Top 10 questions for employee engagement surveys


Employee engagement surveys may range from annual "epics" to monthly pulse surveys, but there is no one-size-fits-all version. Your organization's culture, employee profile, leadership approach and even geographical location will dictate the format and content.

However, we asked our Members to discuss and vote on their "ultimate" employee engagement survey questions – those that would elicit the most useful responses from employees and help shape future messages and communication strategy.

The top 10 questions as a result of that vote are listed in the box below and, to add further insight, we asked Angela Sinickas, one of the world's leading authorities on measuring organizational comms, for her analysis.


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Angela Sinickas: Commentary

The questions the group came up with cover a lot of useful areas of inquiry, but in order to get the most out of survey results about these issues, the wording or scales for some of the questions could be polished to provide more specific information, making it more likely that the right actions can be taken based on the survey results. Other questions could be more useful as focus group questions first in order to fine tune the final versions for the employee engagement survey. 

Questions to ask in focus groups first

It's very difficult to analyze trends, or improvements over time, from analysis of open-ended write-in comments on surveys. I'd recommend that the following (reworded) questions be asked first in focus groups to identify the most common responses, so they can be used to craft questions that can be analyzed quantitatively (numbering refers to the original list):

1. How do you feel about coming to work each morning?

2. What things have your managers done over the years to inspire you? What have other managers done that were demotivating?

4. What words would you use to describe how you feel about coming to work? 

The answers from Question 1 could be used to draft statements about how employees do feel. Then you could use a scale for those questions that asks them how often they feel each way, such as "Almost all the time, Usually, About half the time, Sometimes, Almost never." Over time, you could track if the more positive feelings are being experienced a greater percentage of the time.

Based on responses to Question 2, you could develop two questions about each inspirational behavior. First ask how often their own managers currently exhibit each behavior, using the same frequency scale above, and then ask how important for their own motivation each of the behaviors is on a three-point scale: "Very important, Somewhat important, or Not very important." The survey results could then be plotted on a grid that uses importance for one dimension and frequency on the other. This approach can be very helpful in prioritizing which manager behaviors are most important to change. The focus should start on the most important behaviors currently occurring at the lowest frequency.

Question 4 could be used on the final survey just as it was phrased by the group, with the addition of a list of the words used in the focus groups for them to select their top five. An option for "other" could also be included. 

Customized question formats

One of the questions would benefit from a unique scale of response options:

3. Which best describes the number of days you DO want to come into work versus the days you DON'T want to come into work?

Avoiding Yes-No questions

All of the other questions could be used nearly the same way as the group wrote them, with just one change. Instead of asking questions that can be answered by a "yes" or "no," results will be more enlightening if you write them as statements and then use a five-point scale to better see how strongly employees feel about each item. For most of these questions, a scale running from "Strongly agree" to "Strongly disagree" would work, although a frequency scale might be even more meaningful for some:

2. My immediate manager inspires me.

5. I feel proud to tell people where I work.

6. I have the tools I need to do my job effectively.

7. I have enough opportunities to contribute to decisions that affect me.

8. I understand how my role contributes to achieving business outcomes. 

9. I trust the information I receive from my immediate manager. 

10. My manager values the work I do.  

Question 9 needs to include the source of information being rated as trustworthy because the levels of trust could vary for information received from their managers, senior leaders, the communication team, or their colleagues. Similarly, if Question 10 doesn't specify a level of management that is valuing their work, it could be interpreted to mean that they feel their compensation properly values them for their work. 

The more specific the questions, the more likely that management will interpret responses with the same meaning that employees had in mind when answering those questions.

To find out more about surveys and the different ways you can gain employee insight, visit Measurement & Evaluation.


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