The truth about employee engagement surveys

When, how and why you should run one – plus 4 smart alternatives.

IM Flash Technologies, a semiconductor factory with a large frontline workforce, was struggling with its worst turnover in decades.

As a last resort, they turned to employee engagement surveys.

Senior leaders spent the next year collecting insights and making the changes their employees asked for.

By the next year, they’d reduced turnover by 50%.

Clear, actionable data is the key to making informed decisions about your workplace culture and communication: the good, the bad – and the ugly.

And what’s your best bet to get this data? Extract it straight from the source: your people.

Senior managers have been using the trusty annual employee engagement survey for the past 30+ to ask workers how they really feel.

And fair enough. When done right, an annual employee survey can get you some solid insights. But it’s not going to cut it in today’s world. At least not on its own.  

In this post, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of conducting an employee engagement survey, why it may or may not work for your company, and the employee survey alternatives you can start using right away. 

What is an employee engagement survey? 

An annual employee engagement survey is a set of questions shared with workers once a year. The answers help gauge employee sentiment, identify issues, and contribute to (possible) solutions. 

mployee engagement is crucial for any organization’s growth. Teams with highly engaged members sell over 20% more than groups with low engagement, according to a PeopleMetrics study. Engaged workers have the potential to get your company more customers, while disengaged workers increase expenses and reduce profits. 

So an annual employee engagement survey measures the extent to which workers feel valued at your organization. 

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of how you’d typically go about conducting a yearly employee engagement survey in an organization. 

How to run an employee engagement survey

Figure out your goal

Before creating and distributing a survey to your workers, you need a crystal clear idea of what you want to measure and why. This will help you generate the right questions and get data you can actually use. 

For example, your purpose for conducting an annual employee engagement survey could be:

Plan your survey questions

Asking great questions is the key to getting to the heart of workplace issues. The right questions will get better answers from workers. And the better responses you get, the easier for your company to identify areas of improvement. 

Here are the best questions for an annual employee engagement survey. These are a baseline – but a solid one!

  • What is your favorite thing about working at our company?
  • What is your least favorite thing about working at our company?
  • What’s the most important thing we should do to make things better at our company?
  • Do you feel like a valued member of our company or just a number? Why?
  • What can we do to foster better internal communication at our company?
  • Do you get constructive feedback from your seniors on a regular basis?
  • Do you see your career growing in this company?
  • Is the number of tasks assigned to you reasonable?
  • Are you satisfied with our rewards and recognition policies?

Don’t overwhelm your readers

If you conduct an employee engagement survey only once a year, it’s tempting to combine multiple surveys or ask a wide range of questions. 

Give in to this temptation, and you’ll likely end up with a survey that confuses workers and doesn’t generate actionable feedback. 

That’s not what you want, right? So keep it simple. Only include the most important and specific topics to keep your survey from turning into an SAT exam. And make sure to use plain language that all the employees can easily understand. 

Ideally, your survey should include around 30 questions. Go more than 40 and it’s overkill. 30-40 questions are just enough to cover all the key aspects as per your objective without putting too much burden on the workers.

Build and distribute your survey

The next step is execution. How will you create the survey and share it with the employees? The good news is there are many intuitive tools at your disposal. Take Blink for example.  

Our employee experience platform helps you share anonymous polls and surveys with your employees. These surveys get high completion rates and honest feedback. 

All you need to do is create your form with a 3rd-party application such as Google Forms, Survey Monkey, or Typeform. Once your form is ready, simply copy its URL and add it to the Hub.  

Promote, promote, promote!

Now comes the fun part — getting workers to fill the survey. Just like charity begins at home, survey advocacy begins with senior management. Here are the key steps that will help maximize the reach of your annual employee engagement survey. 

  • Get the senior leaders and managers to complete the survey first. This way, you can get feedback on the overall experience of filling the survey. So you can make any amends, if needed, before sharing the survey with the whole workforce.
  • Use an employee communication app to provide resources that may come in handy when a worker sits down to complete a survey. 
  • Promote the survey at every opportunity. Boost participation by mentioning the survey in employee newsletters, posting flyers, announcing prizes, and reminding workers about the survey in meetings and conferences.

Are annual employee engagement surveys dead?

Now you know how to conduct surveys. But you should also know that an annual employee engagement survey has certain shortcomings. 

