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How to Develop and Conduct Employee Surveys

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley

Learn how to create employee 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 the key findings.
  • Lengthy employee surveys can be conducted annually, with short pulse surveys conducted more frequently.
  • This article is for employers and company leaders who want to improve their business through employee surveys.

To take the pulse on important topics like employee satisfaction and company culture, businesses should routinely conduct employee surveys. Surveys give employers a better understanding of how their employees view what is happening within the organization and provide insight on what can be improved. To get the most out of your surveys, it is important to understand how they should be developed, conducted and analyzed, as well as how each type can benefit your business.  

Types of employee surveys

There are several types of employee surveys you can give depending on what information you are trying to learn about your team. For example, do you want to find out how engaged your employees are? Do you want to learn their views on your company culture?

Here are some of the most common employee surveys:

  • Annual review survey: This survey is conducted once a year to evaluate an employee's overall performance. The goal is to provide employees with useful feedback about their job performance, create a historical record of their performance and facilitate a path for professional development.
  • Company culture survey: This survey is designed to measure how well a company's behavior matches its intended values. Results can be used to improve leadership strategies, organizational strategies and future investments.
  • Employee engagement survey: This survey measures how valued employees feel by your organization and leadership. This is especially important 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 and should remain separate from their personnel file. The results can be used to improve your organization and the specific job description/responsibilities for the role that is being vacated.
  • Management performance survey: This survey is similar to the annual review survey, but for management. Employees will take this survey to evaluate how they feel their leadership is performing. The goal is to improve internal communication and increase leadership quality.
  • Onboarding survey: This is given to a new hire after being onboarded. The employee evaluates their overall experience with the recruiting and onboarding process.
  • Pulse survey: This is a short (five minutes to complete) and frequent (conducted weekly, every few weeks or monthly) survey that measures the health of an organization. Employees provide quick insight on topics like job responsibilities, satisfaction, communication and work environment.
  • Training survey: When some form of training is done, you can conduct a training survey to see how effective the process was. This will help establish the best ways to teach your employees.
  • 360 survey: This survey provides a comprehensive look at how well an employee is performing. The employee, as well as a variety of their team members (e.g., managers, colleagues, subordinates), take the survey to compile a 360-degree look at the employee's performance.

Key takeaway: There are a wide range of surveys you can give employees. The most common surveys measure employee engagement, satisfaction and culture.

How to develop your employee survey

Developing an employee survey that yields actionable results takes careful planning. There are a few elements to each survey that must be considered: the topic, timing, length, format and questions. You also want to determine a frequency schedule – especially for repeat surveys – to ensure you are getting an adequate gauge on your progress.

1. Choose the 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 true purpose of the survey and leave you with unactionable results. To be relevant to employees, survey topics should acknowledge the current state of what is happening within the company.

2. Consider the timing.

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 (FBR), an organization that researches employee engagement and satisfaction, said surveys should be concise and timely, but also allow employees time for reflection on certain 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.

A survey can provide important details about your company. But, it's important to only choose a few survey types that are most relevant to your business and goals. For example, while only conducting an annual review likely won't tell you enough about your company, conducting weekly pulse surveys can lead to survey fatigue. There is a delicate balance of how often to administer surveys, as well as how long each survey should be.

Sarah Skerik, the head 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 take into account the current climate – like the recent global pandemic. Stites said it is important to survey employees more frequently than the traditional annual employee satisfaction survey of years past.

"Shorter pulse surveys on 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."

4. Choose questions that will yield actionable results.

Perhaps one of the most important 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, and some 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, it's important to ask questions that will result in feedback that can be acted upon.

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

5. Select a survey format.

To receive actionable results for each survey, determine what survey question format to administer. Most companies find multiple choice employee surveys to be the most helpful since 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."

Key takeaway: To develop an employee survey, determine the topic, timing, length, frequency, format and actionable questions.

How to conduct your employee survey

Before conducting an employee survey, clearly communicate its purpose to your team. 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? Emphasize the objectives and importance of the exercise to encourage employees to participate.

Additionally, employers should 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).

Perhaps the most important part of conducting an effective survey is what happens after it is 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 for employers to conduct effective surveys: 

  1. Share the results and key themes of the survey with your employees. 
  2. Pick three things from the survey results for which you will be able to show measurable progress over a reasonable period and communicate those three things to the team. 
  3. Focus on improving those three things, and keep the team updated on progress.  
  4. Provide an end-of-quarter report, prior to re-surveying the team, to gather feedback on the impact of the changes. 
  5. Re-survey the team. 
  6. Rinse and repeat.  

Key takeaway: Before conducting an employee survey, emphasize its importance, objectives, and anonymity; after an employee survey, communicate the results and create a course of action.

Importance of employee surveys

Employee surveys can tell you a lot about your organization and how it is functioning. Effective surveys provide actionable insights that can be used to improve your business. To help you better understand how important employee surveys are, we identified the key benefits for both employers and employees.

Anonymous employee surveys give employees a voice.

Perhaps one of the most important benefits of employee surveys is the ability for employees to voice how they truly feel about what is happening within the organization. Although regular check-ins can be useful 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, which can subsequently impact other aspects of your business, like improving workplace culture, creating more open and transparent management, improving peer relations and 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."

Surveys get your employees thinking critically.

It is common for employees to get so focused on their everyday tasks that they start to 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 otherwise 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/or solutions.

Surveys can improve employee performance and reduce turnover.

According to Skerik, well-constructed employee surveys can act as early-warning systems for difficulties within the organization. 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 on, your team leaders can resolve them before they become unmanageable, which can enhance your employees' experience, improve employee performance, and reduce employee turnover. 

Surveys help to identify key leaders.

Just as employee surveys can help identify what needs to be improved within your organization, they can also help to 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.

Surveys provide you with actionable next steps.

When implemented correctly, employee surveys provide your organization with key information on what your next steps should be. Skerik said surveys should provide a holistic view of the business that's appropriate for differing levels of managers.

"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 key feedback, team leaders can create a plan of action to resolve any problems, as well as 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.

Key takeaway: Employee surveys give employees a voice, identify key areas to improve, and enhance your employees' overall experience and performance.

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley,
Business News Daily Writer
See Skye Schooley's Profile
Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. She received a business communication degree from Arizona State University and spent a few years traveling internationally, before finally settling down in the greater New York City area. She currently writes for business.com and Business News Daily, primarily contributing articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviewing categories such as remote PC access software, collection agencies, background check services, web hosting, reputation management services, cloud storage, and website design software and services.