If you are planning an engagement survey, what you ask and how you ask it is of utmost importance. An engagement survey is intended to help you solve a critical problem at your company, better your workplace, and identify your strengths — so you need to be sure that your employee engagement survey questions are actually going to give you insight into your problem.
In truth, designing a survey is not something you can knock out in 30 minutes. For years, psychologists have worked on perfecting to effective surveys: making the best matrices, designing the best questions, and developing the best interview guidelines for everything from quality of life in cancer patients to ergonomic passenger comfort.
That's because how you design your questions, what you ask, how you phrase questions, and even what response options you offer can have a statistically significant effect on results. So rather than making up something all on your own, here's a guide that can help you ask the right employee engagement survey questions.
What makes a good question?
No matter what you are asking, the bones of good survey questions are the same. Questions should
- be pointed and unambiguous;
- ask only one thing at a time;
- be worded neutrally;
- offer space for employees to write comments, where appropriate; and
- ask about something you can change.
Following this recipe for creating questions will help you get to the heart of what's happening in your company. Now let's see them in action.
Lattice's employee engagement surveys include suggested questions developed from psychological and management research, with the help of UC Berkeley professor and behavioral economist Elizabeth Linos, to get you started. Anything in this article marked with an asterisk is one of the many questions that you can find in Lattice's employee engagement survey tool.
We also recommend the type of responses you make available. Most questions are well-suited to something called the Likert scale, which runs from strongly disagree to strongly agree. This type of response helps gauge how vehemently an employee feels about a topic, either negatively or positively. It is widely used in surveys — in fact, you've probably taken dozens of surveys with this type of response.
Development and growth
Employees need to see a clear path for development and have that development be supported in order to be engaged at work. Asking whether or not employees are satisfied with their growth options is key to understanding their engagement.
- I can list concrete steps I need to take in order to move up in my organization within the next year (strongly disagree – strongly agree). This is a direct question that can help you determine whether employees feel they can grow at your company. It helps you identify whether employees have a clear vision of their trajectory at your company.
- I speak with my manager at least twice a quarter about my progress on my goals (strongly disagree – strongly agree). This question benefits from a time frame. Wording that is more ambiguous — “I regularly speak with . . .”— leads to vague results that are difficult to act on. Is regularly once a week? Once a month?
- I feel comfortable asking for help if I do not have the skills required to meet my goals (strongly disagree – strongly agree + comment box). Adding a comment box here allows employees to elaborate on their discomfort. Is their manager not receptive? Do they feel that a time crunch on their productivity leaves no opportunity to ask questions?
- This organization really inspires the very best in me when it comes to job performance (strongly disagree – strongly agree).* When employees believe that they are being pushed to do their best work, they are fully engaged in their development and production at a company.
Workers don't want to feel like nameless drones. They have career aspirations that can, in a good company, be encouraged. If employees don't feel their personal goals align with what your company is offering, they are more likely to be disengaged or may even seek other work.
- There is adequate company support for my skill development (strongly disagree – strongly agree). This question addresses personal goals by asking employees to gauge how well the company supports the acquisition of skills they want to learn, not something prescribed by a manager.
- I am excited about the majority of my work projects/customers (always/sometimes/never). If employees aren't excited about the work they are doing, they are definitely not getting fulfillment from their jobs. Adding an always/sometimes/never scale helps managers identify how engaged employees are in the work they are doing, thus surfacing folks who may be at risk for leaving.
- I find that my values and the organization’s values are similar (strongly disagree – strongly agree).* When employees can see their core beliefs reflected in the place they work, they are more likely to find personal satisfaction working there.
- I plan to still be at this company in two years. This is an indirect yet powerful way to gauge happiness with personal goals. Those who are not planning long-term employment with you will not believe that their personal goals align with what your company is offering them.
Alignment and company goals
If an employee doesn't know why they're doing what they are doing, then their job is meaningless. Imagine coming into work every day and being 100% engaged with a meaningless job — you probably can't!
- In one sentence, the overarching goal of our company is [blank answer box]. Giving an open-ended question to start this section will help you see exactly what employees think of your mission and how their jobs relate to it. Without this, you will struggle to interpret results.
- I feel my job directly supports that goal (strongly disagree – strongly agree). This is a useful follow-up to the previous question because it helps you determine whether employees think that what they are doing has an impact on the company's success.
- We regularly take time to figure out ways to improve our team’s work processes (strongly disagree – strongly agree).* When a team is constantly refining their processes, that's a great sign that people are internally aligned and committed to working toward a goal.
