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Mastering Employee Engagement Surveys: From Data to Action

Discover how to harness the power of employee feedback using surveys to build a thriving, successful organization that attracts and retains top talent, drives innovation, and delivers exceptional results


Engaged employees are the lifeblood of any thriving company and are vital to driving productivity, growth, and customer satisfaction. However, according to the latest Gallup research, while employee engagement has improved over the past few years, employees still feel stressed, undervalued, and disengaged at work.

Since employees spend most of their waking hours at work, failing to understand and address the factors that cause disengagement can have severe consequences not only for an employee’s well-being but also directly impact organizations, including higher turnover costs, damage to brand reputation, and lost business opportunities.

It can be challenging to know exactly what to do to create more engaged employees, but what’s clear is that only employees can tell you what’s contributing to their disengagement. This is where employee engagement surveys come in.

Employee engagement surveys provide a direct line of communication between your leadership team and workforce to offer invaluable insights into the employee experience. By regularly collecting and analyzing employee feedback, your organization can identify areas for boosting engagement and business success.

However, conducting effective employee engagement surveys entails much more than a few general questions sent once – they require careful planning, strategic question design, and a commitment to acting on the results.

Whether you’re a seasoned HR professional or a business leader looking to improve your organization’s performance, this guide is an essential resource for mastering the art and science of employee engagement surveys, from determining the best employee engagement survey questions to transforming survey results into valuable insights, arming you with the knowledge and best practices necessary to keep employees engaged and unlock the full potential of your workforce.

What is an employee engagement survey?

An employee engagement survey is a tool for measuring engagement, satisfaction, and employee sentiment. It is a structured questionnaire designed to gather perceptions, attitudes, and emotions related to various aspects of the employee experience, such as job satisfaction, technology needs, company culture, and leadership.

By collecting and analyzing survey results, organizations can gain valuable insights into the factors contributing to employee disengagement, expand on strengths, and develop targeted initiatives for improvement.

Why are employee engagement surveys important?

Engagement surveys allow organizations to measure the level of happiness, interest, and enthusiasm among employees and provide them with a platform to express their opinions, suggestions, and concerns.

Surveys can help organizations:

  • Identify strengths and weaknesses: Surveys provide a comprehensive view into employees’ minds, enabling leaders to make data-driven decisions and prioritize initiatives that will significantly impact employee engagement.
  • Improve retention: Engaged employees are more likely to stay with the organization, reducing turnover costs and preserving valuable institutional knowledge. Organizations can improve employee satisfaction and loyalty by addressing issues identified through surveys.
  • Enhance performance: High-performing, engaged employees are more productive, innovative, and committed. Organizations can create a culture of excellence and achieve long-term success by fostering a positive work environment and addressing concerns shared via engagement surveys.
  • Benchmark progress: Regular employee engagement surveys allow organizations to track progress over time and benchmark their performance against industry standards, providing a clearer picture of the effectiveness of their engagement initiatives.

For the first time ever, organizational culture has moved into Gartner‘s list of top five priorities for HR leaders in 2024. Interestingly, leaders reported that even with increased focus and investment, nearly half still need help measuring culture and driving meaningful change. This is where employee engagement surveys can serve as a valuable listening tool to help leadership, human resources, IT, and other teams identify areas for improvement in processes, policies, and communication.

How to create an effective employee engagement survey

Now that you know getting feedback from an employee engagement survey can help you better understand what you need to do to improve employee morale and productivity, you may be in a hurry to build and send out your first questionnaire.

After all, the sooner you send the survey, the faster you can act on the results, right?

Crafting a well-designed employee engagement survey is a critical step toward building a thriving and productive workforce by effectively engaging employees through understanding their workplace experiences. Let’s explore how to design a survey that asks the right questions, measures the essential aspects of engagement, and provides actionable insights by identifying improvement areas that foster a more committed and satisfied workforce.

Ask the right type of engagement questions

Start by clearly defining the purpose of your survey (i.e., what do you hope to accomplish?), focusing on key areas such as job satisfaction, communication, leadership, digital work environment, and even career development opportunities. You can’t choose the right survey questions until you define the reason behind the survey and decide what you want to learn, why you want to know it, and how you plan to use the information.