An annual employee engagement survey can help gauge your work culture only to some extent. So when used on its own, it’s not the best way to learn more about your employees. Often, it may not reveal any solid insights into your organization’s core issues.

Before you decide on planning a survey, also consider the drawbacks below.

It’s impersonal

An annual employee engagement survey, by its nature, is a cold way to get feedback. When you send a set of questions once a year to be answered by your workers, the unspoken message they may hear is: 

“We want your inputs, but only in a certain format and confined to the questions we have developed. We’re not attempting to build or nurture a relationship or anything! Don’t think too much and just check a few boxes. No big deal!”

An annual employee engagement survey can make workers feel that their employer doesn’t take feedback seriously. So neither should they. 

It doesn’t provide valuable data

An annual employee engagement survey doesn’t encourage honest feedback. Many of the workers may not trust the system. They might think that being too honest in an annual employee engagement survey – like slamming their manager – can get them in trouble.

It relies on fluffy metrics 

HBR once reported in a case study that United Parcel Service faced a huge loss because its annual employee survey didn’t uncover problems associated with a surge in part-time jobs. So when workers went on strike, it cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

Most commonly-used questionnaires make use of “percent favourable” metrics. So the data you get consists of inflated scores and blind spots, giving you the illusion of high engagement when it’s the opposite in reality. 

Employee engagement metrics from a survey

It’s not regular enough

For anything that matters, measuring your progress just once a year is not enough. Whether it’s your personal health, financial investments, or employee engagement, you’ll be wise to keep tabs regularly. 

An annual employee engagement survey is a snapshot in time. And the feedback you get from employees in a singular moment can’t accurately reflect their feelings for the whole year. 

Since organizations using annual surveys don’t get the data they need to act, they don’t. They finish conducting the survey like it was just a formality and move on, further tarnishing whatever trust workers had in the employer.

For these reasons, many HR leaders believe that annual employee engagement surveys are dead. While we won’t go as far, it’s evident that once-a-year surveys alone aren’t enough to get accurate and comprehensive insights, which brings us to the next part. 

Employee engagement survey alternatives 

Gone are the days when workers were happy just to have a job. And before you counter — Yes, even if it provides standard benefits like health insurance and retirement savings. The ingredients that make your employees engaged, satisfied, and happy are now more nuanced and sophisticated. 

To find out how successful your recipe is, you need comprehensive techniques that can capture worker sentiment in a timely and relevant manner. Let’s see what those are.

1. Tracking company-wide metrics

The tools and technologies that you use for employee management and collaboration can give you a ton of real-time and continuous feedback from the workforce. 

Most modern systems these days come with built-in analytics to drill down into worker behavior and identify areas of improvement. For example, you can view:

  • Performance appraisal and evaluation ratings
  • Number of discrimination complaints and legal claims
  • Number of workers on a leave of absence
  • Employees who have filed compensation claims
  • Number of workers who resigned in the last 12 months
  • Number of training hours workers attended voluntarily
  • Average employee commute time (the shorter, the better)
  • Number of workers on zero-hour contracts

By understanding such people trends, you can get an accurate sense of engagement across the organization. And you can do all this without directly involving your employees. 

2. Pulse surveys

Research shows that 77% of employees want to provide feedback more than once per year. And that most employees prefer to provide feedback four times a year.

That’s where Pulse surveys come in. Pulse surveys get employee feedback using short, frequent check-ins that are not confined to specific content or topics. When you ask quick questions at short intervals, the feedback you get will be more authentic and practical.

3. Town-hall meetings 

Townhalls are another viable alternative to annual surveys. If you manage a team that’s too large for a conference table, organize a Town Hall meeting to spark discussions and learn about team members’ concerns. 

A town hall meeting with a large number of employees

Don’t want to put yourself on the spot? Easy. Ask employees to submit questions in advance so you can be better prepared to answer them. 

4. An open-door policy

Why wait for a formal process or tool to get feedback? You can create an environment in which spontaneous feedback is encouraged. 

Make your employees feel safe and comfortable with two-way communication mechanisms. When they can talk openly about their concerns, you’ll always have a string of things you can improve in your repository. So you won’t have to go hunt for good ideas once every year. 

Final thoughts 

If you really want to have a lasting impact on your culture, you must consult your employees regularly and consider alternatives to a once-a-year survey. By pairing surveys with alternative ways to get employee feedback, you’ll be on your way to shaping a work environment where workers feel more productive and content.