Workplace Culture

10 Best Practices for Employee Surveys

By Jana Reserva

Aug. 21, 2023


  • Employee surveys are useful for judging general sentiment across a workforce.

  • Positive responses should not always be taken at face value – conducting follow-up discussions can provide valuable context. 

  • Follow through with specific action plans using an employee engagement platform. 

Job satisfaction is currently at its highest. A survey from The Conference Board found that competitive pay plays a part in it, but employee retention is also attributed to experience and culture. While such results are notable and perceived to be primarily positive, it isn’t easy to generalize that the findings apply to every organization. 

For instance, survey findings show that a hybrid workforce is more satisfied than fully remote or on-site employees. But if you run an hourly workforce for a retail store, hotel chain, or healthcare facility, offering remote work is obviously out of the question. Does this mean that you’re doomed to have an unsatisfied team? Definitely not. The key here is optimizing employee experience by making their jobs easier and more fulfilling. Conducting surveys helps you get this done. 

Employee surveys shed light on employee satisfaction, pain points, and performance issues. Here are 10 best practices to get valuable insights from your employee surveys. 

1. Take time to build the groundwork.

If you want to make the most of employee surveys, you need to take time to plan them out.  

First, you need to determine why you’re doing one. Doing one annually “just because” is not a good enough reason. If you’re conducting a survey just for the sake of it, you’re wasting resources, getting unreliable or skewed answers, and potentially risking low participation rates

Before you roll out an employee survey program, here are things you need to plan for:

  • The reason for doing the survey. There are several reasons why organizations do employee surveys. Commonly, it’s a way to assess developments from the last poll, measure employee engagement, and investigate what’s causing productivity dips. Whatever the reason, you need to be clear about what you’re trying to measure, as it will set the direction for the entire process and the correct type of survey.
  • The timeline for the survey. When do you plan to conduct the survey, and what is the timeframe for which you will gather and validate the responses?
  • The participants of the survey. Who needs to answer the survey? Will it be conducted across the board, or will only selected staff members need to respond? Again, the reason for the survey will help determine this. If it’s an employee engagement survey, you should probably distribute it across your entire organization. But if it’s to gauge interest in something specific, let’s say a new tip pooling policy, it might make sene to only ask frontline team members to participate and not managers.
  • The set of questions to use. Questions should align with what you’re trying to measure. If you’re assessing progress from the previous survey results, using the same set of questions might make sense. However, it’s important to still look at that questionnaire and weed out any unnecessary items or add more to help with your evaluation.
  • Implementation of findings. Who will implement programs or changes as warranted by the survey results? Follow-through is crucial for every type of employee survey. Yes, human resources has a huge role to play in this, but managers are at the forefront of making sure that initiatives are implemented. It’s vital that results are turned into initiatives and programs that improves business outcomes and workplace culture

2. Time it well.

The best time to conduct an employee survey depends on several factors. But as a general rule of thumb, it should be avoided during public holidays or busy seasons. 

If you’re trying to benchmark or see progress, you can schedule employee surveys at regular intervals, say once per quarter. For instance, if the survey aims to improve employee engagement levels, regular check-ins following the initial study will be good for tracking progress and changing current programs to improve results. 

It may also be a good idea to conduct surveys at significant employment milestones, such as while onboarding, during performance reviews, before and after a promotion, or during offboarding. 

If a company is about to undergo a significant change, consider conducting surveys before and after this restructuring as well; this will help you gauge how perceptions and sentiments change during a major shift.  

3. Formulate the right questions.

If you want your employee surveys to uncover the true state of what you’re trying to measure, you must ask the right questions. While it seems obvious, many organizations tend to stumble at this part because wording survey questions can be trickier than it looks.  

Remember that each person or respondent has some form of bias. Survey questions must be carefully worded to get as specific and objective answers as possible.  

Here are some tips: 

  • Use neutral wording. Experts at HBR advise using neutral terms instead of words that can have strong associations. So, for instance, terms like strong or taking long strides may have associations with male leaders, which can result in higher rankings of male leaders compared to female leaders.

Suppose you want to measure how your managers tackle complicated issues at work. In that case, it may be best to phrase the question “Does your manager discuss complex issues with precision and clarity?” instead of “Does your manager have a strong grasp of complex problems?”. Both may have the same meaning, but the former sounds more specific and neutral.

  • Keep questions focused on a single item. While it’s easy to clump related items together, it’s best to keep things separate so that it’s easier for respondents. For instance, you wanted to measure how employees perceive their salary and benefits. While both are part of your compensation package, it’s best to create two separate questions for them because employees may have different perspectives on the two. Employees may be satisfied with their pay but may not be too happy with their leave benefits.
  • Use rating scales and multiple-choice questions. These types of questions are good at getting specific answers and engaging respondents. Ensure that each question flows from one to the next and doesn’t jump from one topic to another. For instance, you want to ensure that questions about work responsibilities and tasks are grouped together while questions about leadership are also categorized differently.
  • Use some open-ended questions. Context is important when processing survey results, and open-ended questions can help. Such questions allow respondents to provide answers in their own words, enabling them to explain their thoughts and responses better. Two open-ended questions per 15 ranking or scale-type survey questions is a common practice for employee surveys.  
  • Keep it short. If you want a high response rate, keep your surveys concise. Respondents are likelier to engage with the questions if they are direct and varied.

