The Best Questions to Ask in Your Employee Engagement Survey

Written by
Brian Anderson
Brian Anderson

Genuine feedback is the goldmine of people analytics. When polling employees about their engagement level, asking the right survey questions is important.

But how they’re asked (and who is doing the asking) is just as essential. It takes more than sending employees a link to survey questions and expecting them to bare their souls for employees to believe in the power of feedback the way you do.

Employees need to feel like their opinions are heard and understand how their feedback affects your company’s direction—and whether or not their opinions will lead to change.

Let’s go over the what, how, when, who, and why of employee engagement survey questions to see how the right perspective can change a simple assessment into a sign that your company recognizes and values every employee.

Addressing the four principles of employee engagement

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For more than two decades, polling giant Gallup has asked employees worldwide the same 12 proprietary questions and tracked the aggregate results. Employees who score highly on all twelve questions are marked as actively engaged, employees who score poorly are marked as actively disengaged, and those in the middle are marked as neutral.

It’s not hard to find Gallup’s Q12 questions, but administering them without purchasing the service from Gallup is a breach of their intellectual property rights. We, personally, think the money is worth it!

If that’s not something that can fit into your budget right now, that doesn’t mean your survey questions can’t have the same impact. Your questions should address the same four principles of employee engagement:

  • Clarity
    • Do employees understand the company’s mission?
    • Does the company understand what each employee does best?
  • Connection
    • Do employees have personal and professional ties to their team members and the company’s values?
  • Recognition
    • Do employees feel that their work is recognized and supported?
  • Development:
    • Do employees receive and recognize opportunities for personal and professional development?

Employee engagement surveys have the potential to address all four of these principles. Clear questions and clearly recorded responses help keep leadership on the same page as employees, connecting everyone with actionable feedback and highlighting opportunities for recognition and development.

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Let’s nerd out a little bit: in Bonusly’s 2019 Employee Engagement & Modern Workplace Report, more than 1,000 respondents answered this question: “Does your organization take your feedback seriously?”

While 95% of the respondents who reported high engagement answered that their organization valued their opinion, only 31% of disengaged employees felt the same way.

So how can you help your employees feel like your organization values their opinion? While having great teams and good management is a start, employees will need indicators that upper leadership is listening to employees to unlock the full engagement potential of employee engagement surveys.

Asking the right questions at every level and putting mechanisms in place to communicate the results can prove that your organization wants to make the right decisions for everyone.

Managerial-level employee feedback strategy

Managers can have the most direct insight into employee engagement as they interact with employees. It’s hard to find an employee engagement survey question that can replicate a manager noticing an employee’s slumped posture and withdrawal from their co-workers and asking them what’s going on.

Informal feedback between managers and employees can solve many of the day-to-day struggles employees face. Holding one-on-one meetings between employees and their managers also provide a chance to touch base and quickly resolve issues that don’t require upper-level input.

In fact, we recommend team-level engagement surveys to really dial down how your team is doing.

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Employee engagement questions don’t necessarily have to come from a company-wide survey to be effective. While managers may wish to keep notes from their one-on-ones, it’s not necessary for upper-level management to hear the results of every managerial question for every employee.

But while regular conversations can smooth out an employee’s experience on the team, managers don’t always have the authority to immediately solve every problem or fulfill every employee request. And as direct managers don’t always make decisions about compensation and employee career trajectory, employees need to know that their hopes and concerns will be recorded and shared with the people who make these decisions.

Spacing more formal employee engagement surveys between one-on-one meetings and team-level surveys shows that the company pays attention to the employee experience. And when the company follows up with decisions and feedback, it shows the employee that their experience matters.

Consider asking these team-level employee engagement survey questions:

Managerial-level employee engagement survey questions

  • What would you change about our team culture?
  • Does our team culture align with our company culture?How well does our organization recognize my value? (Five-Point Scale)
    There’s nothing like the direct approach for identifying where more recognition is due.
  • What would have the most impact on my ability to do my best work more often?
    Instead of having this be an open-ended question, provide employees with specific and actionable ideas or options. BambooHR uses options like “Getting the materials or information I need” and “The company direction was better defined”.
  • Is there a problem on the team that management doesn’t see?
  • Do you feel challenged, comfortable, bored, or stressed out with the type of projects you’ve been handling lately?
  • Is there anything we can do to help with work/life balance?
  • Have you been getting the support you need from the team?
  • Do you have any shout-outs you’d like me to deliver?
  • What are some things I do well?
    This question is a chance for self-reflection and for employees to emphasize what they view as their strengths. It’s also a solid question for manager and peer reviews. Providing employees with their manager’s perspective helps employees and managers align expectations for giving and receiving recognition.
  • What is one thing I would like to focus on in the next six months to help me grow and develop?
    This question helps employees set a personal performance goal to track while giving managers a framework to support that goal with informal and formal feedback.

