Why and how you should survey your employees in 2021.

Diane Balogh profile image May 26, 2021 | 6 min read

High employee engagement is one way to make your company more successful. Gallup, a research organization that has conducted research since the 1930s, found that “employee engagement is an even stronger predictor of performance during tough periods such as economic recessions.” Therefore, it is helpful to survey your employees and understand how employees perceive the work environment.

Why it is valuable to survey your employees.

Employee engagement surveys are a way to gather a helpful process to collect structured information from a set of people. Without a survey to provide broad information, a manager may face a higher risk of confirmation bias—seeking out information that confirms what you already believe. With a survey, it is possible to seek a broader perspective by asking various questions to all employees.

The second reason to survey your employees is to remain competitive with other companies. Willis Towers Watson, a recruiting and human resources company, found that 31 percent of companies survey employees, and 60 percent have increased their employee listening efforts. Therefore, a company may wish to use surveys to gain a competitive advantage over other businesses that skip surveying employees.

Addressing employee survey concerns.

Asking employees to provide comments to management may not always be a simple exercise. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) points out that “HR departments often find it difficult to get employees to complete these employee engagement surveys.” To encourage employees to respond, Dr. Jeff Smith, a psychologist focused on the workplace, suggests using anonymous surveys. In addition, Smith reports on research that found that “anonymous feedback more accurately reflects one’s perceptions when compared to non-anonymous feedback.”

To enhance anonymity in employee surveys, consider the following tips:

  • Use a third party to administer the survey. Using a third party to collect and analyze survey responses is one way to increase anonymity. With this approach, management receives aggregate information only rather than data that might identify a specific individual. 
  • Design the survey with anonymity in mind as a principle. An article in Harvard Business Review suggests “respondents are much more likely to participate in surveys if they are confident that personal anonymity is guaranteed.”
  • Explain how demographic data will be used. Employees may be concerned that demographic information (e.g., job title, age, etc.) might be used to identify individuals. To address this concern, explain how this data will be used (e.g., demographic data will only be used in aggregate form). 

How to survey your employees step by step in 30 days or less.

Use the following steps to gather employee feedback in an organized and efficient manner.

  1. Choose an employee survey goal.

Before writing survey questions, take a few minutes to think about business goals and problems. For example, you might have a goal to increase customer loyalty by offering better customer service. In that situation, employee survey questions may focus on customer service skills, training and systems. If a company moved to work from home in the past year, surveying customer service employees might help understand what those employees need to be successful.

Alternatively, a survey might focus on the employee experience and possible causes for employee turnover. According to Human Resources Today’s research, the “average cost of turnover per employee is approximately 33% of that employee’s annual salary.” If a company loses several employees over a year, the turnover costs can add up. If this is a challenge for your company, consider focusing your employee survey questions on this area. For the rest of this article, let’s use employee retention as the area of focus for the survey.

  1. Decide on the survey method (e.g., phone or digital).

There are different tools available to survey your employees depending on the company’s situation. For example, a small business with 10 employees might choose to use a phone survey. In this case, a manager can call all of the employees over the course of a few days and ask questions. A phone survey also gives the ability to ask follow-up questions and seek clarification on unclear comments. With a small phone survey, it is likely that one can achieve a high response rate because an employee is unlikely to ignore a phone call from a manager. If you gather survey responses by phone, choose a method to track the responses during each call, such as a spreadsheet (e.g., Microsoft Excel) so the responses are easier to analyze.

Another way to gather survey information is to use a survey software application. According to TechRadar, the best survey tools include SurveyMonkey, Typeform, FotForm, AskNicely, Formstack and Google Forms. Some of these survey tools, like SurveyMonkey, have pre-made survey questions, which can make it faster to create a survey.

  1. Write the employee survey questions.

In this step, you will create employee survey questions aligned with your goal. SurveyMonkey recommends using mainly closed-ended questions to maximize survey response rates. Some popular survey question types to consider include:

  • Closed-ended questions. A closed-ended question has a pre-populated list of choices for employees to choose from (e.g., rate your satisfaction with the business phone system on a scale of 1 to 10).
  • Open-ended questions (e.g., free-form text fields). This type of question lets the respondent enter any text they desire. SurveyMonkey recommends using one to two open-ended questions at the end of a survey.
  1. Validate your employee survey with a phone call.

Before sending out the survey to all employees, it is wise to take a few minutes to test the survey. For example, a specific survey question might have confusing wording. To test a survey, set up a phone call appointment or video conference call with an employee and walk through the questions. Ask the employee if the survey questions and options are straightforward.

To reduce the chance of confusion, spell out all abbreviations and acronyms so employees are more likely to understand the survey.

  1. Carry out the employee survey.

Now that you have tested the employee survey and made any needed adjustments, it is time to send out the survey. Gathering survey responders will depend on the method you use.

With a phone survey, set up a schedule to call employees over some time. It would be achievable for a company with 10 employees to complete the survey in a week (i.e., two phone surveys per day).

With a digital survey tool like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms, you can send out the survey by email.

By the way, employees may be more likely to respond if they know why they are conducting the survey. Consider sending out a short email to all employees before the survey to explain the goal (e.g., “We are surveying to understand employee technology needs better.”).

Tip: Allow employees several days to complete the survey. To maximize the number of survey responses, consider offering an incentive, like a gift card drawing.

  1. Review the survey results and take action.

Acting on the feedback received through employee surveys shows employees that management cares about their views. For example, survey responses may indicate employees are frustrated by poor technology. This is a significant issue because a Zapier survey found that “Gen Z and Millennial employees (16 percent each) have quit a job because their employer did not provide the proper technology for them to do their job.” 

If the employee feedback indicates problems with staying in touch with coworkers and customers, upgrading your business phone system might be helpful.

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