Employee Engagement

Running an Employee Survey? Get Better Data With the Likert Scale.

August 5, 2020
November 7, 2023
Andy Przystanski
Lattice Team

Getting statisticians to agree on survey methodology is easier said than done. You might say they tend to disagree or even strongly disagree.

But while HR teams have a few different models to choose from when conducting employee surveys, one time-tested approach has become their go-to. The Likert scale, developed in 1932, asks survey-takers to respond to a prompt with one of five possible answers:

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Neutral 
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

HR teams then calculate a positive response score by adding up “strongly agree” and “agree” scores by the number of responses received. For example, if 100 employees answered a question and fifty of them reacted positively, your positive response score would be 50. You can learn how this is calculated in Lattice by visiting our Help Center.

Sound simple? That’s why the model works so well. Similar to Net Promoter Score (NPS), the Likert scale’s simplicity makes it possible to measure sentiment toward a broad range of topics. With respect to the workplace, it’s been used to track engagement, belonging, trust in leadership, and other dimensions of the employee experience.

We asked leaders why they preferred using the Likert scale and whether open-ended questions still had a place in employee surveying.

Ease of Analysis 

While open text fields or multiple-choice questions give you specificity, they don’t lend themselves well to analysis. Using the Likert scale makes it easier to collect, analyze, and subsequently act on employee feedback.

“We’ve found the Likert scale to be enormously useful because it allows comparative, apples-to-apples views of data. It’s easy to spot trends and identify patterns,” said Richard Williamson, Chief Strategist at BackBurner Marketing. When the same scale is applied to all of your questions, tracking employee survey results in a tool like Lattice is easy (see below). When you don’t follow the same methodology throughout, HR teams are left with the messy and error-prone task of assigning point values to open-ended comments.

As covered earlier, survey responses can be summed up with a positive response score. That said, engagement survey software makes it possible to filter these by department, manager, job level, or any other field captured by your HR tools. While overall scores might be telling on their own, looking at cross-sections like these give you more actionable insights.

Because of their broad nature, questions rated on the Likert scale can even be used to rate sentiment on things that usually fall outside of an HR team’s scope — like how employees feel about their company’s customer service model or cross-departmental collaboration. “Many companies use employee surveys and the Likert scale to not only learn about the employees themselves but also to get at the core of customer service and customer-interaction or marketing issues,” Williamson said. Lattice provides clients with pre-built survey templates on engagement, belonging, and even crisis management — but even then, users can add their own custom questions.

Employee Participation

Getting employees to respond to surveys has always been a challenge in HR. One of the golden rules in surveying is to hold your audience’s attention by keeping things simple and straight to the point.

“Using the Likert scale in surveys is a great, pragmatic approach to employee feedback. It's easy, convenient, and feels natural for responders. Employees might shy away from a complete open-response survey as they think it will take too much time,” said Tim Reitsma, co-founder of People Managing People. While the Likert scale lends itself well to general surveys, it’s especially well-suited for shorter Pulse surveys for the same reason. “People can usually complete these one-to-five scale ratings in a matter of minutes,” Reitsma said.

While the industry average for HR survey participation can reach as low as just 30% to 40%, surveys that incorporate the Likert scale tend to fair better. Lattice’s engagement surveys, which feature questions rated on the Likert scale, average a 74% participation rate. Those additional insights are invaluable when it comes to drawing conclusions and action planning.

Open-Ended Responses

The Likert scale sets guardrails that make employee surveys easier to complete and analyze. But that isn’t to say there isn’t a place for open-text responses in employee surveying.

“For the best results, always use the Likert scale in conjunction with open-ended text responses. That will give you both the statistical data and the reasons why the data is what it is. For instance, maybe 25% of your employees think your compensation strategy is inadequate because you don’t offer enough paid time off,” said Reuben Yonatan, founder of GetVoIP. In other words, while Likert-scale questions identify what your key problem areas are, open-ended questions help clarify the why behind them.

HR teams have a variety of ways to analyze comments. Some find it helpful to aggregate results using a world cloud. Others use engagement survey software to filter responses by their Likert score and read the comments from there. Doing it this way doesn’t just empower you to learn why your “strong disagrees” feel a certain way — you can also pinpoint what programs your promoters feel you shouldn’t touch. Both sets of comments are just as valuable in informing your next steps.

When you ask employees to complete a survey, they expect their responses to be put to good use. Analyzing their feedback is the first step in making good on that promise. Next, you’ll need to decide which opportunities to focus on and set goals accordingly. To see how Lattice’s software makes taking that leap easy, schedule a tour of the platform today.