To understand the employee experience comprehensively, including a mix of question types to gather quantitative and qualitative data can help you measure employee sentiment more easily. Examples include:

  • Satisfaction questions gauge employees’ overall satisfaction with various aspects of their work environment, technology interactions, and experiences.This question type traditionally uses a Likert scale (e.g., “On a scale of 1-5…”) that allows employees to select a numerical answer that can be easily analyzed and scored. To measure employee satisfaction, you can ask a survey question like:

    On a scale of 1-5, how satisfied are you with the resolution of your recent help desk issue?
  • Multiple-choice questions allow employees to select from a list of predefined options, making them ideal for collecting standardized data that can be easily analyzed and compared, such as:

    Which of the following should the company work on?

    A. Career development
    B. Company culture
    C. Compensation
    D. Benefits 

  • Open-ended questions allow employees to share their thoughts and experiences in their own words, offering valuable qualitative data that can supplement quantitative survey results. For example:

    What do you think management can do to improve your work/life balance?
  • Diagnostic questions help identify specific areas for improvement and provide insights into the effectiveness of existing processes and initiatives, such as:

    Were the help desk instructions clear and easy to understand?

Another important aspect of an employee engagement survey is that it’s anonymous. Not even members of the human resources department or the most senior leaders should have the means to identify individual respondent’s survey data. By protecting personal identities, employees feel more comfortable sharing their genuine opinions without fear of repercussions, and it helps ensure that the collected survey responses are accurate and reliable.

Common themes to focus on in employee engagement surveys

When organizations conduct employee engagement surveys, they typically want to gauge employee sentiment on topics that would increase employee performance and pinpoint specific issues like employee retention and job satisfaction.

By focusing survey themes on crucial factors that contribute to disengagement, your organization can gain valuable insights into the drivers of employee engagement and take targeted actions to improve the employee experience. Common employee survey themes include:

  • Belonging and inclusion: Sending surveys to measure the sense of belonging and inclusion is vital for creating an engaged workforce. Employees who feel valued, respected, and part of a supportive team are more likely to be motivated and committed to their work.
  • Business and individual goal alignment: You can conduct surveys to measure employee engagement insights around the alignment between personal goals and organizational objectives. Employees who understand how their work contributes to the company’s success are more likely to find meaning and purpose in their roles.
  • Communication and trust: Assessing the level of trust and communication between employees and their managers is also meaningful to understand when identifying opportunities to improve employee engagement. Employees are more likely to be engaged and invested in their work when they feel that their opinions are valued, concerns are addressed, and contributions are recognized.
  • Compensation and benefits: Surveys about employee satisfaction with compensation, benefits, and recognition programs are crucial for attracting and retaining top talent. When employees feel that their contributions are fairly rewarded and their efforts are appreciated, they are more likely to remain engaged and committed to the organization.
  • Digital employee experience: One of the most critical aspects to measure is the impact of IT resolution and digital tools on employee productivity. This survey can include specific questions about the frequency and quality of IT support, the effectiveness of digital tools provided, and how these factors contribute to or hinder daily work efficiency.
  • Work-life and well-being: Surveys about work-life balance and employee well-being are increasingly important in today’s fast-paced and demanding work environment. When employees feel overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out, employee performance, engagement, and productivity can suffer.

Gallup found in that companies with high employee engagement have 23% higher profitability, 13% higher productivity, 17% more sales, and 10% more customer satisfaction compared to organizations with low-engagement teams.

Gallup, State of the Global Workplace: 2024 Report

What to measure in an employee engagement survey

When measuring the results of an employee engagement survey, it’s essential to use success metrics that reflect an organization’s objectives for conducting the survey. This section will delve into the best practices for analyzing survey outcomes, ensuring that the data collected serves as a meaningful reflection of employee sentiment and aligns with the organization’s strategic goals.

Using the same common survey themes above, the following are examples of question topics that relate to each survey type and can allow organizations to not only score sentiment to more easily determine employee engagement but also identify actionable insights for improving the employee experience and overall workplace satisfaction:

  • Belonging and inclusion: Assessing the level of collaboration, the prevalence of inclusive behaviors, and the perception of diversity and equity initiatives can help organizations identify potential barriers to engagement and take steps to create a more inclusive culture.
  • Business and individual goal alignment: By assessing the clarity of job expectations, the availability of resources and support, and the opportunities for growth and development, organizations can identify areas where employees may feel disconnected or need more support.
  • Communication and trust: Measuring the effectiveness of communication channels, the frequency and quality of feedback, and the perceived fairness of performance evaluations can provide a clear picture of the employee-manager relationship.
  • Compensation and benefits: By assessing the competitiveness of compensation packages, the effectiveness of recognition programs, and the perceived value of benefits, organizations can ensure that they are meeting the needs and expectations of their workforce.
  • Digital employee experience: By measuring satisfaction levels with IT services and the usability of digital tools, organizations can gain insights into how these elements affect overall productivity and engagement, identify patterns and areas that require attention, and make informed decisions to enhance the digital employee experience and productivity.
  • Work-life and well-being: By assessing the workload, flexibility of work arrangements, and availability of wellness programs and resources, organizations can proactively address potential sources of stress and support employee well-being throughout the employee lifecycle.

