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How to Design an Employee Engagement Survey

An employee engagement survey helps get to the heart of why people like to work – and stay working – at your company.

An effective employee engagement survey will help you to identify what’s holding you back from attracting and engaging the people you want to hire most. And the insights gained from your survey will help you to find and keep more people that match your value proposition – people who can deliver on your brand promise.

Having a well organized design approach and survey will help you set a true and important cornerstone – and provide valuable insights as you build up your employer brand, marketing messages and value proposition.

You’ll want to collect and combine both structured and unstructured employee data from multiple sources and touch points, distill the valuable feedback from the noise, and then translate the data into insights you can use. Together, these structured and unstructured data survey-related approaches will allow you to better understand and act on the preferences of your best employees and the candidates that you want to hire.

A survey will help you find new ways to attract new talent, hire more “best-fit” people, and improve the day-to-day satisfaction of your employees.

Since the purpose of your employee engagement survey is to obtain useful feedback and insights, it makes sense to first clarify what you want to learn. You’ll most likely want to develop clear answers to the following questions:

  • How is our organization perceived as an employer when compared to other companies in our field?
  • What specifically makes our organization attractive to candidates?
  • Which aspects of our employer brand (as it relates to attraction and engagement) are functioning at a high/low level.
  • What sources along the candidate journey are used by candidates to find, and learn about our organization?
  • How can we use our employer-of-choice status to deliver more successful outcomes across attraction, engagement, recruitment, hiring and retention?
  • What are the ways we can improve communication in your organization?

Approaching your employee engagement survey with these questions in mind will help you to learn more about what employees really think and feel. And the insights you gain from the survey will help you improve your employer brand messages and value proposition to attract and engage more best-fit people. You’ll also be able to use your new insights to strengthen pre-hire and on-boarding processes and improve retention.

The main outcomes you might want to consider for your survey include:

  • to gather the authentic views and perceptions from the employee perspective.
  • to use your new data and insights to create positive expectations among potential candidates/recruits, including: behaviors and attitudes, meaningful and impactful work, exciting and purposeful career paths, supportive and inspiring leaders and managers, best/greatest/fun culture and more.
  • to use your insights to support your goal of becoming an “employer of choice” organization, enhancing the impression of your company as a ‘great place to work’ in the minds of current and potential employees.
  • to synthesize and put into context the feedback to improve your ability to be more successful across attraction and engagement of candidates. (insights can also be used to impact on-boarding, win loyalty and retain existing employees).

In addition to the above, you’ll be in a very good position to use your new survey data and insights to develop a forward-looking roadmap and best-practice playbook to help your company make improvements all across the talent acquisition landscape: attraction, engagement, recruitment, hiring, and retention.

Employee Engagement Survey Design Tips

Here are a few items you’ll want to keep in mind before you design your employee engagement survey:

  • What’s the main objectives of the survey?
  • What is your timeline for completion?
  • What role will senior leadership have in the survey and engagement process?
  • What is the level of support you will have with line managers during the survey process? (also make sure to have an advocate within the c-suite)
  • How the survey process should be communicated to the employees
  • Will we share results with all employees?
  • Is this within our budget/timescales?
  • What does success look like? What is the c-suite view of this?

A well-rounded survey includes the following sections: survey-based data and reporting, employee interviews, one-on-one interviews, focus groups, web-based data collection, and conclusions and analysis.

You might want to structure your employee engagement survey with these (8) process steps:

  1. Design Survey – Design of survey, format, program; set to implement
  2. Online Survey of Leaders and Senior Management (confidential) – To understand the philosophy, procedures, players, brand, and culture. To understand the client network, the vision, goals and strategies already in place.
  3. Online Survey of Existing Employees (confidential) – To gain feedback and ratings relative to their relationship with your company.
  4. Employee Interviews (In-person or Virtual; confidential) – To gather various perspectives by talking to a large enough sample of best-fit employees per function or department to remove bias and gain information to support your efforts.
  5. Exit Surveys (In-person or Virtual; confidential) – To gather various perspectives by talking to a sample of your company’s past employees. People you wanted to keep but couldn’t or didn’t.
  6. Focus group Meetings – To gather various perspectives by talking to your company’s employees in a group setting; use primarily to validate (aggregate) insights from data survey and employee surveys
  7. Data Aggregation – Collection and analysis of information from all prior efforts. Including all survey, interviews, focus group materials and collected information.
  8. Presentation – Include summary of interviews and basic conclusions and recommendations.

Potential employee engagement survey add-ons can include:

  • Best Practices (Roadmap) – an internal-facing comprehensive implementation plan designed for leadership inside your company. You’ll want to provide a clear set of directions and best practice approach to implementation across each of the survey areas. And you should position your roadmap around “here’s what we need to do” and “here are the steps to get there”.
  • Guiding Principles (Playbook) – a external-facing playbook designed for branch HR teams, recruiters and hiring managers. Your playbook outlines the best practice approach to work for each of the survey areas. You’ll want to position your playbook around “here’s how we need to do this from now on”.

There are many ways you can slice and dice your survey groups. You could set up your employee engagement survey with the following groups in mind:

  • Top/board level management
  • Senior management (below board level)
  • Middle management
  • First line management/supervisor
  • Professional worker
  • Administration/support
  • Other

Or, you could set it up with the following five (5) dimensions in mind:

  • Person and Process
  • General Attraction
  • Self/Community/Social
  • Financial/Economic
  • Personal Development

Or, you could set it up with the following three (3) dimensions in mind:

  • Head (perceptions of org/leaders, contributions, role fit, etc.)
  • Heart (feelings about org, passion about org, sense of belonging, etc.)
  • Actions (willingness to work/recommend, commitment/intention to stay, etc.)

Or, you could study the employer attributes that influence reputation across a set of value areas. This might include a few questions related to how people found your company, where they found the open jobs, how they got the job, etc.

With this approach, respondents would evaluate each item in the questionnaire through the following question: “How much is this aspect important to you when choosing a new job?” In this example, a five-option Likert scale would be used (1 = not important at all, 5 = very important). Values areas would include:

  • Interest Value
  • Social Value
  • Application Value
  • Economic Value
  • Development Value
  • Market Value
  • Cooperation Value

We recommend a stepwise timeline for conducting the survey, collecting and analyzing data , and delivering results. Your employee engagement survey outline might look something like this:

  • 1a – Online Survey to Employees (Quantitative)
  • 1b – Unstructured Collection of Data (begin with 1a)
  • 2 – One-on-One Interviews (Qualitative)
  • 3 – Focus Groups (Qualitative)
  • 4 – Presentation Development

Because response rates and survey statistical confidence might be a concern, you might want to survey at least 15-30% respondents and use a 3% margin of error with a standard 95% confidence level.

Useful Tool: https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/sample-size-calculator/

You might also consider limiting your respondent burden and limit your employee engagement survey to the following five types of questions:

  • Open-ended text question format – (text box for “Describe your…”; limited use)
  • Multiple choice question format – (“What is your…” Select one)
  • Ordinal scale question format – (“When considering,…please rank”; by importance)
  • Interval scale question format – (“How likely…”; equal agreement strength, likelihood, satisfaction) – Example Agreement Scale = Strongly Agree, Agree, Neither, Agree nor Disagree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree
  • Ratio scale question format – (“How many…”; full range; has true zero)

Remember to lead with a structured approach to collecting the data, including: email/web-based surveys, phone or in-person interviews, and focus groups. At the same time, deploy an unstructured approach to collecting the data, including: employee-initiated feedback, employee reviews on third-party websites (Glassdoor), unsolicited comments across social media (Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook), and so on.


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