When your company decides to work toward improving employee engagement, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers: Metrics and KPIs like employee net promoter score (eNPS), employee satisfaction scores, and retention rates can give you a way to benchmark employee engagement and assess the impact of your HR and talent initiatives. While these metrics can help you identify and isolate areas of your business that could be improved, they often fail to provide context or reasons why these issues have arisen in the first place.

Identifying a change in key metrics is an important first step toward improving your workplace, but you need to uncover why employees either like or dislike a given area of the employee experience in order to enact meaningful change. While many HR professionals prioritize collecting quantitative engagement data, it’s crucial to balance that data with qualitative feedback to understand the full picture of employee engagement at your organization.

Collecting qualitative feedback might be easier than you think. In fact, your company is probably already using common practices to collect employee feedback and drive engagement, like pulse surveys, focus groups, one-on-ones, and exit interviews. And if you’re not, it’s not hard to institute these initiatives. Read on to learn how qualitative data can give you deeper insights into your quantitative data, so you can build a better workplace and boost employee engagement at your organization.

Why Is Qualitative Engagement Data Important? 

When Human Resources teams gather engagement data, they are usually laser-focused on the quantitative data. Annual engagement surveys often feature many Likert-scale (a five-point scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”) questions so an organization can identify positive or negative changes in employee sentiment. But this data only provides a partial view into what’s happening within an organization.

In addition to questions designed to give you quantitative data, your business’s surveys should also include open-ended questions so employees can elaborate on why they’ve answered the way they did. For example, say your business notices that employee retention rates are slipping, so you launch a pulse survey to learn what could be triggering this spike in employee turnover. In this survey, you ask employees if they see themselves working at your company in two years’ time, and a high percentage of respondents answer “No.” Even with this quantitative data, your team hasn’t learned anything it didn’t already know. This is where open-response questions can be a powerful tool.

Say this survey also gave employees the opportunity to share additional information with each of their responses and answer some open-ended questions as well. You might learn from the responses to the open-ended questions that many employees feel unappreciated at work and unsure of what career opportunities they have at your company. Armed with this additional information, your business could decide to launch new initiatives to boost employee recognition, show that professional development is a top priority, and ensure that job satisfaction remains high.

This is how quantitative and qualitative data can work together to give you the full picture of employee engagement at your organization: Quantitative data can help you identify what your business’s key areas for improvement are, while qualitative data will help you learn the why behind them. When used together, they’ll give your HR team the context it needs to build an exceptional employee experience.

5 Ways to Collect Qualitative Data for Employee Engagement

There are many ways to measure engagement and employee satisfaction beyond Likert-scale survey questions. To continually attract and retain engaged employees, it’s best to use both quantitative and qualitative data to inform your People decisions and initiatives. Here are five ways your organization can collect qualitative engagement data from your employees.

1. Pulse Surveys 

Pulse surveys are more dynamic than longer annual employee engagement surveys. They allow your business to target key areas of the employee experience to understand workplace engagement in real time throughout the year. Using both the quantitative and qualitative data collected from these surveys, your organization can identify areas for improvement and measure the impact of your HR initiatives.

These shorter surveys can help your company uncover employee attitudes toward specific topics. For instance, many businesses have used pulse surveys to understand how employees feel about remote work and the impending return-to-office dates. This survey data can then be used to shape a seamless post-pandemic transition back to the office, while helping to reduce absenteeism and maintain current levels of engagement in the process. Pulse surveys can be administered any time your HR team needs to learn what your workforce wants — and gather specific data and insights from what your employees have to say. 

2. Focus Groups

Focus groups are another way to collect helpful feedback and insights from your employees in an interactive, dynamic way. By creating focus groups that are composed of employees across all levels and departments of your organization, you can gain insight into which elements of the employee experience are working well — and which could be improved. Focus groups can also be used to dive deeper into the feedback you’ve collected from employee engagement surveys; through group discussion you can uncover solutions that best meet the needs of your employees and organization alike.

Additionally, once you have an idea of which initiatives you want to launch to help improve employee well-being and happiness at your organization, you can run these ideas by focus groups to find out any concerns or reactions employees may have to the proposed plans. Focus group input can help you refine the efficacy of your initiatives and help ensure that they all have seamless and high-impact roll-outs.

3. Manager One-on-Ones

No one has a bigger impact on employee experience than your company’s managers. In fact, management consulting company Gallup estimated that managers determine 70% of the variance in team engagement. There’s no question about it: When it comes to improving employee engagement, your managers need to be key players.

While pulse surveys allow you to measure employee satisfaction at scale, one-on-ones enable managers to track and boost engagement on their own teams. During each of these weekly or biweekly meetings, managers can ask their direct reports questions about their happiness, well-being, work-life balance, and more to assess their levels of engagement. That’s not all — this real-time feedback can help your managers make informed decisions about how to best support their employees day-to-day.

One-on-ones might be casual conversations, but they’re an essential component of a continuous feedback model. Managers can even use this time with their direct reports to discuss team employee engagement and pulse survey findings, and ask employees for suggestions about how to remedy any problem areas. With their direct reports’ input, managers can then make small but impactful tweaks to team schedules, workloads, procedures, and more that can help ease and simplify their employees’ work lives.

4. Performance Management

Understanding the qualitative side of performance can often give you deeper insight into engagement levels for departments, teams, and individuals. With performance management tools Lattice Performance and Lattice Feedback, your organization can track the feedback that individuals receive from their managers and peers over time, and understand how quickly employees are growing and improving their performance. 

For example, say an entire team has poor engagement scores and you want to know why. While it can be tempting to attribute the team’s poor engagement to the team’s manager’s poor leadership, you decide to dig deeper and realize this isn’t the case. After reviewing employees on that particular team’s performance review data, goals, and feedback for the last few review cycles, you learn that almost everyone has had trouble meeting their targets and is underperforming.

With this information, you realize the team is being held to unrealistic goals and performance expectations that are harming both employee morale and engagement. Your HR department can then take action to ensure that that team has more attainable goals — and the appropriate resources to achieve them moving forward.

While engagement surveys give you high-level team and company data, performance data can give you more context into engagement at the individual level. Using these two sources in tandem, you can identify areas for improvement and obtain the context you need to enact positive changes for your employees. 

5. Exit Interviews

Before your employees leave your company to start a new role, make sure to schedule an exit interview. These conversations can help your HR team learn what prompted the exiting employee to leave and what it would have taken to convince them to stay. Departing employees are often more forthcoming and candid with their feedback because typically, they’ve already reflected on their experience with your company and thought critically about what qualities they’re looking for in their next employer. Additionally, they might not have the same fears as a current employee might of potential negative consequences, whether founded or unfounded, should they share critical feedback. 

Exit interviews give your HR team the opportunity to hear and collect candid, actionable feedback about what is working well at your organization and what could be improved. You can then use this feedback to refine your existing company policies and procedures to create a better experience for your remaining employees. 

Not sure what questions you should be asking your employees in exit interviews? See our Employee Exit Interview Questions template for ideas.



Every business can benefit from finding the balance between quantitative and qualitative data. While numbers are important, companies must also remember that a human being is behind every response — and each person has a unique opinion and experience to share. By weighing both of these data sources equally, your organization will be on its way to creating a positive company culture that drives engagement.

If, while you’re collecting qualitative feedback from your employees, you learn that your employees wish they had more clarity around job growth, you can download Lattice’s free eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Employee Development. From exploring the ins and outs of job levels to competencies, individual development plans, and more, our comprehensive employee development guide will help you provide your employees with the structure and clarity they need to thrive at your organization.