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Employee engagement surveys: what to ask and why

9 min read
Want to find out how to boost engagement while reducing attrition? Then go straight to the source: your people. Here are tips for creating an employee engagement survey, the questions you need to ask, and a checklist to get started right away.


Your company’s financials have never looked better, but there’s word of multiple employees submitting their notice. What’s going on? The last all-employee survey (from, er, 2018) didn’t hint at any issues or point to employees planning to leave. And yet, morale has dipped. If only there was a way to ask employees how they’re feeling about their work…

Enter the employee engagement survey – a comprehensive tool for assessing point-in-time employee sentiment, collecting data, and implementing actionable insights.

Of course, it doesn’t take a dip in morale or a change in leadership to want a pulse on your organization. More and more organizations check in with their employees at regular intervals to ask questions about what they’re thinking – upping the once-annual frequency to bi-annual, quarterly, or even monthly employee engagement surveys.

Haven’t designed an employee engagement survey before? Here’s what you need to know to create one for your company.

What is employee engagement?

Put simply, engagement is how someone thinks, feels, and acts to help their organization achieve its goals. An employee engagement survey, then, measures the engagement of your people so that you can analyze the data and take action to improve engagement levels.

What factors impact engagement?

We measure employee engagement as a composite score of five factors:

  • Intent to stay – the likelihood that employees will still be with the company in the next two years
  • Work involvement – the psychological and emotional contribution people apply to their work
  • Discretionary effort – the level of effort above the minimum required that people are willing to put into their work
  • Pride in the company – the extent to which people feel proud to work there
  • Willingness to recommend the organizationhow likely people are to recommend their organization to friends and family

Each of these items provides a score which, when combined, gives an overall metric of employee engagement.

Where to start with survey design

Designing an effective employee engagement survey requires careful thought to return the best possible results and data. To start, keep your survey structure simple and intuitive. Employees will need to understand how to answer the questions and your managers will need to understand how to read the report. Your goal is for as many employees as possible to understand and act on the results of your engagement survey.

Here’s what else you’ll need to think about before you get started:

  • Decide whose input you need to include and whose input you don’t need (manage expectations by explaining why you are not consulting them)
  • Set clear deadlines and turnaround times right from the start
  • Ask participants to let you know upfront if they cannot meet the timeframe, so you can assign someone else
  • Establish one person for the final sign-off, and make it clear to everyone in the sign-off process that when they say it’s final, it’s final
  • Distinguish ‘nice to have’ questions from ‘must have’ questions
  • Avoid designing your survey by committee

What questions to ask your employees

Your engagement survey should not only help you solve a problem at your organization, but also point to what you’re doing right in the eyes of engaged employees. To accomplish this, you need to be sure that your survey questions are going to deliver useful insights.

If you’re starting to worry about formulating the right questions, don’t. Designing your own survey means that you don’t have to ask a question in a certain way to fit into a particular model – every question can be designed to be 100% relevant to your organization, which can help make your survey shorter and easier to digest.

Your questions should cover three key areas:

  • Engagement – these questions go at the front of your survey, and measure: intent to stay, work involvement, discretionary effort, pride in company, and willingness to recommend the organization.
  • Core themes – these ask about the conditions that might cause (or detract from) engagement with questions about autonomy and empowerment, career progression, collaboration, communication, leadership, recognition, resources, strategy, management support and training and development.
  • Additional themes – depending on what’s happening in your company or market at the time, you might also want to ask about additional topics. In our engagement survey template you’ll find some additional ones you can include – try to avoid throwing them all in, and only ask them if they’re relevant to prevent your survey from becoming too unwieldy.

Your next step is to identify the themes that you want to measure, and then create questions that support those themes. As a rule of thumb, aim to ask your employees 30-50 engagement-related questions. Remember to include a way to record demographics, too.

Autonomy / Empowerment Are people empowered in their roles and able to innovate on the job?
Career Progression Are there opportunities for people to grow and develop in the company?
Collaboration Are they able to easily work with other teams or colleagues without barriers or conflict?
Communication Are they getting enough info from the company about what’s happening and do they feel they’re being listened to?
Company Leadership Do employees believe in and trust their senior leaders?
Recognition Do people feel that they’re recognized and appreciated?
Resources Are they enabled to do their job through the equipment they’re given?
Strategy Alignment Do they buy into where the company is going and how they’re a part of it?
Supportive Management Are managers supporting their teams to be successful?
Training and Development Do they feel they have the training they need to do their job?
Customer Focus Are they in a customer centric organization and are they empowered to do what's needed?
Diversity & Inclusion Do they feel the organization is inclusive and fair to all employees?
Pay & Benefits Do people feel they're fairly rewarded for what they put in?
Quality of Product or Services Do people believe in what they (and/or the organization) provide to their customers?
Safety Do people feel their safety is critical to the organization?
Social Responsibility Do they feel the company is a good corporate citizen with a worthwhile cause?
Work-life Balance Do they feel the company allows them to achieve the balance they need between work and personal life?

Tip: In line with the industry standard, we recommend that employee engagement surveys use a 5-point Likert scale for all items:

  • Agreement Scale: Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree
  • Rating Scale: Very Good to Very Poor

Check out our ultimate guide to employee engagement

Learn More

Sample engagement survey questions

These sample questions will help you to distinguish the current satisfaction level of your employees. You’ll notice the questions cover several of the key engagement themes mentioned above.

Q1 How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with your ability to do interesting work in your role?

Q2 How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with your ability to apply your skills in this role?

Q3 How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with your current workload?

Q4 How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with your opportunities for career progression?

Q5 How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the physical environment at your workplace?

Q6 How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with your relationship with your manager?

Q7 Overall, how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with your current employer?

Your engagement survey checklist

Every organization will have its own needs when it comes to assessing employee engagement. To expedite the process, we’ve created a survey template and outlined the steps to take to get your employee engagement survey up and running.

Checklist:

  • Get started with our free employee engagement survey template.
  • Determine who will review and approve content. While several people and teams should review content, avoid having more than one leader approve content. This will help you eliminate lengthy sign-off processes once you have a final question set.
  • Set clear deadlines and turnaround times for everyone involved.
  • Involve key leaders when prioritizing issues. Solicit opinions and ideas from stakeholders to better understand organizational needs. What do the heads of your business really need from their people in order to be successful?
  • Review and customize the engagement categories. Remove any you don’t think are relevant to your organization, and add any new ones you would like to include.
  • Review the questions within each of the categories you have left.
  • Distinguish ‘nice to have’ questions from ‘must have’ questions and adjust the questions to fit your needs. Maintain at least three questions in each category.
  • Include necessary definitions on your survey. For example, many companies include a definition of “Your Manager”, “Your Team”, “Senior Leadership” and “This Organization” to ensure people use the same frame of reference when responding. These can be shown at the beginning of a survey or, depending on your survey vendor, as individuals hover over questions.
  • Send your questionnaire for review and approval. Typically you should expect around two to three rounds of iteration which can take at least two weeks.
  • Run your survey!

Tip: To collect the greatest amount of responses, make sure you invite everyone in your company to respond and keep a close eye on response rates. You might need to keep the survey open for two to three weeks to give people the best opportunity to give their feedback.

Get started with our free employee engagement survey template