Employee Engagement

Should Leaders Take Engagement Surveys?

August 7, 2023
November 7, 2023
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
Lattice Team

A well-designed survey, however, doesn’t just involve asking the right questions; it also must include the right participants. And that covers everybody from entry-level employees all the way up to a sometimes forgotten group when it comes to tracking engagement — leadership. 

After all, managers, middle managers, and executives are employees, too. And the feedback they provide in engagement surveys can ferret out the kind of disengagement and conflicts that make or break organizational culture and innovation. Here’s why employee engagement surveys must include leaders, and how to drive their participation in these surveys.

3 Reasons to Include Leaders in Engagement Surveys

  • Leaders are a key demographic within the organization.
  • Leaders offer a unique perspective on engagement.
  • Leaders will have insights on gaps in cross-functional areas.

3 Reasons Why Leadership Engagement Matters

No matter their position, employee satisfaction bolsters a variety of key workplace metrics, according to Gallup research. The research found that, between top- and bottom-quartile business units and teams, there was an 81% difference in absenteeism, 64% difference in safety incidents, and 23% difference in profitability.

Engagement surveys are designed to gather employee feedback about how well they feel supported and motivated to succeed. Drivers of employee engagement at every level include having the tools, training, and effective leadership they need to do their best work.

Including leaders in engagement surveys comes with three main benefits, said Tim Toterhi, founder of HR consultancy Plotline Leadership.

1. Leaders are a key demographic within the organization.

Managers matter. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report, 70% of a team’s engagement is attributable to its manager, and managers are burning out. The same Gallup report found that 41% of managers reported feeling stress for a lot of the day before. 

“Knowing and responding to [leaders’] issues is really important,” Toterhi said. 

2. Leaders offer a unique perspective on engagement. 

Managers and executives often have a behind-the-scenes understanding of why certain workplace policies and practices are in place. Their answers will reflect those insights. 

“They’ll have a view as to the organization, its practices, its offerings that might differ from other folks,” Toterhi noted. “If you set up your engagement survey the right way and you’re open about how you combine that data, you’ll get that different perspective and can leverage it.” 

3. Leaders will have insights on gaps in different areas. 

Common engagement survey questions often cover issues of company culture, performance, and rewards. The leadership team’s answers to questions like these may signal a disconnect with the rest of the workforce. Leaders, for example, may think they’re offering plenty of rewards and recognition to their top talent, while survey results may show that their employees disagree. Results like those flag a critical, but not uncommon, disconnect that organizations should address.

“If you don’t have their voice in the mix, you’re only getting one side of the story,” Toterhi said. 

Measuring Engagement at Each Leadership Level

When crafting an engagement survey, it’s best practice to ask every employee the same questions, so it’s possible to compare and contrast survey answers across different demographics. Well-crafted questions allow HR teams to analyze engagement survey results by any number of criteria, including department, gender identity, and job level, to identify trends, employee needs, and demands for new initiatives and interventions. 

But each leadership level comes with its own unique needs, challenges, and experiences. As you build out engagement surveys and evaluate the results, consider leaders’ perspectives and what key insights you can glean from their answers to your survey questions. 

Here’s why gathering engagement data from each leadership level matters, and some key employee engagement survey questions that could draw valuable knowledge. 

Measuring Managers’ Engagement 

Frontline managers have the most direct impact on employees because they work together daily. Managers play a critical role in shaping the work environment and employee experience, and their actions and decisions have a direct impact on employee engagement levels.

Because they typically oversee multiple employees, managers also have insights into how their teams are doing holistically, and where opportunities for improvement exist. Survey results also can be especially helpful to determine how new managers are doing in their current roles and whether they need mentoring. 

“We’re so close to the employee level that it’s really nuanced,” Toterhi said. “A lot of the feedback that they’re going to provide will be thinking of themselves as employees.” But, at the same time, he added, they’ll be considering whether they have the resources they need to be an effective manager as they answer the survey questions. 

Key Engagement Survey Questions for Managers

‍When rated with the Likert scale, prompts like these for frontline managers can home in on common issues they may be facing, Toterhi said:

  • I feel supported in my role.
  • I have the resources available to be effective.
  • I have the training required to be effective.

In an engagement survey, “an individual contributor [who is an accountant] might say, ‘Yes, I am well-trained in my profession. I understand how to be an accountant,’” Toterhi suggested. “A manager might say, ‘I know how to do my job, my profession. But I haven’t received enough training around how to actually be a manager.’” 

Measuring Middle Managers’ Engagement

Middle managers bridge the gap between strategic vision and operational execution, linking top-level executives and front-line employees. They play a key role in productivity, alignment, and change management. And with all those responsibilities, it’s no surprise that, as a group, they’re burned out.

Nearly half of middle managers (46%) say they’ll likely quit their job in the next year because they’re juggling too much work-related stress, according to a survey from the Workforce Institute at UKG.

