What to Ask — and Not to Ask — in Employee Surveys

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Oct 28, 2020

With in-person interactions being few and far between for many teams, employee engagement is especially crucial to your business’ success. It starts with providing an opportunity for people to share their perspectives on the work environment and their roles within your organization. Acting on employee feedback can lead to increases in morale, retention, productivity and customer service. And of course, one of the most functional ways to receive this feedback is through employee surveys.

To receive valuable and effective feedback, you need to know what to ask, what not to ask, and more specifically, how to ask it. Questions in your survey need to be direct, clear, and phrased to allow your employees to share their problems, solutions, and thoughts. Here’s how to go about devising your questions:

Job Satisfaction

Ask: Do you feel satisfied with your role and the company? Why or why not?

If an employee survey does nothing else, it should aim to gather insights and information on how satisfied your employees are with your workplace and their role in your organization. By asking this directly, you can see how aligned your employees are with your company’s mission, values, and culture. This can also help you identify areas of improvement. 

Don’t Ask: Do you enjoy your work?

Save your company an ego boost by leaving out questions like this. People may enjoy their work but that says nothing about whether they enjoy doing it at your company. You should instead aim to identify reasons that people are satisfied with their work environment that are specific to your workplace. Never mind that satisfaction encompasses growth opportunities, feeling valued, the ability to engage in work, and yes, enjoyment. 

Employee Development

Ask: Who encourages your professional development in the workplace? How? 

Having strong working relationships among employees and supervisors can increase engagement and have a positive impact on overall performance. Team members who feel supported and encouraged to grow and develop professionally are more inclined to work more efficiently and productively. Additionally, this atmosphere can contribute to a positive mindset and work culture. It is important to identify the level of mentorship that goes on among team members, as this is one of the main drivers of professional development.

Don’t Ask: What do you think of the management/leadership team?

Avoid asking questions that people could feel uncomfortable answering. Although these surveys should remain anonymous, questions that directly ask employees to judge their managers and leaders can cause them to feel nervous and uncomfortable. In turn, this may result in vague or unhelpful responses. Additionally, simply asking what workers think of a person or a group of people does not provide valuable insights into their professional performance.

Company Culture

Ask: Do you identify with the company culture? 

This question opens the door to insights regarding positive or negative sentiments about the work environment and culture. It also enables you to compare your present and ideal cultures. Understanding whether team members feel aligned with the company culture can yield useful information about employee satisfaction. 

Don’t Ask: On a scale of 1-10, rate the company culture.

Asking employees to rate something on a survey is unnecessary and, more importantly, not useful to your company. One person’s 7 may be another person’s 5. Therefore, this fails to provide reliable information. Instead, it’s crucial to ask open-ended questions where employees have the ability to share their full thoughts and reasoning for their answers. Not only will these types of questions help team members feel their input is valued and useful; the responses will provide you with better insights to make productive improvements.

Areas of Improvement

Ask: What is the company currently doing that is beneficial to employees? 

It is a common misconception that employee surveys need to focus solely on identifying negative aspects of the employee experience to fix. That’s important, but so is gaining insights into what you are currently doing well. Growth is an ever-changing process, and with each round of employee surveys, your organization will identify new areas to improve. Take time to listen to your team and hear their input on what already works within the business to help team members feel engaged, valued, and connected. It also includes an area for positive feedback in a survey that is typically viewed negatively.

Don’t Ask: What are three ways the company can improve? 

Leave out questions that require too many recommendations. Questions of this style can result in employees adding unhelpful responses simply to fill the space required. By asking for a specific number of ideas or thoughts, you risk getting disingenuous responses that won’t help you make positive changes.

Ultimately, employee surveys can help you put on your listening cap and turn a critical eye on your organization. Instead of conducting surveys because “it is what companies are supposed to do,” think of this as an evaluation of your organization by the people who make it tick. So as you create your next survey, keep in mind that it can yield insights on why your employees might leave. Decrease this risk by asking the right questions, and then strive to make the necessary changes your team members need.

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