The careful and effective design of an employee survey is crucial to ensuring participant understanding and buy-in, and to gaining staff feedback that is reliable and actionable.

Here we outline some best practice advice on planning your survey, design advice, some considerations for question choice, and the best scoring mechanism to employ.

Companies with engaged employees pull in 2.5x more revenues compared to competitors with low engagement levels. Hay Group
Plan your survey

Planning your employee survey

Before designing any employee survey it's important to be clear about why you are running it, who needs to be involved, your preparation time and how often you intend to run it, if you are to maximise its value following implementation. Here are a few considerations to help with the planning process:

  • What are your survey objectives?

    It's critical to be clear about what you are looking to achieve. For example, if you want to get an accurate measure of employee satisfaction and engagement levels, it is imperative that your questions address what's important to staff and that they are aligned with your business processes.

  • Who should be involved?

    Depending on the size of your business you could have many different stakeholder groups you need to involve. From department heads to line managers, asking their opinions about what they want to get out of the survey and what it should measure before its launched, ensures the feedback you invite from your staff is most likely to align with what matters most to your business.

  • How long should you prepare?

    This really depends on the complexity and scale of your project. To send out a simple pulse survey you could use a template and be up and running in minutes. More complex surveys such as 360 feedback can take a little more time to implement. If you are short on time and have a complex project you may want to consider looking at a managed service. Utilising a managed service can help you get even the most complex surveys implemented in a short time frame enabling you to make change happen quickly.

  • Is the survey secure?

    Web based employee survey software from accredited providers like SmartSurvey significantly reduce the effort it takes to get a solution in place. ISO27001, Cyber essentials + and UK based hosting are all going to get big ticks from your IT department, will adhere to their online security requirements and - unlike many other solutions - will mean they don't have to worry about installing or supporting the system. Choosing the right provider, with the right accreditations drastically reduces the time to implementation as you will get far less resistance from your IT team.

  • When's the best time to run an employee survey? And how frequently?

    This depends on how and where your survey results are used. Companies that work to a fiscal year may prefer to run it in the first quarter, while those that plan on a calendar year might want to run it in the Autumn, so they have enough time to analyse the results for budgeting and planning ready for the following January.

Design considerations for an effective survey

This can vary depending on your company size and the areas you have identified as critical to be surveyed. However, typically most employee surveys are roughly 30–40 questions in length and ideally require no longer than 10–15 minutes to complete.

  1. Make sure you have a clear objective and know what action you will drive from the data collected
  2. Do not ask questions about non-essential information
  3. Focus on two or three topics that will have the greatest impact on business goals
  4. Identify areas that require richer feedback and ask more detailed questions
  5. Don't ask leading questions, try to stick to closed questions that use multiple choice or checkbox type answers
  6. Make sure your survey isn't too long – respect your respondents time!
  7. If you use open free text questions, try not to include more than 1 or 2, as they can be much trickier to answer, make the survey longer to complete and could reduce the number of responses
  8. If you want to get a lot of responses think about incorporating an incentive into your survey
  9. Critically review your survey to make sure you receive actionable results
Survey design tips

Employee Survey Templates

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Highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their companies than their less engaged counterparts. Corporate Leadership Council (PDF)

Maximising employee survey responses

To obtain the most honest response to your surveys, they need to be convenient, communicated clearly and ensure employees feel safe to be open and honest. Follow these tips to improve your response rates and ensure the feedback is meaningful:

  1. Keep responses anonymous

    To obtain the most honest response to your surveys, it is important to provide anonymity, so your employees feel safe to give you open and truthful feedback without the worry of reprisal.

  2. Go digital

    Both from a staff and employer point of view, online forms and surveys have many advantages over their paper-based counterpart. From making it easier for staff to complete across a range of different devices at a time and place convenient to them, to making it quicker and simpler for employers to collect and analyse their information through a range of links, digital surveys are extremely valuable for garnering employee feedback.

  3. Improve internal communications

    Employee surveys can also be designed to assess aspects of company culture and operations, such as internal meetings, new employees' exprience of onboarding, work-related or informal staff events, or feedback on staff training. Carrying out a quick online survey can enable you to evaluate if you are meeting your objectives and so help improve the way things are done.

  4. Questions that maximise engagement

    To maximise staff engagement and the value you can obtain from their feedback, it's essential to include questions that measure what they think and feel about your company and how this affects their behaviour. Questions can span areas including their role, career aspirations, or benefits, or relate to your brand, internal communications, or feedback on the management team.

  5. Questions that can typically reveal interesting employee thoughts include:
    • Their impressions of your organisation
    • Views about your company's hierarchy and management team
    • Understanding of their role and how it contributes to your business
  6. Questions that can measure staff feelings include:
    • Their level of passion for your company
    • Sense of pride and belonging
    • Level of job satisfaction
  7. Questions to measure how thoughts and feelings affect employee actions include:
    • Their willingness to go the extra mile for your business
    • Intention to stay with you and progress
    • The likelihood they'll recommend you as a great employer (see eNPS surveys)

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Choose a rating scale for your employee survey

One of the most effective formats for a question is to include a rating scale, where respondents can grade how satisfied they are with something, from very unhappy to extremely satisfied.

Likert scales that operate on a four- or five-point system are common and extremely popular. But each has its own strengths and weaknesses, so you would need to consider what best fits your needs.

  • Four-point scale

    Can be simpler to interpret, but is more restricted, which forces respondents to make a positive and negative response. This can make data results appear much better or worse than they are

  • Five-point scale

    With a wider scale it's much easier to distinguish between positive and negative scales, but it can also result in more respondents choosing the middle neutral option, which can make it more difficult to draw any conclusions from your research

Employee survey rating scale

Employee Survey Templates

From selecting what areas you should measure to choosing the questions to ask, it can be daunting to know where to begin with your first survey. We've developed a great selection of fully customisable templates for you to start with.

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Employee benefit survey template

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