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How to Develop and Conduct Employee Surveys

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Staff writer
Business News Daily Staff
Updated Sep 21, 2022

Learn how to create surveys that can improve your employees' satisfaction, engagement and performance.

  • Employee surveys should have clear objectives and actionable questions.
  • Share survey results with your team, and take action on key findings.
  • Conduct lengthy employee surveys annually, with short pulse surveys conducted more frequently.
  • This article is for employers and company leaders who want to improve their businesses through employee surveys.

Businesses should routinely conduct employee surveys to understand critical topics like employee satisfaction and company culture. Surveys give employers a clearer understanding of how employees view the organization, providing valuable information to help improve the office work environment

We’ll explore developing, conducting and analyzing employee surveys so businesses can glean the most information, identify key leaders and create actionable insights.  

Types of employee surveys

Various employee survey types reveal specific information, depending on your goals. For example, do you want to measure employee engagement? Do you want employees’ views on your company culture?

Below are some typical employee surveys that shed light on your organization and team.

  • Annual review survey: This survey is conducted annually to evaluate an employee’s overall performance. The goal is to provide an effective performance review, identify strengths and areas of improvement, create a performance record, and facilitate a professional development path.
  • Company culture survey: This survey measures how well a company’s behavior matches its intended values. Use results to improve leadership strategies, organizational strategies and future investments.
  • Employee engagement survey: This survey measures how valued employees feel by your organization and leadership. Employee engagement surveys are critical for reducing employee turnover.
  • Employee satisfaction survey: This survey measures how content and empowered employees feel. It can cover topics like company policies, job satisfaction, compensation, employee benefits and work-related issues.
  • Exit interview survey: This survey is used when an employee leaves your company; it should remain separate from their personnel file. Use exit interview results to improve your organization and the specific job description and responsibilities for the role being vacated.
  • Management performance survey: This survey is similar to the annual review survey, but it’s for management. Employees take this survey to evaluate leadership performance. The goal is to improve internal communication and increase leadership quality.
  • Onboarding survey: This is given to a new hire after being onboarded. In these new-hire surveys, employees evaluate their overall experience with the recruiting and onboarding processes.
  • Pulse survey: This is a short (five minutes to complete) and frequent (conducted weekly, every few weeks, or monthly) survey that measures an organization’s health. Employees provide quick insights on topics like job responsibilities, satisfaction, communication and work environment.
  • Training survey: After employee training, conduct a training survey to measure the program’s effectiveness. This will help establish effective employee training processes.
  • 360 survey: This survey provides a comprehensive look at how well an employee is performing. The employee and various team members (managers, colleagues, subordinates) take the survey to compile a 360-degree look at the employee’s performance.

Did you know?Did you know?: Other business survey types to help guide your organization include market research surveys, lead generation surveys and brand awareness surveys.

How to develop your employee survey

Developing an employee survey that yields actionable results takes careful planning. You’ll consider several elements, including topic, timing, length, format and questions. You’ll also determine a frequency schedule – especially for repeat surveys – to ensure you adequately gauge your progress.

Follow this five-step process to develop your employee survey:

1. Choose the employee survey topic.

Each survey should have a specific focus and goal. It can be tempting to combine various questions about different aspects of your business into one survey. However, this can confuse employees about the survey’s true purpose and leave you with unactionable results. Survey topics should acknowledge the current state of what’s happening within the company to be relevant to employees.

2. Consider the timing of the employee survey.

Timing is everything. The key to effective survey development is getting employees to think about their recent experiences from a broader perspective. Consider what events are occurring in your organization that you want to learn more about, and prepare corresponding surveys.

Eric Stites, CEO of Franchise Business Review, an organization that researches employee engagement and satisfaction, said surveys should be concise and timely but also allow employees time for reflection on specific events or experiences.

