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How to conduct an employee engagement survey

If you're running a small business, then making sure your team is engaged and committed to their work is crucial to your success. For that reason, measuring employee engagement levels has long been a key responsibility of any Human Resources department. In this post, we'll show you exactly how to conduct an employee engagement survey.

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is a broad concept that touches on many different aspects of the employee experience. Motivation, physical and emotional wellbeing, psychological security, employee satisfaction and the standard of their professional performance all play a part within the concept of employee engagement, but there is no one single indicator that holds sway over the rest.

Why is employee engagement important?

It's important to measure employee engagement (particularly in small businesses) because it is a key determinant in the quality of employee satisfaction, as well as their happiness in their role and their performance at work.

Highly engaged employees tend to display greater motivation, higher productivity and a deeper commitment to the work they do. They are more likely to ‘go the extra mile’ and commit their full selves to the projects they are working on.

High employee engagement is perhaps most obvious in those people who have ‘internalised’ their work – when they begin to distinguish less between ‘work’ and ‘life’ and their career aspirations become wedded to their life goals.

People with high levels of employee engagement also tend to be happier in general and report better levels of personal wellbeing. This often becomes something of a virtuous cycle – the happier you are with your work situation, the more you can invest in your work and the more engaged you become.

For these reasons, high employee engagement often has a direct effect on levels of employee retention. Employees that feel connected to their work and invested in their company’s success are much less likely to look for work elsewhere. Gallup, meanwhile, have shown that highly engaged workforces outperform unengaged peers by 147%.

To put it simply, highly engaged employees generally work harder, deliver better work and stay at their companies for longer. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why employee engagement is such a key concept for small businesses.

Why conduct an employee engagement survey?

Employee engagement surveys are useful for two reasons:

  1. First, an employee survey allows you to learn in detail about what your company's employee experience – how your team is feeling about certain issues, what your company is good at and what might improve the work environment.
  2. Second, they help you understand what changes you need to make in order to improve their engagement.

Until you learn what the problems are, you can’t hope to solve them!

How to conduct an employee engagement survey

  1. Define what you’re measuring

The first step in this process is defining exactly what it is that you want to measure. As we saw earlier, employee engagement is a very wide-ranging topic and it’s unlikely you could properly dig into every aspect with enough depth for those answers to be useful.

So before you do anything else, think about exactly why you are conducting an employee survey in the first place.

If you’re running a small business, it’s likely that you have a few ideas about what your company does well and what it could improve on. If anything immediately springs to mind, it’s probably worth digging deeper into those issues.

Alternatively, maybe you want to keep your survey open-ended without pre-defining the topics. No matter how close you have your ‘ear to the ground’, there’s always going to be pain points you aren’t aware of.

Perhaps your company is lacking in development opportunities? Maybe your team members feel frustrated by opaque decision making by the leadership team? Unless you ask, you'll never know.

2. Decide how you’re measuring it

The next step is to decide how you’re going to measure the survey results. To some extent, this question could be answered for you by your answer to Step 1).

If you have a specific topic that you’d like to delve into, then you’d probably be better off designing your own employee engagement survey.

If you don’t have a particular topic in mind, then you might find it more useful to use a broader, more general employee engagement survey designed by a professional.

You also need to think a little about timing. Traditionally speaking, many businesses have opted for annual surveys – but over recent years the trend has been to use employee surveys much more regularly. Annual surveys are now seen as far too irregular to be useful or effectively drive business success.

Instead, many companies and survey providers lean towards 'pulse surveys' – much more regular surveys that help keep your finger on the pulse of what's happening inside your business.

3. How to design your own employee engagement survey

If you already have a very specific topic that you’d like to dig into, then your best option would be to design your own engagement survey using a relatively DIY-option like Google Forms or Typeform.

We’ve often taken this route at Charlie when we were looking for very specific feedback about a particular policy or topic. For example, last year we ran this survey in order to better understand how our team felt about our flexible working policy.

(We had become aware that Charlie’s way of working had begun to creep towards a culture of presenteeism – our ‘core hours’ flexible working policy was designed to help solve this. Running that survey helped us determine whether we were successful!).

The adaptable and flexible nature of Google Forms meant that we could ask precisely the right questions to get the insights we needed.

Crafting your questions
When it comes to writing your own employee engagement survey questions, there are a few things to bear in mind.

  • Think about the balance between ‘open-ended’ and ‘closed-ended’ and questions. Closed-ended questions are useful when the information you want is binary in nature – yes or no, better or worse, more or less. Open-ended questions are much more useful when trying to draw out information that
  • Keep it snappy – the longer the survey takes to fill out, the less likely your team are to complete it.
  • Be wary of your own bias. Your objective here is to elicit honest feedback from your team – be careful that the way you phrase your questions doesn’t affect the answers you receive.

4. Choosing the right employee engagement survey provider

It’s not always necessary to design your own employee engagement survey from scratch. Unless you have a very specific topic that you want to dig into, it’s often much easier and much more insightful to use a survey built by the experts. This is where specialist providers come in.

When it comes to choosing the right one, it’s a case of finding the best fit for you and your company. There is no ‘best one’ – just a variety of options that suit different companies at different stages of their journey.

Peakon provides a highly-specialised engagement tool best-suited to companies with a dedicated People or HR professional who has experience working tracking engagement metrics. It’s undoubtedly a powerful platform and it also gives you access to useful industry-specific benchmarks to compare your own company scores with, but it can take some getting used to – it’s probably helpful to think of it as a ‘second’ engagement software, once you’ve mastered the basics.

Culture Amp pitches it’ software as the ‘joining of the dots’ between employee engagement and performance management for companies over 50 people. It’s been designed to wrap engagement surveys into a process of performance reviews, goal setting and 360-degree feedback so you can start linking the two together. Again, this option might work best for companies with experienced People hire – running engagement surveys with a full performance management system isn’t a part-time role.

Charlie’s own employee engagement feature, Polls, was designed as the perfect ‘first-step’ into the world of employee engagement for small businesses. Polls allows you to choose from six ready-made surveys digging into different aspects of employee engagement – useful for anyone who hasn’t run a survey like this before or isn’t able to delve into the People side of their role full-time.

Learn more about other ways self-service HR software can help you.

4. Make it personal with focus groups or one-to-ones

Using specialised engagement tools or designing your own employee surveys are great methods for learning more about your team – but they aren't the only options.

Sometimes, a more casual and collaborative approach is more effective. This is where focus groups come into play. Focus groups are a form of group conversation where you can discuss issues with team members in a more informal setting. They can be a good way of digging into the employee experience without predefining the responses with inherently 'closed' survey questions.

They can also be an effective way of overcoming one of the most common challenges to many survey processes: poor participation rates or response rates. With a focus group, it's much easier to get good employee feedback – all you need to do is get them in the room.

6. Act on the survey results

Running an effective employee engagement survey is only half the battle. To actually make a difference to the engagement of your team, you have to follow through on the survey results and take action with a targeted employee engagement strategy.

Hopefully, the results of the engagement survey will have surfaced up some clear opportunities – perhaps your survey data has identified some specific obstacles that are preventing them from connecting fully with their work. If that’s the case, you can get to work creating an action plan so you can address them.

In many cases, the next step is to take your findings to the company's senior leadership or management team. Pretty often, you're going to need their help implementing that action plan, particularly if requires significant changes or it's going to affect manger's direct reports.

There’s always the chance, however, that you need to clarify their feedback a little. Perhaps your first survey was ready-made by one of the providers above – if that’s the case, you could think about a follow-up with a tailor-made survey of your own design to really get some really specific employee feedback.

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