Employee Engagement Survey: Everything You Need to Know

Creating, achieving, and maintaining employee engagement begins with understanding employee feedback. Identifying levels of engagement in your organization helps leaders and managers impact the performance of your employees.

Improving engagement has been known to have a direct effect on business metrics including productivity, turnover, and sales. But before you can start achieving business success you’ll need to know how to improve it.

This is where employee engagement surveys come into play.

employee engagement survey software



What is an employee engagement survey?


An employee engagement survey is implemented organization-wide, includes all employees, and occurs annually.

The annual engagement survey is a traditional approach to measuring employee engagement across the organization. This type of survey is especially helpful in identifying overall engagement trends and creating benchmarks to track nuances over time.


9 elements of an employee engagement survey


1. They are confidential.

With some employee surveys, it makes sense to gather attributed feedback. But comprehensive employee engagement surveys should protect the identity of individual employees and aggregate data for a full, company-wide view. When these surveys are confidential your employees are more likely to respond openly and honestly—and your response rate will be higher.


2. They serve as a learning tool. 

It’s not always easy to uncover issues within your organization, let alone be able to correct them. Engagement surveys give employers insight into what is engaging (and disengaging) employees so they can make informed decisions about how to move forward.


3. They are comprehensive.

Employee engagement surveys should accurately measure all elements of employee engagement including work, team, and organizational engagement.


4. They give employees a voice.

Giving employees a voice is an important part of improving employee engagement. Surveying allows every employee the opportunity to share their opinions and be heard by managers and leaders.


5. They are unique to your organization.

When possible, employee engagement surveys should be customized to include questions that fit the unique needs of your organization. An example might be including questions about change management if you’re a fast-growing organization. Doing so ensures your data is valuable and relevant.


6. They are convenient.

Surveys are a much easier way to distribute, complete, collect, and analyze employee feedback. Add in a user-friendly survey technology and your feedback efforts will be much easier.


7. They are actionable.

One of the most important parts of surveying employees is taking action on their feedback. Engagement surveys provide the information needed to understand what areas need to be addressed to improve engagement over time.


8. They encourage accountability.

Employee engagement surveys help hold organizations accountable for their employees’ overall engagement and success. Everyone plays an important part in improving engagement and employees at all levels can help you achieve success.


9. They generate benchmarks.

Creating a point of reference for organizations to measure success can help improve engagement year over year and against competitors in the space.


What does an employee engagement survey measure?

Everyone inside an organization plays a role in engagement. But not everyone is engaged or motivated in the same way.

Measuring employee engagement helps you gain insight into employee opinions about organizational successes and opportunities for improvement. Leveraging key drivers of engagement allow HR leaders to simplify where they should focus.

One philosophy of measurement is the e9 model, which measures the strength of employee engagement at three different structural levels:

  • How connected employees are to their work.
  • How connected employees are to their team.
  • How connected employees are to their organization.


Types of employee surveys

Traditional employee engagement surveys may only occur once a year, but this shouldn’t be the only way you collect employee feedback. The most common types of employee surveys include:


Comprehensive engagement surveys 

An organization-wide survey that measures and benchmarks levels of employee engagement across the organization.


Pulse surveys

Frequent and lightweight, pulse surveys can be about any topic, launched at any time, to any audience.


Lifecycle surveys

These include onboarding, new hire, and exit surveys that measure an employee’s engagement throughout their tenure.


Beyond the annual employee engagement survey

Engagement surveys provide a comprehensive view of an organization’s strengths, opportunities, and an understanding of what drives engagement. While the purpose of these surveys has shifted over the years, annual engagement surveys are an important first step to designing a continuous listening strategy.

Beyond giving employees a voice, surveying employees about critical topics in the workplace can make them feel like they are an important part of the larger organizational makeup and mission.




Why do an employee engagement survey?


Employee engagement surveys help organizations measure employee engagement across the organization. But why do employee engagement surveys matter?

An engagement survey is a crucial part of your overall employee listening strategy. It’s nearly impossible for every employer to sit down and have an intimate conversation with each employee. Your engagement survey is a simple medium in which employees can converse with leaders and voice their thoughts and feelings about their work experience.

Employee engagement surveys (and the insights and strategies that come from them) have a huge impact on business success too. With trending data, market benchmarks, and robust reporting, an engagement survey helps you:

  • Understand where your company excels
  • Shed light on where you need to improve
  • Give every employee a voice
  • Help connect the dots between employee engagement and your bottom line
  • Build employee trust
  • Compare and contrast among different employee groups
  • Drive meaningful action and smarter people decisions
  • Manage constant change
  • Help you cultivate a competitive culture




Who should I include in an employee engagement survey?