- My team has clear and prioritized objectives (strongly disagree – strongly agree). This question can be a great way to dig into the different segments of your company. If a certain team lacks alignment or goals, it can affect that segment's overall connection to the company, but you won't know the team alignment is the reason unless you ask.
A job can be stimulating but unsatisfying. Asking about satisfaction in particular is critical for an engagement survey because it delves into more than just how well employees understand their roles on paper.
- I am proud to be an employee at my company (strongly disagree – strongly agree). A broad question like this is a gut check for your company. It can help you clearly delineate how employees are feeling, even if some of the more nuanced or personal questions about job satisfaction show mixed results.
- I would refer a friend or a family member to this company (yes/no). If an employee would recommend that a friend or a family member work for the company, they are definitely satisfied with their employer. Putting a hard yes/no cap on this question forces a decisive statement.
- I feel exhausted in the morning at the thought of another day at work (always/sometimes/never).* Satisfaction is more than just an overall good feeling about a job; it also means that people are excited about the work they are doing.
- I feel recognized for my hard work and successes at work (strongly disagree – strongly agree). If an employee believes that they are not being recognized, they may not derive satisfaction from their work. If all of the other questions indicate that people are generally happy but engagement is low, asking whether they feel seen is a way to frame their problem more holistically.
Without good communication, companies don't work. But it's often hard to identify whether or not communicative efforts are working on an individual level — especially if they're not.
- When I approach my manager with a problem, I trust that they will listen (strongly disagree – strongly agree). By asking something that is both specific and personal, you can learn a great deal about the responder. Gaging a degree of trust is an excellent way to discuss communication without being vague.
- I know who to talk to if I am having a problem that is not in my manager's domain (strongly disagree – strongly agree). If an employee doesn't know who to talk to, then communication is at zero, which is a big problem that often goes unnoticed.
- Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues (strongly disagree – strongly agree).* Asking if a team communicates well is tricky because it can be broken down many ways — from 1:1 talks to project meetings. But asking whether anyone can bring up a tough issue helps determine whether the team feels empowered to speak up.
- I am comfortable sharing my opinion at an all-hands meeting (strongly disagree – strongly agree). Asking this will tell you how confident employees feel about opening up to the company. If someone strongly disagrees, that's an indication that you need to further probe the problem; for example, is it because they don't expect people to listen or because they're not sure what avenue follow to bring an opinion up?
Whether it's a noisy, disruptive workplace or a team culture that prizes arrogant behavior, the work environment can be a big factor in an employee's engagement with and enjoyment from their job.
- Our company provides all the tools and materials I need to do my job (always/sometimes/never + followup box). This is a baseline question that covers the physical needs of a working environment. If workers don't feel as though they are getting everything they need to perform, engagement will fly out the window.
- I feel like I belong in this company (strongly disagree – strongly agree).* This is a powerful indicator of whether or not something is awry, especially when you analyze your results to look at how different groups feel.
- In three words, I would describe our company culture as (comment box). If you want to know how your employees feel about your culture, the best thing to do is to let them use their own words. Preset choices won't encourage honesty; they will limit the ability for employees to respond.
- If I could change one thing about our company culture, it would be (comment box). This is an important follow-up to asking about the culture. For example, you might feel that “competitive” is an important aspect of your company culture. But if many employees list “competitiveness” as something they would change, you've gained insight into a disconnect between employees and management.
An employee's relationship with their manager is one of the most important working relationships, and asking about management can tell you two main things. One is whether your managers are doing what they are supposed to be doing in, accordance with your policies. The other is whether your management policies are working.
- My manager demonstrates an interest in my well-being (strongly disagree – strongly agree). While the responses to this question can vary by manager, if the majority of respondents don't feel their managers care, it's more than a case-by-case problem — it's a systematic lack of support from the top down.
- I feel comfortable giving feedback to my manager (always/sometimes/never). If an employee can be honest with their manager about the manager's performance, that is an indicator that an employee and a manager have built a strong working relationship.
- My manager generally responds to my questions within the business day (always/sometimes/never). This is an easy way to see whether a disengagement problem for your employees may really be a disengagement problem with your managers.
- My manager has the technical expertise required to effectively manage me (strongly disagree – strongly agree).* This is a good question to ask when a manager is going through all the right motions — the 1:1s, the public praise, the problem solving — but a team is still disengaged. Even the best-intentioned manager will fail if they don't have the tools to support their team.
Try it out yourself
If you are feeling inspired by these questions or are ready to set up your own engagement survey, contact us today. And remember that the questions here are just a small fraction of what's available in the Lattice engagement survey and that every single one of those questions has been expertly formulated.