Employee Engagement

3 Simple Steps to Designing a Better Employee Engagement Survey

January 31, 2019
November 7, 2023
Lattice Team

According to the 2018 Gallup report, 34% of employees in the United States are actively engaged at work. In other words, the majority — 66% — are not. Employee engagement is critical because it helps retention and improves performance, and to get your employees out of that 66% group, you have to know your business, your employees, and your weak spots to move forward.

This is why many turn to employee engagement surveys, which help companies get a read on high and low points and offer a valuable space for candid feedback — if used correctly.

A survey can’t measure or fix every problem at once, and you will lose time and money if you try to approach it this way. To create an engagement survey that gives you valuable data, you must be strategic about how to generate an actionable outcome. Focus on pinpointing a specific problem (the what), identifying drivers that contribute to the problem (the why), and then begin tailoring your questions (the how).

1. The What: Determine your focus area

Identifying one focus area helps provide a clear goal for the employee engagement survey and outlines what you want to achieve. This is an exercise in determining the scope of your inquiry and what you are asking employees about.

The first thing to do is brainstorm and make a list of problems that you think may be affecting employee engagement. You'll want to do the following:

  • Consult company leadership. Ideally, leaders have a finger on the pulse of the company, understanding the organizational culture and strategic objectives. Ask for their opinions when determining employee engagement problems and prioritizing issues. Include managers and leaders from different departments, particularly HR.
  • Review past surveys. Has your company executed employee engagement surveys in the past? What problems were identified? Did you address or improve employee engagement problems, or are they still an issue? Problems can vary from survey to survey, so make sure that you identify current issues and action areas.
  • Use exit surveys. While exit surveys are not an unbiased look at a company, they can provide some relatively honest feedback from former employees. If you have had employees leave recently, it can be worth seeing whether there are any common problems they identify in their exit surveys.

Now it's time to narrow your scope. You need to pick one area of focus that will ultimately help define the desired outcome of the survey. This process starts by determining possible focus areas from your brainstorm and prioritizing which one(s) to tackle. Start by asking these questions for each possible area:

  1. Is this a problem that we can solve within a reasonable time frame?
  2. How often is the problem occurring?
  3. How costly or problematic is the issue?
  4. Does the company have the resources to solve the problem?
  5. What is the main benefit of solving the problem?

After going through this prioritization process with the other problems, choose the one that is both most immediate and solvable.

2. The Why: Determine your drivers

Now that your focus area is determined, you need to identify the drivers of the problem — the areas within the work environment that are the biggest factors of the problem and thus lower your employees’ levels of engagement.

To decide what these drivers are, try using the 5 Whys Analysis to break down the drivers of the problem:

  • Write down the problem.
  • Ask “Why is this problem occurring?”
  • Determine a reason the problem exists.
  • Ask “Why is this occurring?” and document. Do this for each reason.
  • Keep asking “Why?” until you reach the root cause.

For example, your company decides that its biggest problem is that employees in the customer service department are reporting that they feel burned out. You can start by asking the first why:

  • Why? The workload is too much for employees to realistically handle.
  • Why? Management expects employees to close too many tickets each day.
  • Why? We have gained 50 new clients over the past year.
  • Why? Our sales team has gained four new employees.

This gets you to the root of the problem — you are adding clients faster than customer service employees. Summarize and clarify as you go to ensure that each possible reason is understood. You may need to ask “why” more or less than five times (as seen above) to find the true cause. There also may be more than one possible reason for the problem.

This analysis will give you a hypothesis about possible problems that employees are experiencing — not a surefire answer. They are the building blocks of your engagement survey and should be used to shape the content in the engagement survey, not taken as gospel when determining why employees are feeling disengaged.  

3. The How: Build your engagement survey

You now have the foundation to design a customized survey. Continuing with the previous example, let’s take a look at how to tackle the problem of burnout:

  1. Problem: Employees in your customer service department are feeling burned  out.
  2. Drivers: Employee workload, manager expectations, training.
  3. Potential roots: Increase in clients not supported by hiring, management.

Based on this information, you can begin crafting individual questions for the survey. Keep it short and focused by asking tailored questions that are necessary to analyze the data, but don't ask questions that put words in your employees' mouths.

For example, “Do you think we hired too many new salespeople and not enough customer service reps [yes/no]” restricts an employee's ability to really give feedback. It only reflects one narrow perspective. Instead, try a set of statements like these:

  • My manager sets clear goals for my performance. [Strongly disagree – Strongly agree]
  • I frequently struggle to meet my expected quota of service tickets. [Strongly disagree – Strongly agree]
  • I am confident in my ability to tackle day-to-day challenges at my job. [Strongly disagree – Strongly agree]
  • If I could change one thing about my job/department, it would be [open answer].

This series of statements investigates whether managing and training or an increase in clients is more likely the cause of stress and allows employees to speak in their own words about what they see as the biggest engagement problem.

Rather than a simple yes/no, this gets at the potential drivers of your problem. If employees rate their managers and their confidence about tackling challenges poorly, better management support is needed. If they simply struggle to meet a quota and express a desire to add a team member, it's likely an increase in customers.

Write as many questions or statements as you need to ask about all of your drivers. The number will depend on your topics and your audience, but if you find yourself covering too much ground, it's OK to limit the survey to fewer problems.

Don't stop there . . .

You have established a list of problems affecting engagement, narrowed it down to the most important problems, and determined potential drivers of those problems. Then, you started brainstorming the types of questions and determined the length of your survey to optimize it for success.

From here, you can successfully craft individual questions for your employee engagement survey, distribute it, collect it, and then act on the results to improve employee engagement.

If you're interested in running a survey with Lattice, we’d be happy to help. Fill out this form and then we’ll set you up with a product demo.