Organizations that are new to employee engagement surveys often wonder exactly who they should ask for feedback. The answer is simple: every employee voice matters.

Every employee—regardless of age, tenure, position, or any other demographic—makes up your unified workforce, and their engagement level directly impacts the overall success of your organization. If you don’t survey everyone, you risk:


Inaccurate results

Surveying only part of your employee population will lead to partial insight into what’s driving employee engagement. You’ll waste time and resources collecting incomplete data and developing less-than-stellar engagement strategies.


Decreased engagement

If you don’t give everyone the opportunity to give their feedback, you might actually decrease engagement. You’re sending the message that not everyone’s feedback is valued—and, as a result of the feedback, you might implement new strategies that are only of interest to the few and not the whole.


The exception to the rule: New hires. We recommend excluding employees hired within the last 30 days from your survey. These employees often don't have enough experience in the workplace to honestly share feedback on the topics you’re asking about—but they should be involved in post-survey action.




When should I do an employee engagement survey?


When shaping a survey strategy, it's common to wonder how often employee engagement surveys be conducted. Because employee opinions change, it’s important to ask for feedback regularly. Leveraging your employee engagement survey, paired with frequent pulses and lifecycle surveys, will help you keep a pulse on your organization. But before you determine your strategy for collecting feedback, you’ll want to establish the frequency of your organization-wide engagement survey.


3 ways to avoid employee survey fatigue

By now you know how important it is to survey your employees, but how frequently should employee engagement surveys be conducted? Survey fatigue can occur when you’re sending surveys to the same audience too frequently. To prevent this, we’ve developed some best practices.


1. Start with an annual engagement survey.

Organizations that conduct an annual engagement survey experience greater year-over-year increases in engagement than those surveying less frequently. Surveying annually gives you a baseline of engagement levels across your organization that you can track year-over-year.


2. Only measure what you can act on.

If you can’t take action, don’t ask about it. And if you do ask your employees for feedback, be prepared to act. Your focus between surveys should shift to what actions you can take based on the data.


3. Consider frequent pulse surveys.

To follow up on the steps or actions you’ve taken to improve engagement, more frequent pulse surveys may be valuable. If you’ve committed to improving manager-employee communication, a pulse survey could be used to follow-up six months after the initial survey.




How should I design my employee engagement survey?


Once you’ve decided that an engagement survey is the right tool for your organization, you’ll want to build a survey that asks the right questions, to the right people, at the right time.

If you’re looking for a best practice engagement survey or a custom solution that fits your organization’s needs—we want to help you understand the ins and outs of an engagement survey so you can design your survey effectively.

In this section, we’ll cover our expert recommendations for designing and building an effective and valuable survey.


1. Determine your goal.

Understanding what you want to measure and who you’re measuring from is key to getting the right questions asked. It may be helpful to think about this element in terms of the answers you are hoping to collect. You might want to better understand feedback to:

  • Attract and retain top performers
  • Navigate a merger or acquisition
  • Ensure employees are engaged and agile in a high-growth or face-paced company

Either way, determining the goal and objectives of this survey will help you gather more valuable employee data rather than focusing on achieving a better engagement score.


2. Identify how you’ll build and distribute your survey.

It’s clear that engagement surveys can be robust and comprehensive tools for gathering a range of feedback across a variety of employee demographics. To avoid overwhelming respondents, follow these guidelines:

Keep it simple. Select specific, valuable, and measurable topics and simplify the language so that it’s easy for employees to understand and complete.

Take it for a test run. Have an internal group take the survey to look for errors or inconsistencies before rolling out to all employees.

Use consistent and inclusive questions. Use scaled items when possible and provide options that anyone could respond to.

Communicate. Share the purpose or reason why respondents should participate and describe how you’ll follow up once the survey period is closed.


3. Keep your survey focused on engagement.

The overall purpose of an employee engagement survey is to measure the connection employees have toward their organization and examine the factors that influence it. While it might be tempting to use the opportunity to combine multiple employee surveys or questions or dive deep into a particular topic, this can confuse employees about the purpose and make it more difficult to take action on employee feedback.


4. Check your survey length.

The length of your survey usually determines the time it will take your employees to complete it, as well as the amount of valuable survey feedback you’ll have to take action on. The most effective employee engagement surveys include 30-40 questions. This length allows you to cover all of the necessary topics without taking up too much of your employees’ time.



