Employee Engagement

The complete guide to running an employee engagement survey

February 12, 2019
November 7, 2023
Lattice Team

Employee engagement surveys are one of management's best chances to make a positive change in their workplace. A well-run employee survey will empower them, and help kick off positive changes that will improve retention, employee satisfaction, and day-to-day morale.

By running an employee engagement survey correctly, you will be sending a loud and clear message to employees that you care about their well-being and are committed to creating the best work environment possible.

While some guides will only take you through the survey itself, this is a step-by-step plan for the entire engagement survey process. From brainstorming to implementing solutions, this blueprint will tell you everything you need to know about making the most of an employee engagement survey.

1. Decide on your area of focus

Before you write your survey, you need to determine an area of focus. While all engagement surveys have a set of more general questions regarding overall engagement, these are more likely to focus on how an employee is feeling, rather than a problem in the workplace. For example, “I feel energized and ready to come to work each morning [strongly disagree - strongly agree].”

But a good engagement survey will also ask some deeper questions on a few areas that management has identified as potential problems. These are more likely to focus on the workplace and its mechanisms. For example, “I have been given adequate resources to complete my last three projects [yes/no].”

Both types of questions are necessary; simply asking about how employees feel will not give you a clear understanding of what your company can improve upon in order to have a more engaged workforce. But by identifying potential problems, you can gauge how each problem impacts employees, and therefore decide what to tackle first. To brainstorm problem areas, ask managers:

  • What problems do they see their direct reports having?
  • What are problems their direct reports frequently bring up?
  • What do they see as the company's strengths and weaknesses?

This pre-survey work sets the stage for your employee engagement survey to create a meaningful impact.

If you need a template for brainstorming, make sure to read 3 Simple Steps to Designing a Better Engagement Survey.

2. Craft your survey

Once you know what areas you're asking about, you have to craft the right questions to put in your survey. Writing survey questions can take time, but it's important to be thoughtful. Asking poorly worded or ambiguous questions can hurt your survey results or make it more difficult to gauge the employee experience.

Survey questions need to:

  • Be clear.
  • Address one problem at a time.
  • Give space for employees to comment when necessary.

You should always have someone double check your questions for clarity before sending your survey out, if you are writing your own questions. While it's likely that you will need to write or modify questions to fit the specifics of your workplace, don't hesitate to use pre-formulated questions, like those that Lattice has in our question bank. They were tailor-made for engagement surveys with help from the University of California, Berkeley Social Sciences Department.

If you are writing your own questions, try following 28 employee engagement survey questions you need to ask, which will give examples and break down how to craft the perfect query.

3. Give your survey

Getting an employee to take an employee engagement survey can be tricky. Employees are already busy and may not have bought into the efficacy of an engagement survey, especially if it is your first time giving one. Regardless, if it's your first or your tenth, in order to ensure healthy participation rates:

  • Make your survey anonymous, so people feel empowered to share their actual experiences, and not filter their thoughts in fear of retribution. (If you use Lattice, all surveys are anonymous!)
  • Ensure that you have buy-in from managers, and get them involved in the process — for example, consider putting them in charge of reminding their team to fill out the survey. This will positively impact your response rate by setting the tone for employees and signaling that they need to take the survey seriously.
  • Use a tool that is easy to navigate and familiar to employees — or at least one that's simple to use. Engagement surveys are not the time to try out new or complex software or system, especially if an employee will have to sign up for a new account — make it low-friction!

Above all, you need to be clear that the engagement survey is important and that survey responses will be taken seriously by management. Although you know that, if employees aren't sure their word will be taken seriously, they won't take the survey seriously — if they take it at all.

For more tips on survey participation, check out 10 ways to increase employee engagement participation.

4. Analyze your results

The results are in! This marks an important shift in running an engagement survey, from hypotheticals to tangible evidence that will help you measure engagement and job satisfaction.

When you start to comb through your survey data, use trends as an indicator of both successes and problems. This will help you better understand what you're doing well, and understand how to translate that success across different areas of your company.

If you had any open-response questions, take time to read employees' thoughts and suggestions. Often, these will tell you a lot about the more nuanced things impacting engagement levels: how employees are visualizing their problems and roles, rather than how they feel about what you asked. Common complaints can also help you identify problems employees are feeling with everything from company culture to their work-life balance — and in turn, identify potential issues that could negatively impact employee retention and turn into a nightmare for your human resources team. Just as important is to see how complaints might support or contrast the rest of your survey results because that can help you determine how employees feel about their jobs beyond how much they deal with problems.

Then, brainstorm the underlying reasons behind the problems you identified, and start to set out potential solutions and action items. While you don't need to do watertight action planning, you should have an idea of next steps before you talk to employees.

For more on analyzing your survey results, give Your employee engagement survey results are in. Now what? a look.

5. Share your results

The key to sharing employee engagement survey results is to do it in a timely manner. This sends the message that you are making engagement and employee feedback a priority — remember that your employees likely don't see all of the behind-the-scenes work you are putting in. Quickly synthesizing results is one of the most outwardly visible ways to demonstrate your commitment.

To deliver engagement results:

  • Write a report that summarizes findings and explains key takeaways.
  • Present your results in an all-hands meeting. Be clear about what you identified as problems and what you see as the underlying causes. Include next steps.
  • Make your report and presentation available for your employees wherever you keep documentation.

At the end of your presentation and while reading your report, employees should be able to understand what you are taking from the survey and what you plan to do about it. Don't just give raw numbers, add in what insights you have gleaned. This will make the rest of your cycle much easier, as employees can see your line of thinking.

For more information on sharing results, give What to do with your employee engagement survey results a read.

6. Solicit more feedback

After you have shared the results of your survey, you need to solicit more feedback. An engagement survey is a great first step, but to actually create meaningful change from running a survey, you need to follow up once the survey is done.

A key part of this is soliciting more feedback, especially on the potential solutions you present to employees.
To get good feedback, try:

  • Soliciting feedback in small focus groups with a mix of people from across the company.
  • Having managers talk about potential solutions with team members during their weekly team meetings.
  • Providing open office hours for feedback on survey results or solutions.

Soliciting more feedback gives employees a chance to contribute to your changes, which can be a great way to gain in-the-trenches perspective on the implications of different solutions. It also underscores their role in creating positive change from an employee engagement survey.

7. Implement solutions

Perhaps most critically, you must implement solutions relatively soon after giving a survey. Again, this indicates your commitment to the engagement survey and taking employee feedback seriously. That theme has come up throughout the cycle of running an employee engagement survey because it is a critical part of being able to run an engagement survey and also a critical part of engagement itself.

Regardless of how big or small your changes, give a clear timeline as to when you will roll them out. Let employees know what to expect post-survey, and when you will check back in to give real-time updates regarding how new processes and programs are going.

For more on implementing solutions, check out Using an engagement survey to make changes that improve employee engagement.

The cycle begins again

Running an engagement survey should happen somewhat regularly. Even once a year is better than nothing, but once a quarter can give you more chances to check in on how engaged employees are feeling, and check in on the impact of your changes. Each time you run an engagement, you can follow this same process to glean the best results. As it becomes routine, employees will know what to expect and understand that they are being empowered to better connect with their workplace.