“For example, if you have a day of employee training followed immediately by a training effectiveness survey, you will probably receive much higher ratings than you would if you conducted the survey several weeks or months after the training event, when employees can better reflect on what they did and did not learn and how the training session could be improved,” Stites told Business News Daily.

3. Establish a length and frequency for employee surveys.

A survey can provide essential details about your company. However, choosing only a few survey types most relevant to your business and goals is crucial. For example, conducting an annual review likely won’t tell you enough about your company, while weekly pulse surveys can lead to survey fatigue. 

There is a delicate balance between how often to administer surveys and how long each survey should be.

Sarah Skerik, director of marketing at the employee engagement platform Engagement Multiplier, said that a quarterly cadence of surveys requiring no more than 10 minutes of employees’ time can be optimal for encouraging participation, preventing survey fatigue, and providing leadership with timely and actionable information. 

However, the frequency of your employee surveys should also consider the current climate – like the recent global pandemic. Stites said it’s crucial to survey employees more frequently than the traditional annual employee satisfaction survey of years past.

“Shorter pulse surveys on [a] weekly, biweekly, monthly and quarterly basis can help small businesses better understand the ebbs and flows of the employee experience and help companies be much more nimble in addressing key opportunities and challenges to growth,” said Stites. “And keep in mind that employee surveys are critically important for managers and business owners, as well as providing a voice for your employees.”

Did you know?Did you know?: Surveys can help employees feel heard and valued, leading to high employee morale and decreased turnover.

4. Choose employee survey questions that will yield actionable results.

One of the most essential parts of developing a successful employee survey is determining what questions to ask. Some surveys include a core set of questions to enable a direct comparison of progress over time. Others include customized questions based on timely topics or events. 

To avoid confusion, each question should only have one variable (e.g., don’t use the word “and”). Additionally, asking questions that will result in actionable feedback is important.

The specific questions you ask will depend on your survey goals. To get you started, we’ve compiled a few resources for reference:

5. Select a format for the employee survey.

To receive actionable results for each survey, determine which survey question format to administer. Most companies find multiple choice employee surveys helpful because the uniform responses are easy to compile and analyze. 

You can also use open-ended question surveys, although these can be more difficult to aggregate and collect meaningful data from.

Skerik said Engagement Multiplier uses a mixed approach that combines scoring and invites free-form commentary.

“We find this approach particularly useful for charting organizational progress over time while also ensuring timely ideas and specific feedback can be captured,” said Skerik. “While we use AI to measure sentiment and highlight key themes in the written feedback, we also emphasize the importance for leaders to personally review the survey data related to their team.”

TipTip: Other ways to collect honest employee feedback include regular meetings and lunch events. It’s also helpful to have an open-door policy so your team feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas.

How to conduct your employee survey

Consider the following best practices for conducting your employee survey: 

  • Clearly communicate its purpose to your team. Determine the answers to the following questions: What is the survey meant to accomplish? What follow-up steps will be taken after the survey is completed and analyzed? What is the projected timeline of events? 
  • Encourage participation. Emphasize the objectives and importance of the exercise to encourage employees to participate.
  • Emphasize anonymity. Communicate that the employee survey is anonymous. Anonymous surveys generate more candid employee feedback. To ensure anonymity, you can use a third-party system or partner to facilitate the survey (e.g., SurveyMonkey, SurveySparrow, QuestionPro).
  • Share key findings. Perhaps the most critical part of conducting an effective survey is what happens after it’s completed. “Sharing key findings of the survey in a timely fashion is critical for future survey engagement,” said Stites. “Better yet, involving employees in the action planning to address survey findings helps build engagement and facilitates change management, as employees will feel that they are part of the solution.”

