valid comparisons.
The length of your questionnaire will depend on the type of survey. There's a balance between sufficiently covering the things you would like to measure and the length of the questionnaire. If it's too long there's a risk of low response rates or poor quality responses with little thought given by respondents to answering the questions.
The length of a questionnaire can be measured by the number of questions or how long it takes to complete. Of course, the two are related but time to complete is more helpful.
A well-designed questionnaire with 30 simple and unambiguous questions might take less time than a poorly designed questionnaire with 15 questions.
Five to ten minute completion time is a reasonable target.
There are different types of survey related to their purpose, their frequency and who takes part. Many organisations use a combination of survey types.
Assessment / baseline surveys seek feedback on a wide range of topics to set a baseline and identify areas that need improvement.
Assessment / baseline surveys are common for organisations running their first employee survey and are usually repeated annually. They typically involve all employees.
Trend / monitoring surveys can be used in combination with assessment / baseline surveys and are often referred to as pulse surveys.
These surveys track changes in views on issues that have been identified as requiring attention to gauge the effectiveness of interventions and indicate where adjustments might help or monitor engagement levels to pick up early signs of disengagement before the next assessment / baseline survey.
Much shorter in length than an assessment / baseline survey. Usually all employees are involved.
Diagnostic / deep dive surveys take an in-depth look at a specific topic that might have been identified in an assessment / baseline survey. Involving specific demographic groups might be appropriate.
These surveys seek feedback on employees’ experiences at different stages of their time with an organisation - recruitment, onboarding, work anniversary, role change, post parental leave, return to work after long term absence, employee exit.
Preference surveys gather information on employee preferences on things like benefits, flexible work arrangements, training to help make better informed decisions. Sometimes a stand-alone survey but often incorporated in an assessment / baseline survey.