“We do see middle managers […] getting the brunt of it,” said Susie Marlow, managing director of the culture and engagement practice at human resources and talent management consultancy Kincentric. “They’re capturing a lot of things from their senior leadership — a lot of responsibilities are being pushed down. They’re also responsible for the care and wellbeing of their teams. And they do have full dockets of workload. So they’ve got it from all angles.” 

Engagement survey questions that home in on their wellbeing and support can be critical to find flagging engagement in this category. 

Key Engagement Survey Questions for Middle Managers

Using statements like these for middle managers, along with other leaders, can zero in on challenges they may be facing on the job, Marlow said:

  • I am surrounded by the right people with the right skills.
  • I can express diverging thoughts without worries of retaliation.
  • I have a good work-life balance.

“If a leader’s work-life balance is struggling, that’s often not a good sign even if the rest of the team says, ‘No, I’m good,’” Marlow noted. “Long-term, that’s going to eventually deteriorate that manager’s effectiveness and their ability to really lead their teams, but it also has the potential to eventually impact their teams.” 

Measuring Executives’ Engagement

Employee turnover costs are high, and if you’re replacing an executive who is earning six figures or much more, those turnover costs can quickly add up, along with the organizational disruption that occurs as a new leader takes over.

Surveying the engagement of executive leaders helps organizations get ahead of those potential turnover costs, identifying growing stress levels and on-the-job frustrations that could prompt great leaders to look elsewhere. 

At the same time, when conducting post-survey analysis, disconnects uncovered in answers about engagement between leadership and employees could be telling. If executives rate work engagement as high, but employee feedback makes it clear nobody else does, that likely signals that an organization’s top leaders are out of touch with their workforce. 

“When senior leadership is not engaged, when they’re detached from the day-to-day, that has a deteriorative effect on employee experience and employee engagement,” Marlow said. “It’s all part of the engagement puzzle.” 

Key Engagement Survey Questions for Senior Leaders

Questions for executives, along with other leaders, that cover these kinds of topics can reveal issues they may be facing on the job, Marlow said:

  • I have a good work-life balance.
  • I feel attached to the vision of the organization.
  • I am proud of my employer’s brand.

“If we’re seeing those flagging for senior leadership, that’s a big warning sign that something is amiss,” Marlow explained. 

How to Drive Leadership Participation in Surveys

The more frontline managers, middle managers, and executives take surveys, the better data you’ll have to analyze and draw insights from. But convincing leaders at all levels to take time out of their busy schedules to complete them can be an uphill battle. 

Bill Catlette, founder and managing partner at HR consultancy Contented Cow Partners and co-author of Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk: The Plain Truth About Employee Engagement and Your Bottom Line, shared these three tips that drive participation as he’s worked for and consulted with companies. 

1. Don’t make it optional.

Set expectations from the top down. The organization’s top leaders must make it clear that participation in the engagement survey is critical, possibly even tying it to the bonus structure or compensation program. “This is every bit as important as the financial audits that we do from time to time,” Catlette said. “This is no different, and it's not optional.” 

2. Tie it back to business success.

Make the business case for why having engaged workers is so crucial, Catlette recommended. Show them the research that demonstrates that an engaged workforce boosts employee motivation, customer satisfaction, workplace culture, retention, and other measures of business success. 

 “I would strongly emphasize the business case,” he said. “Engaged workers really do make a difference in your ability to run the organization successfully and productively. It yields a competitive advantage.” 

3. Take action.

If leaders think they’re just going through the motions when they fill out the survey, and nothing will come of the efforts they put into answering each question, they’ll be less likely to fill out the next one.

As the results come in and the data is analyzed, celebrate the successes and start working on two or three items that need improvement, Catlette said. If new managers, for example, flagged a need for more training, offer more leadership development. If senior leaders indicated they’ve been struggling with burnout, address it. Adjusting workloads, encouraging collaboration with peers, and providing ongoing support are proven ways to support burned-out leaders, according to Gallup. 

“The survey is but a tool to give you some measurement along the way,” Catlette explained. “You’ve got to use it smartly.”

Most organizations plan to grow and expand at some level — whether moving into an entirely new product line or simply opening a location in the county next door. Those plans will require an engaged workforce that’s ready to meet those goals and objectives, and effective leaders who are empowering them to do their best work. 

Engagement surveys that gauge the motivation of every worker — from the C-suite to the newest junior staffer — are hardly a check-the-box exercise, Marlow said. It’s a decision-making tool that will help you drive growth with the right people, at every level, who are eager to succeed.Ready to measure employee engagement, employee wellbeing, manager effectiveness, and other employee sentiments? Search through our engagement survey templates hub for ideas.With questions that cover topics as varied as workplace culture, job satisfaction, and belonging, employee engagement surveys can unlock business success by revealing roadblocks that stymie the growth of entire teams, departments, and organizations.