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Frequently Asked Questions About Employee Surveys

New to employee surveys? Check out the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about them...

If you''re new to employee surveys you''re bound to have questions. And if any of them are covered in this blog it means you''re not alone, because these are some of the most frequently asked questions about employee surveys on ''a leading search engine'' 😊

(You might also be interested in our guide to running employee surveys)

So let''s start at the beginning...

What are employee surveys?

‘Employee Surveys’ is the generic term that refers to company-wide surveys that attempt to measure opinions, attitudes and, commonly, employee engagement and a whole range of things that might be driving it. Employee surveys are commonly run annually, and so will often also known as ‘the annual survey’ but many companies run them more (e.g. every 6 months) or less often (e.g. every two years).

Why are employee surveys important?

Employee surveys are (still important) to organisations for a couple of different reasons.

For some companies their employee survey is important because it provides a metric that shows the company is a ‘good’ employer. This view tends to emphasise how the company benchmarks against competitors and the engagement score or similar will probably be shown in the company’s annual report.

Read why we advise against benchmarking your engagement score 

A much better reason, however, for seeing your employee survey is important is because it provides valuable data that helps you improve your employee experience and ultimately the performance of your organisation. This might not be incompatible with using the data as ‘proof’ that you’re a good employer, but beware: When you focus on improving your engagement score, rather than using it to improve the employee experience you can end up making things worse.

What do employee surveys measure?

Employee surveys can measure a whole range of topics relating to the employee experience, including:

  • A measure of employee engagement
  • Opinions about the organisation, it’s leadership and communication
  • Perceptions of HR/people management practices (e.g. reward, development opportunities)
  • Judgements about the employee’s work (e.g. whether it’s manageable or satisfying)
  • Questions about the team environment, such as the quality of relationships or cooperation
  • A range of psychological measures that may relate to employee engagement, such as psychological safety, autonomy or belonging.

Because it’s very common for employee surveys to include a measure of employee engagement, the terms ‘employee survey’ ‘employee engagement survey’ and ‘engagement survey’ are often used interchangeably, even if engagement is only one aspect being measured among many.

How do employee surveys work?

We''ve written a more comprehensive guide to running employee surveys but here''s a quick overview of the process.

Employee data is critical to a good survey

The process behind an employee survey starts with ensuring that your people data is accurate. A professional employee survey provider will normally hold your organisational structure and people data (for example email address, demographics) in their system and this must be accurate.

Sending the survey to employees

Accurate employee data enables you to generate and (usually*) send a unique link to each employee to complete the survey, and to provide detailed reporting for different organisational levels and demographics. This also places a great responsibility on them to maintain standards of data privacy and security, for example, GDPR and ISO27001. *Not all employees are always on email, which any good survey provider should be able to help you get around while still ensuring that you only have one response per employee.

Reporting and using the survey data

Once the survey is closed (after a couple of weeks) online reports should be automatically generated in the form of a dashboard that can be accessed at a company level (say by HR), and by different managers (depending on the access that you want to give or your survey platform will allow).

Employee Survey Dashboard Showing Heatmap of Question Reponses

Taking action

Your survey reports should then be used to support action planning, which means initiating conversations with people at different levels about what they mean, drawing insight from them, making commitments based on them that you communicate and deliver upon.

One of the reasons that Employee Surveys can be perceived as a ‘double-edged sword’ is that failure to deliver on employee feedback can be worse than not asking in the first place. This doesn’t mean that every employee expects you to act on their individual opinion, but they do expect you to act.

Are employee surveys really anonymous?

One thing that is critical to the success of an employee survey is that it is trusted. You must, therefore, be able to guarantee that your employee survey is anonymous. Of course, if you have low levels of trust in your organisation, anonymity might not be enough on its own to ensure that people freely give their views.

Even if your engagement survey is anonymous people are often concerned that their line manager might be able to work out who said what. For that reason, it is also standard practice to set a minimum number of responses before a report will be shown (at least five). If your team has fewer than the minimum, your responses will be rolled into the next level up (i.e. your manager’s manager report).

Why employee surveys don''t work (when they don’t)

Well, tell me this: What are employees surveys supposed to do?

If the job of an employee survey is to provide data that supports people strategies and a better employee experience overall, then they don’t ‘work’ if they don’t:

  • Measure the ‘right things’ in the first place
  • Present data in a way that enables insight
  • Lead to changes in the employee experience.

(Did we already say that employees need to believe that their opinion matters? Yes, we will keep banging that particular drum 😊) So we can broadly categorise potential issues with engagement surveys under:

  • Asking questions that lack relevance to your organisational context
  • Problems with the survey itself that leads to poor data
  • A failure to demonstrably act on the data (which highlights the importance of communication)

What about pulse surveys or other Employee Feedback tools?

Some people believe that the (annual) employee survey is dead, but while large surveys are becoming less popular and pulse surveys (and other data gathering technologies) are on the rise they they still have their place.

You do need to think about your ‘Employee Feedback mix’, which means what tools to use, when, and what they should be measuring. Pulse surveys are better than ‘annual’ surveys in some respects, and vice versa. It’s not simply a case that one is ‘better’ than the other (which is why we do both).

Consider your context

A number of different factors need to be considered when you’re determining whether to run a full employee survey, including things like your organisation’s culture and history with surveys. Do your people have negative experiences of ‘survey fatigue’, for example, because their feedback hasn’t been acted upon in the past?

What you are measuring matters

It''s also important to consider what you’re measuring and how volatile or changeable these things are. Emotions and perceptions about the team environment fluctuate over the course of the day, but belief in the vision and values of the company, or the perceived the quality of senior leadership isn’t likely to be as changeable.

Read about whether to use Pulse or Annual Surveys

If you have any additional questions about running your employee survey, we’d love to hear from you. Why not tweet us at @ThePXHub or contact us?

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