Be open to questions—giving feedback is hard! These questions are crafted in a way that's empathetic to the answerer, but your employee may need some additional guidance in how to communicate feedback in a way that's useful, constructive, and empathetic to the receiver, as well.

Company-level feedback strategy: eNPS®

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Employee feedback is essential in the planning process. But as your company grows and employees stop literally rubbing elbows with founders and executives in a tiny office suite (or a single Zoom meeting), it takes more to gather this feedback and spot the high-level trends.

Many companies use the Net Promoter System® (or NPS) as a feedback mechanism for customer satisfaction. The system can also be adapted for employee feedback and released as an eNPS® survey.

The little e stands for employee. 😉

eNPS surveys ask employees two simple questions with the assurance that their responses will remain anonymous:

  • How much would you recommend working here? (Scale of 1-10)
  • Tell us why you feel this way. (Open response question)

Responses are then compiled into three groups:

  • Promoters (9-10): These employees love their jobs and your company, and they’re not afraid to let other people know that they’ve given you an A grade.
  • Neutrals (7-8): These employees aren’t enthusiastic, but they don’t have any complaints strong enough to make them take action. They give your organization an average C grade.
  • Detractors (6 and lower): With the natural tendency to inflate ratings in online surveys taken into account, these employees give your organization a failing grade. These are the employees who are likely to damage your organization through negligence (or actively sabotage their hated workplace).

After results are in, the Net Promoter System takes the percentage of each group compared to the total employee count, then subtracts the detractor percentage from the promoter percentage to give you a Net Promoter Score®. This score ranges from -100 (every response wouldn't recommend you) to 100 (every response loves you).

As an example: if your company had 30% of responding employees as promoters, 50 percent neutral, and 20 percent as detractors, then your eNPS would be 10. This score would indicate that you have decent support, but room to improve engagement among neutrals (possibly by addressing issues caused or brought up by detractors.)

Using eNPS comments as a bird’s eye view

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With results at such a large scale, eNPS isn’t designed to take the place of your managerial-level survey questions. But it can highlight feedback trends that might not make it up the chain of command to the people at the top, helping inform long-term decisions. The recommendation is to administer eNPS surveys every six months and track changes in score in response to your company’s previous decisions.

It’s also recommended to go through every employee’s response and categorize them—there are a lot of tools that can help with this. While your company can’t approve every request outright (there can be no end to the Office Thermostat War), it can spot major trends and address them in the company at large—whether or not there’s a change in policy.

I experienced this at BambooHR during two separate meetings highlighting major eNPS results. Both times, employees had requested more paid time off. In the first meeting, our director of HR explained the thought that went into crafting the leave plan and the challenges involved in making changes.

Here’s what most of us didn’t know: increasing the amount of unused PTO would lead to larger payouts when employees left for a new job. Based on usage and other factors, increased PTO wasn’t the right decision at that time. But as things changed in the next few months, and (after a generally-unknown amount of behind-the-scenes work) soon BambooHR was able to offer a more generous leave policy.

Key takeaways

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There is no perfect template of employee engagement survey questions that can convince every employee at every company that their leaders are listening to employees. As with all other communication, effective listening means taking steps to continue the conversation after it starts.

But starting with questions that demonstrate your company’s interest in that conversation and following up with appropriate transparency and real changes can show your employees the true impact of their feedback.

As you take change slowly—one step at a time, overcoming issues and helping employees grow—your company will earn their gratitude and engagement in return.

For a deeper dive into increasing employee engagement at your organization, check out our guide:

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Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.

Originally published on May 15, 2020 → Last updated June 19, 2020

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Brian Anderson

Brian Anderson is an HR copywriter, with work exploring the intersection between employee engagement, total rewards, and HR software. He’s lucky enough to write about people topics in his day job with BambooHR, a full-service, cloud-based HR management software. You can find more from Brian at BambooHR's blog.

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