What are the best employee engagement survey questions?


Your employee engagement survey questions should include a mix of engagement outcomes and potential impact questions.

Engagement outcomes provide you with a robust measure of an organizational, team, and work engagement. Examples of engagement outcomes include:

  • I recommend this organization as a great place to work.
  • It would take a lot to get me to leave this organization.
  • My immediate coworkers consistently go the extra mile to achieve great results.
  • I enjoy doing my work.
  • I clearly understand how my performance is measured.

Impact questions should cover important topics that help you assess which areas have the biggest impact on engagement at your organization. Topics should include: 

  • Career growth and development
  • Change management
  • Future outlook
  • Individual needs
  • Innovation
  • Manager effectiveness
  • Team dynamics
  • Trust in leadership

Engagement Outcomes

Impact Questions


Assess the current health of your organization.

Assess which areas have the biggest impact on engagement.


A robust measure of organization, team, and work engagement.

A specific look at where you should focus your efforts to improve.



Check out these blog posts for more employee survey question inspiration:


How should I approach employee engagement survey communication?


Communication can make or break the success of your engagement efforts. In order to be effective it should be concise, repetitive, and diverse. Keep reading to understand how to:

  • Develop your survey communication plan
  • Increase your survey response rate
  • Continue communication year-round


Developing your employee engagement survey communication plan

Communication is perhaps one of the most overlooked and under-executed elements of the survey process. Done well, your employee engagement survey communication can:

  • Increase survey participation 
  • Build employee trust
  • Encourage open and honest feedback
  • Lead to positive organizational change

Poor communication, on the other hand, can result in damaging and costly consequences, such as low response rates, distrust, confusion, decreased morale, and disengagement.

When communication spikes around your survey, it turns it into an event instead of a year-round, continuous listening strategy. Use these tips to communicate before, during, and after the survey—but avoid making it the only time employees hear about engagement.


How do I increase my survey response rate?

Engagement surveys, like any other organizational initiative, take up precious time, energy, and resources. They’re an investment—one that you can’t afford to take lightly.

Naturally, you’ll want your survey response rate to be high. But also be realistic. A good response rate is usually somewhere between:

  • 70-80% for larger organizations (more than 500 employees)
  • 80-90% for smaller organizations (less than 500 employees) 

If your response rate is low, you might be wondering how to increase employee engagement survey participation.

Here’s how to get people to take a survey:


1. Make a formal announcement—and communicate regularly.

Announce the engagement survey, its purpose, and details about timeline and confidentiality. But don’t stop there. Communicate about the survey in all-company meetings, invitation emails, reminder memos, staff meetings, 1-on-1 meetings, and in your work environment.


2. Frame your communication with an employee-first lens.

Let employees know you value their voices and opinions. Even before the survey launch, provide real examples of feedback that led to your decision to choose an engagement survey.


3. Carve out designated survey-taking time.

Carve out time specifically for your employees to take the survey. Give them 15-30 minutes to complete the survey without cutting into lunch or personal hours.


4. Hold managers accountable.

Make sure managers can clearly and confidently communicate about the survey and its purpose—and hold them accountable for getting their teams to participate.


5. Communicate the importance of high participation.

Let employees know that a high response rate means that: 

  • More voices will be heard
  • Data will be more accurate
  • Results will be more meaningful 
  • Changes made will be tailored to employee needs and concerns


6. Prioritize changes based on feedback.

Explain what you will do with the data once the survey is complete. Ensure that you make changes from the results and that you communicate decisions, priorities, and plans broadly and clearly. If employees see their feedback matters, they'll be more likely to share it (and participate in your surveys) again.


Tips for your employee engagement survey communication plan

Effectively communicating your intentions, schedule, and expectations for the survey is vital to ensuring the maximum impact of your efforts. We recommend a 3x3x3 model for survey communication, including:

  • 3x prior to survey launch
  • 3x during the survey period
  • 3x after the survey closes


How to communicate prior to survey launch


About a month before launch...

Make a formal announcement about the survey. This announcement should ideally come from your CEO. Remind employees what you did with last year’s results and tell them how you plan to use them this year. Let them know how and when the survey will be launched, including any details about your survey partner.


A few weeks before the survey launch...

Get your leaders and managers on board. You’ll need their help driving survey participation and encouraging honest responses. Show them how they will benefit from the survey and the positive impact it will have on their teams.


A couple of days before the survey launch...