Engagement Multiplier created a six-step process to maximize the effectiveness of employee surveys: 

  1. Explain results and themes. Share the results and key themes of the survey with your employees.
  2. Select action items. Pick three elements from the survey results for which you can show measurable progress over a reasonable period, and communicate those three things to the team. This step may involve setting key performance indicators (KPIs).
  3. Institute improvements. Focus on improving those three things, and keep the team updated on progress. 
  4. Assess the impact of changes. Provide an end-of-quarter report before resurveying the team to gather feedback on the impact of the changes. 
  5. Resurvey the team. Conduct another employee survey. 
  6. Rinse and repeat. Follow the process for continual improvement.

Importance of employee surveys

Employee surveys can tell you much about your organization and its functions. Effective surveys provide actionable insights to improve your business. 

To help you better understand how vital employee surveys are, we identified the key benefits for employers and employees:

1. Anonymous employee surveys give employees a voice.

One of the most critical benefits of employee surveys is that employees can voice how they truly feel about what’s happening within the organization. Although regular check-ins can be helpful for continuous feedback, many employees are afraid to voice negative opinions out of fear of repercussions.

Anonymous surveys give employees an outlet to be truthful, subsequently impacting other aspects of your business, such as: 

  • Improving workplace culture
  • Creating more open and transparent management
  • Improving peer relations 
  • Forming long-term career growth opportunities 

“Having a voice and the ability to openly share your personal perspective empowers employees and helps support self-worth, which has a huge trickle-down effect on fellow employees and customers,” said Stites. “High employee satisfaction and engagement help drive high customer satisfaction and engagement, which leads to better financial performance for the company and ultimately more financial and career advancement opportunities for employees.”

2. Surveys get your employees thinking critically.

It’s common for employees to get so focused on their everyday tasks that they lose sight of big-picture objectives. Stites said well-designed survey questions can get participants to think about a situation or experience more broadly than they would in face-to-face conversations with managers and other employees. This type of critical thinking can result in the identification of key issues and solutions.

3. Surveys can improve employee performance and reduce turnover.

According to Skerik, a well-constructed employee survey can act as an early-warning system for organizational difficulties. It can indicate when teams are falling out of alignment or when disengagement is setting in.

“A properly executed employee survey provides the business with the truth about what’s really going on in the business and what employees are really thinking, and provides insights leaders otherwise wouldn’t have,” she added.

When you catch these internal issues early, your team leaders can resolve them before they become unmanageable, enhancing your employees’ experience, improving employee performance and reducing employee turnover. 

4. Surveys help identify key leaders.

Just as employee surveys can help identify areas for improvement within your organization, they can also help identify what – or who – is doing well. For example, positive employee engagement results can point to strong leadership within that team, and high management performance surveys can indicate which managers are doing a great job. You can also determine the effectiveness of various leadership styles.

5. Surveys provide you with actionable next steps.

When implemented correctly, employee surveys provide your organization with key information on your next steps. Skerik said surveys should provide a holistic view of the business appropriate for different managerial levels.

“Senior leaders should be able to see the big picture,” she said. “Department heads and team managers should be able to see the feedback from their areas of responsibility.”

With this feedback, team leaders can create an action plan to resolve problems and continue implementing whatever strategies are working well. Continually surveying employees (and recording the results) can give you a clear picture of where your company is and where you want to be.

Did you know?Did you know?: Employee surveys allow you to keep employees engaged, combat workplace burnout, and ultimately attract and retain the best employees.

Build and grow from your employees’ feedback

You might think your top priority as a small business owner is maximizing customer satisfaction to boost sales. That’s true – but it’s only one part of the picture. When your employees are satisfied, they’ll be more engaged and productive, meaning they’ll do better work. And that’s a conduit to customer satisfaction. Through employee surveys, you can build inward to build outward.

Max Freedman contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Image Credit: MangoStar_Studio / Getty Images
Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Business News Daily Staff
Skye Schooley is a human resources writer at business.com and Business News Daily, where she has researched and written more than 300 articles on HR-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and HR technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products and services that help business owners run a smoother human resources department, such as HR software, PEOs, HROs, employee monitoring software and time and attendance systems, Skye investigates and writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.