Why employee engagement surveys are important

A 2018 study* by Al-dalahmeh et al concluded that employee engagement has a significant impact on organisational performance, through vigor, absorption, and dedication of the employees.

The study measured ‘organisational performance’ through profitability, return on assets, value added per employee, customer churn, volume of customer complaints, supplier relationships, product quality, absenteeism, employee turnover, and employee productivity.

Vigor: Employees that have vigor are motivated to excel in their duties, regardless of the obstacles they face

Absorption: Employees are able to hyper focus on their work, have a high degree of concentration, ignore distractions, and get lost in what they’re doing

Dedication: Employees derive a sense of significance from their work, feel enthusiastic, inspired, appropriately challenged, and proud

So, where do you start? To see that an engaged workforce has an impact on that many areas of a business, it’s a no brainer that you should invest in employee engagement! 

You don’t know what you don’t know, and the only way to find out... is to ask. Employee engagement surveys help you get to the bottom of what your current situation is. Once you’ve established that, the next step is to use the data you’ve collected to decide on a goal and a course of action.

Why short, frequent surveys are best

Before you dust off last year’s annual employee engagement survey results, consider that it’s likely already out of date. 

Depending on your company size and employee turnover, the respondents of that survey may no longer be with you, or new people have joined who you haven’t got results from. You may have implemented some new initiatives, gotten rid of others, or like most companies in the world, you’ve been affected by covid19 and haven’t got survey results that account for that. 

Your employees’ responses to engagement surveys are likely to change day to day. Their opinions, emotions, and experiences fluctuate, and so only capturing them at a single point in the year won’t give you an accurate picture. 

Pulse surveys just a few survey questions delivered every few weeks not only give you timely snapshots, their emphasis on being short and snappy means that they have higher completion rates. 

With higher completion rates, you get more data points, but the data isn’t overwhelming because it’s delivered to you in bite sized pieces. 

For example, the Perkbox Insights pulse surveys are delivered as four multiple choice questions about a specific topic, and one open text question with the option to associate it with any topic the employee would like to comment on. 

The regularity of the pulse surveys also means you can see a problem before it hits you, make a change, and then measure whether or not it was effective within just a few weeks. Likewise, you can see the effects of implementing a new initiative, holding a team bonding event, or of reaching a major milestone in your survey results too.

A man looking at his employee engagement survey score

Best practice for employee engagement surveys

Ok, we’ve sold you on the idea that employee engagement surveys are good, and you’re ready to implement one. The next hurdle is making sure you’re asking the right questions. 

In order to be able to track changes over time, you’ve got to ask the same questions every time. Part of this is also how you structure your questions. 

Best practice for survey questions is to avoid yes/no questions, as they’re too binary and don’t cover the spectrum of agreement. That’s why when you fill out a survey, you often are given five choices — strongly disagree, disagree, undecided, agree, and strongly agree. This allows for your employees to be more specific and give you a more accurate understanding of your employees’ perspectives. 

Multi-choice answers ticks off your need for quantitative data, and open text answers enrich that data with colour and details. 

Imagine you received a “disagree” response to the question “I feel appropriately compensated for my work”. You’d probably jump to the conclusion that this employee is saying they want a pay rise, right? 

If you allow for open text, the employee could write a comment such as “I feel that I do more work than my peers but because they are more outspoken, they get the majority of the credit”. With this you know it’s not about money, but more about recognition, and make appropriate steps to rectify it. 

So you know what structure your questions should be in, but what are the questions themselves? When we were building Perkbox Insights, we asked ourselves the same thing. After consulting with industry experts and organisational psychologists, we came up with 10 categories and a library of questions that cover everything you could possibly want to know about your employees. 

Our last tip is to allow your employees to respond anonymously. While you may think this is just an invitation for negative feedback, remember that some employees are more shy than others, and are uncomfortable giving positive feedback too! All answers on Insights are completely anonymous, and this builds trust between employees and their employers, assuring them they can bring up any concerns (or compliments) that are on their mind.

10 key drivers of employee engagement

The Perkbox Insights employee engagement survey dashboard

In Insights, we measure our employee engagement survey responses against 10 key drivers:

  • Culture & diversity
  • Meaningful work
  • Communication
  • Career opportunities
  • Management
  • Teamwork
  • Learning & development
  • Quality of life
  • Reward & recognition
  • Strategy & leadership

Together, these key drivers build a holistic picture of employee engagement. Individually, they clearly point out to you where your business is strongest, and where it is weakest. 

Research has shown that managers account for as much as 70% of variance in employee engagement scores. We’ve found this to be true in our experience, too. ‘My Manager’ is consistently one of the key drivers with the most open text submissions. 

Following closely behind is strategy & leadership and communication as the most important, but often lowest ranked employee engagement measures. 

Within the remaining categories, various business challenges can be identified and tackled one by one. This more bite-sized approach leads to two major advantages; the first is that improvements happen on a rolling basis and create momentum, and the second is that the leadership team doesn’t become overwhelmed by the workload. 

What’s a ‘good’ employee engagement score?

Rather than comparing yourself to your competitors, businesses in other industries, or to an arbitrary benchmark, it’s most helpful to compare yourself to where you were yesterday. 

When starting an employee engagement survey, your first concern should be measuring where you are at and establishing an engagement score and a goal. After that, incremental improvements will push you closer to whatever your goal is. If your initial employee engagement score is a 2, and your goal is to get to 3 within the next nine months, that’s great! If you’re currently at a 4 and working towards a 4.5, that’s great too. 

Everyone is going at their own pace, and you don’t need to worry about anyone else. After all, your employees aren’t concerned about other companies’ engagement scores, they’re more focused on their own experiences! 