Send a quick reminder email to get employees excited for the survey, and to reinforce your intentions.

employee engagement survey communication


How to communicate during the survey period

Once the survey opens, you’ll want to make sure all employees know how to access the survey. But don’t overdo it with your communications here. You don’t want employees to feel like the survey is mandatory—but you do want to keep the enthusiasm going. We recommend:

  • A survey invitation email on the day of the launch
  • A reminder email 1-2x per week after the launch
  • A last-chance survey reminder 2-3 days before the survey closes


How to communicate employee engagement survey results

Once your employee engagement survey results are in, thank your employees for their participation and let them know what to expect next. Send out a high-level overview as soon as possible with a summary of key findings. Some results to share might include:

  • Survey response rate
  • Overall favorability
  • % engaged vs % disengaged
  • Top and bottom items or categories

Once you’ve shared your survey results, managers can share detailed results back to their teams. Managers should use this time to openly and transparently discuss strengths and areas of opportunities with their teams. They should ask questions to dig deeper, encourage the team to own the challenges and solutions, and align on the next steps as a team.



Be open

Guilt trip employees for their responses

Be objective

Debate who’s right and who’s wrong

Be clear

Try to change employee opinions

Be inviting

Plead the organization’s case

Ask for questions

Play “who said what”




How should I analyze survey data?


Your employee engagement survey results are in. Now what? Where do you start? It’s time for your employee engagement survey analysis. We’ve got tips!


Understand your high-level results.

Review the survey response rate.

A good survey response rate is anywhere between 70-80% or larger organizations (500+ employees) and 80-90% for smaller organizations (<500 employees).

If your organization’s survey response rate is at or above average, that’s great. If it’s below average or has declined since your last engagement survey, make sure employees understand how their feedback is being used to make your organization better. This can inspire more employees to participate in the future.


Evaluate favorability.

Understanding favorability gives you a high-level view of your organization’s engagement. Overall favorability is the combination of responses that are either “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” across all survey questions. An overall favorability of 70% or higher is healthy.


Understand your organization’s drivers of engagement.

Your drivers of engagement are your organization’s custom recipe for improving engagement. These are the survey questions that have the biggest impact on your organization’s engagement levels. Understand which drivers are most favorable. Have any improved since the last survey? Keep the momentum going on these drivers. Identify drivers that are least favorable or that have decreased since the last survey. These are areas of opportunity.


Level-up your analysis.

Compare this year’s results to your last survey.

By adding a comparison, you can easily see which survey question results stayed the same or changed since your last survey. Do the questions that improved align with recent engagement efforts? Are the questions that declined related to any organizational changes or challenges that might have impacted employee perceptions? For a deeper understanding, read through the comments and listen to your employees further in focus groups and results meetings.


Understand how your feedback compares to other organizations.

If you’re working with a survey provider, find one that allows you to compare employee feedback to external benchmarks. If feedback on a particular survey question is more favorable than the benchmark, you may have a strength that your competitors do not. If feedback on a question is below average, you may have a unique challenge to tackle.


Examine group-level differences inside your organization.

Slice and dice your data to compare different demographics within your organization. This can help you understand where perceptions overlap or differ. You may find some groups are very favorable on certain questions—learn their best practices and share them with other teams inside your organization. On the flip side, you may find other groups who are lagging behind—understand their challenges to get them better set up for success.


Review open-ended comments to gather context.

Open-ended survey questions give employees an opportunity to share examples and context. These comments can help you better understand the numeric data trends.




How do I develop an employee engagement action plan?


In some organizations, the closing of their survey represents the conclusion of employee engagement efforts until next year. Survey results are delivered but no action is taken and employee engagement remains stagnant or declines. Bottom line—if results aren’t acted on, there’s little reason to survey.


What to do with employee engagement survey results

When thinking about how to improve engagement in your organization, it can be helpful to address areas of improvement at the organizational, team, or individual levels. Choose one or two areas that you want to improve and take action.

Here’s a roadmap you can follow to determine your employee engagement action plan.


1. Share results with teams.

Encourage planning within individual teams or departments. With a local action planning approach, most employees will see the impact their voice has on driving change within their teams and shaping their day to day work.


2. Empower managers to take action.

Equip managers to support your initiatives by giving them access to their teams’ survey results. This puts them in a better position to understand team dynamics, create action plans for problem areas, and retain high-performing employees.


3. Encourage teams to discuss results.

Teams should gather to discuss which questions were rated lowest and highest with their managers. Collaborate to identify two or three areas on which to focus. The more invested employees feel in a plan, the more likely they are to follow through. Encourage employees to share ideas about how to make improvements.