How long does it take to improve employee engagement? Gallup found moderate employee performance improvements occur after just one year of implementing employee engagement initiatives, with significant improvements after maintaining engagement initiatives for three or more years.

Once analyzed, organizations can use survey data to:

  • Establish a feedback loop to inform employees how the organization will use their responses and suggestions to make business changes.
  • Identify priorities for action plans based on the areas with the lowest scores, highest scores, or areas where you can make the most significant impact on engagement.
  • Implement employee experience level agreements (XLAs) to set clear expectations and show that leadership is committed to improving the employee experience.
  • Set baselines and benchmarks to track progress over time.

Best practices for conducting employee engagement surveys

Here’s where we get into the art and science of conducting employee engagement surveys. The key to a successful employee engagement survey is leveraging a “how, what, why, and when” mindset that ensures the process, reasoning, and measurement efforts are not only streamlined but actionable.

  • How will you design and conduct the survey? Creating a dedicated survey design team that includes a diverse group of stakeholders from various departments, such as HR, communications, and data analytics, as well as leadership team members, can help ensure the survey covers all relevant aspects of the employee experience and aligns with the organization’s goals and values.
    You should also choose a reliable solution for conducting and compiling employee survey insights. Consider data security, notification features, reporting capabilities, and integration with your existing systems to ensure more comprehensive and well-rounded survey results.
  • What will you measure? Measure survey results using segments, such as job role type, length of employment, or business unit, to provide usable insights tailored to specific teams or groups of employees.
    Distilling more focused employee engagement survey results enables organizations to effectively address concerns and implement targeted improvements to enhance overall employee engagement.
  • Why are you sending the survey? Be transparent with your employees about the survey’s purpose, how you plan to use the responses, and the timeframe the organization can expect for each stage in the process.
    If this is your first engagement survey, you must follow through on your promises and keep to a schedule of regular surveys so that leaders and employees alike can track progress and identify trends over time.
  • When will you send the survey? You may be tempted to send out surveys every quarter or pulse surveys every time you want to level set on employee sentiment about new processes or tools. However, while sending too few surveys may make employees think you don’t care, sending too many surveys has been shown to lower response rates.
    To help increase survey response rates, factor in when employees are typically unavailable, such as during the holidays, or consider increasing the duration in which the survey is available to complete.

When is the best time to send an employee survey? Great Place to Work suggests asking two questions to help determine the best survey timing: What’s the goal of this survey? Will leadership be able to act on the responses in a timely manner?

Realize the benefits of employee surveys

An employee engagement survey is a crucial tool for measuring sentiment, employee engagement levels, and satisfaction within your organization. By carefully selecting the right questions, regularly conducting surveys, selecting the best metrics to measure, and acting on the insights gained, you can create a workplace culture that fosters productivity and employee well-being, ultimately leading to higher levels of engagement and improved business outcomes.

Tanium’s Digital Employee Experience (DEX) solution supports your ability to assess, monitor, and track sentiment scores over time using fully customizable surveys and reporting dashboards.

Key to Tanium’s DEX solution is its ability to provide valuable insights into the performance and health of your IT environment, enabling you to address issues that may impact employee productivity and satisfaction. Tanium’s powerful notification capabilities can help organizations proactively reach out to employees, provide targeted messaging, and guide them toward resolving issues without disrupting their workflow — even automating specific tasks to complete on their behalf. By empowering employees to leverage self-service capabilities and automating fixes before employees are even aware of problems, you can also reduce the burden on your help desk while improving overall employee experience and satisfaction.

Combining the power of Tanium’s real-time data capabilities with the ability to create, conduct, and measure employee sentiment allows for a holistic engagement strategy that improves employee satisfaction, optimizes processes, and ultimately achieves your business goals. You can explore our innovative approach to integrating AI with our vision for Autonomous Endpoint Management (AEM) and the exciting future for Tanium Converged Endpoint Management (XEM).

Tanium Staff

Tanium’s village of experts co-writes as Tanium Staff, sharing their lens on security, IT operations, and other relevant topics across the business and cybersphere.

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