Having your baseline set is important so you can track changes in your employee engagement survey results over time. Tracking over time allows you to pinpoint which actions caused which responses, and gives you objective data about what you should continue doing, and what you should re-evaluate.

The most common employee engagement survey responses

The majority of the time, responses to employee engagement surveys are very specific to the business. However, there will always be common themes that pop up across any business in any industry.

The number one most common piece of feedback, unsurprisingly, is employees requesting pay rises. How you respond to this will be specific to your business and financial situation, however we recommend reminding employees that salary is just one factor of employee engagement, and that you’ve already taken the first step to providing more for your employees by doing the survey in the first place. 

Other common comments include a lack of communication, lack of recognition, and lack of learning & development opportunities. 

To address the lack of communication, we recommend creating or updating a company newsletter, holding a company wide Q&A, and re-evaluating what channels you’re using to communicate with your team now. 

For a lack of recognition, it’s important to push this cultural change from the top down and lead by example. Download our ebook on 10 ways to show your employees appreciation to kickstart some ideas on new initiatives you can introduce to build a culture of recognition in your workplace. 

Not every organisation is structured in such a way that there’s endless opportunities for learning & development. This is why it’s important to support your employees’ personal development in and outside of the workplace. Running lunch n learns (even ones hosted by employees on one of their personal hobbies) can also be a great stand in for L&D.

How to customise your employee engagement surveys

While questions designed by industry experts are great, sometimes you just need to get to the nitty gritty of something specific and unique to your organisation. 

For these situations, a custom employee engagement survey is the way to go. Insights has a custom survey feature that allows you to write your own questions and follow the best practice format of a five-option scale and an open text option at the end. 

Whether you want to solicit more detail on a key driver, or send out appraisals for your managers, a custom survey will help you hone in on what you need, without affecting your employee engagement score.

But remember that employee engagement surveys really are just one piece of the puzzle. It’s best practice to hold one-to-one meetings with your direct reports, as well as group feedback sessions. One-to-ones are incredibly intimate and your employee may not feel that comfortable giving you their honest and unfiltered feedback. Group sessions can break that ice, and as employees start to bounce ideas off each other, their confidence grows to be able to give more difficult feedback.

Be careful not to place too much emphasis on group feedback though, as it can become a bit of an echo chamber and opinions may appear stronger than they actually are. If something important has come up in a group feedback session and you want to double check the strength of the sentiment, try bringing it up in your next one-to-one meeting when emotions have cooled a bit.

A woman with lots of ideas for a custom employee engagement survey

Three quick wins to boost employee engagement

We’ve already covered the most common pieces of feedback given in an employee engagement survey, but here are three additional initiatives to take that will boost your engagement regardless of what your starting position is. 

1. Focus on recognition 

Lack of recognition is one of the most often cited reasons for leaving a job, and there’s no such thing as too much recognition (as long as it’s genuine!) By learning how to give recognition in a way that not only makes your employee feel good, but explains to them why their contribution was worth the shout out, you build a feedback loop that encourages other employees to follow suit. 

Consider the difference between saying “good job”, and “good job, this really brings us closer to our goal of XYZ”. The first one may make your employee feel good, but the second one does that and then reminds them about their importance in the bigger picture, and ties their work back to your company mission. 

2. Make the company purpose and mission your guide

The next quick win is to spend time reiterating your company's purpose and mission to your team. If it’s a topic that only comes up once a year, it’s easy for your team to forget what they’re working on. 

Al-dalahmeh et al said it best, “engaged employees want good communication with their superiors, work that has meaning for them and motivates them, and a safe working place. When these conditions are present, employees become engaged and as a result produce better financial results, are proud of their organizations, and demonstrate enthusiasm.” 

Reminding your team regularly (monthly, at least) about what they’re striving towards and how each team plays into the bigger picture will do wonders for your employee engagement.

3. Set clear goals

What will help them see themselves as contributing members of the team and will also help you have something to talk about during your pep talks is goal setting. Setting a company-wide goal that every team contributes to, as well as department goals, team goals, and personal goals will give individual employees a clear idea of what they should be doing, a sense of accomplishment and momentum, and will provide a stream of updates and milestones for leadership to use as motivation.

Employee engagement vs employee experience

We’ve spoken a lot about employee engagement here, but what is employee experience and how are the two concepts related? Are they interchangeable? Al-dalameh et al define ‘employee engagement’ as “a fulfilling, positive work-related experience and state of mind”. In management theory, employee engagement is the ability to understand and describe the relationship between an organisation and its employees. 

When reading multiple definitions of employee engagement, the general consensus is that it’s the relationship between an employee and the organisation that employs them.

Employee experience is defined by Gallup as the journey an employee takes during their employment. In our talk with Ros Tregurtha from Domain, Ros said that employee experience happens at every touch point across the organisation, every interaction between departments and systems, and how the employee feels day to day about where they work. 

If experience is a journey, then an employee can experience engagement and disengagement at different points along the way. 

This is why it’s important to note that when you’re assessing employee engagement survey outcomes, you shouldn’t get too caught up in the numbers if your score regresses a little. Employee engagement is a long term commitment, and if one of your goals is to increase the tenure of your employees, then you’re bound to hit some rough patches in their journeys. 

The critical thing to remember is that you’re on that journey with them, and you’re continuing to make step by step improvements.

* Al-dalahmeh, M., Masa’deh, R., Abu Khalaf, R., & Obeidat, B. (2018). The Effect of Employee Engagement on Organizational Performance Via the Mediating Role of Job Satisfaction: The Case of IT Employees in Jordanian Banking Sector. Modern Applied Science, 12(6), 17. doi: 10.5539/mas.v12n6p1

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