4. Make and implement decisions.

Taking action can seem overwhelming, especially if the long-term goal involves major changes. To make the process more manageable, break up larger initiatives into smaller steps for multiple individuals, ensuring all stakeholders are involved and accountable. The best action plans are those that shift the way you do things to be more sustainable rather than add new things to your plate. Ask yourself:

  • How can we shift how we share information so employees have more opportunity to ask questions?
  • How can we shift our team meetings to allow time for peer recognition?


5. Check-in and evaluate.

Have managers schedule team meetings to revisit strategies and determine whether the team’s initial goals are attainable and the agreed-upon actions are working. Ask your employees if they’re seeing change. If the adjustments don’t seem to be working, discuss alternative actions.


6. Update your goal progress.

Hold all stakeholders accountable by publicly posting team goals and routinely updating progress. Check-in with each employee to ensure they’re making adequate strides. Celebrate small wins to motivate the team and keep things moving forward.



Choosing the right employee engagement survey software


To really reap the benefits of an employee engagement survey you need to have a tool that helps you ask the right questions, at the right time. Employee engagement survey software can help you start making a difference by making sense of your complex employee needs.

Finding the right employee engagement survey software involves extensive research, leadership buy-in, and a true understanding of your organization’s wants and needs. For such a big decision it's important to not just shop for software, but a solution.

Take the time to examine your organization’s strategic objectives and choose a partner that brings you closer to achieving those goals—now and in the future. Consider these elements when choosing your employee engagement survey vendor:


1. Quick and efficient survey launch timeline.

An employee engagement survey is just one of many items on your checklist—so your survey partner should be respectful of your time and reduce the amount of time you spend launching your survey.


2. Ability to monitor and impact employee participation rates.

Your survey partner should provide you with best practices, tips, and templates for effectively communicating about your survey, monitoring progress in real-time, and following up on survey results.


3. Responsive customer service and tech support.

Your partner should be clear and responsive about progress on your launch, timeline, and questions or concerns along the way.

Here are a few questions to use to evaluate your partner:

  • What kind of tech support do we receive?
  • Can we upgrade to additional support if we need it?
  • When I have a question, when should I expect a response?
  • Can my employees contact your support line if needed?


4. Robust online survey and reporting platform.

Archaic and inefficient reporting will hold your organization back from responding and acting on employee feedback in a timely fashion. Your survey partner should provide an online system that makes it easy for your leaders to:

  • Quickly access and sort employee data
  • Build, customize, and launch surveys and reports
  • Compare results to companies in your industry
  • Sort survey questions to surface key themes
  • Filter by demographic to uncover employee sentiments


5. Best practices and training to feel confident using the software.

Your survey vendor should offer training and resources to identify where to focus your efforts and create action plans. The better equipped your team is when it comes to using the tools, interpreting data, and taking action, the faster you can create an engaged workplace.


6. Supports for a continuous employee listening strategy.

Your survey partner should provide a variety of listening opportunities to support your organization’s unique engagement strategy, including:

  • Pulse surveys
  • New hire/onboarding surveys
  • Engagement surveys
  • Exit surveys


7. Benchmarks against organizations nationwide.

Employer brand and organizational growth are driven by a high-performance culture. Your survey partner should allow you to benchmark your survey results against the best places to work nationwide to understand how your organization measures up.


8. HRIS integration.

All administrative information about your employees should be able to link up with their engagement data. An HRIS integration helps maintain accurate data in real-time for the rest of your internal applications, organizational structure shifts, and more.


9. Coaching and support for managers.

Your survey partner should provide best practice templates, expert advice, and triggered alerts to coach managers to follow-up on survey results. Look for a partner that provides training, resources, and a simple manager dashboard that includes features like:

  • Engagement drivers analysis
  • Survey item breakdowns
  • Heat maps and comment analysis
  • Simplified and customized reports


10. Continued innovation and product enhancements.

Your survey partner should have a critical vision for what’s next in employee engagement and continuously share those ideas and resources with you. They should be just as invested in helping your employees, teams, and organization be successful as you are.

Employee engagement surveys are a great first step to measure, understand, and drive employee success. Continually and consistently listening to your employees will not only help guide your engagement initiatives, but help you build employee trust, empower managers, and improve your workplace culture.



To hit the ground running with your continuous employee listening strategy, download our ebook, The Complete Guide to Conducting an Employee Engagement Survey.

The Complete Guide to Conducting an Employee Engagement Survey


Published June 16, 2020 | Written By Anne Maltese