Also read: A complete guide to employee engagement for shift-based work

4. Develop a communication plan

Proper communication is critical if you intend to achieve high response rates for your employee surveys. Think of it like a marketing plan, but this time, your employees are your target audience. You need to get their buy-in and make them see what’s in it for them. Communicate the goal of the survey in a way that highlights how the end result will benefit them.  

Aside from discussing goals and objectives, you also need to inform them of the survey process—when the survey will take place and how it will be conducted. 

Realize that communication is not just a one-off email announcement. A best practice is to communicate the survey through different channels, such as a series of well-scheduled email messages, face-to-face announcements by team leads, and push notifications via an employee app if you have it. Equip managers to also answer questions regarding the survey, if needed.  

5. Use data to identify critical issues

Maximize your data and use it to identify gaps and spot low-lying opportunities. 

For instance, does your time and attendance data indicate an increase in no-shows or tardiness? Using this indicator, you can frame your surveys to identify what’s causing the issue. Is this a logistical hitch, or is an underlying management problem causing it? You can find possible answers from your data, such as employee schedules being sent out frequently late. You can use your survey to confirm if that’s the case or uncover any other reason. 

Webinar: Tackling Critical Workplace Issues with SHRM

Numbers don’t lie. Your data can give you insights into current issues, and you can tailor your surveys to get to the bottom of these hiccups. On the other hand, data can also tell you what your organization is doing right, and the survey can help you identify different ways to reinforce that.  

6. Involve employees in survey design

Invite a small group of employees to do a test run of the survey. They can provide feedback on the questions and how it was conducted. This way, you can spot vague questions, improve unclear areas or statements, and remove or add more questions necessary. This extra step ensures that your survey will yield valuable results. 

7. Address confidentiality concerns

People tend to give honest feedback when they know that responses are confidential, especially on questions about critical matters. Disclose how the answers are collected and clarify if the survey is fully confidential or if they have the option to disclose their identity or not. 

8. Validate your findings.

Employee survey results should not be taken at face value. After collecting feedback, it’s best to validate your findings. Correlate answers with other relevant information you have, such as sales metrics and attrition rates. 

Sometimes survey data might seem optimistic, but there are cases where it’s indicative of another issue. For instance, while a team may rate their manager highly, this could be because the manager does not hold staff accountable for productivity or workplace professionalism. 

If anything is unclear, don’t stop until you get to the bottom of it. If answers are inconclusive, you can conduct a follow-up study. A focused discussion among a small group of employees can provide a clearer picture of what’s happening.  

9. Follow-through.

The point of conducting surveys is to improve your operations by understanding employee sentiment. What sets successful organizations apart is how they utilize survey results to optimize their workforce management and improve their work environment

Make sure to communicate survey results to the respondents. You can share high-level findings with everyone and be open to clarifications should some employees want to learn more. If necessary, develop action plans for specific employees, or outline a company-wide strategic initiative for all your managers. Doing either or both of these things promotes transparency, makes employees feel heard, and ensures appropriate action is taken. 

10. Use the right survey tools

An employee engagement platform is sometimes necessary to distribute surveys and organize responses across your workforce. 

The right platform helps in two ways. For one, you need to have an efficient way to distribute surveys and record responses in a single system that houses all of these so you can analyze them later on. 

The other important aspect is accessibility. Make it convenient for employees to access surveys and respond. It’s advisable to allow employees to answer surveys via their mobile devices as this gives them flexibility on when to answer the survey. 

It’s good to consider what avenues are actually accessible for your staff. Do they really have the time or desire to download a new app to complete surveys? This might be more work for them. Think about how to incorporate surveys into their day-to-day tools – perhaps via a time clock app or a self-service app that houses things they routinely access, such as their schedule, time off balances, and paystubs. 

Distributing surveys through regularly accessed channels is critical for a good survey response rate. This also keeps things as unintrusive as possible. Employees are busy getting things done; they don’t have time to answer survey questions on a clunky, one-use platform.

If a company is about to undergo a significant change, consider conducting surveys before and after this restructuring as well; this will help you gauge how perceptions and sentiments change during a major shift. 

Make your surveys a part of a comprehensive feedback system.

Feedback should go beyond annual employee surveys. There are issues you can address more spontaneously if you gather feedback more quickly and frequently. 

An excellent example of this is allowing your employees to rate their shifts in real-time, right after their shift, directly from a time clock. This method helps you quickly identify top-of-mind problems for your staff. 

The key here is a sound feedback system that integrates short- and long-term feedback processes., for instance, has an employee engagement system that allows you to collect regular data from shift feedback and irregular data from one-off pulse surveys. A system like this helps you navigate through responses and turn them into action plans for maintaining employee happiness, improving company culture, and increasing profitability

See it in action and book a call today. 

Interested in more ways to engage your employees but tired of reading? Check out our webinar below featuring Laura Timbrook, an NBC-HWC, CHC, and AADP certified coach and podcaster, where she covers actionable solutions for managing things like absenteeism and turnover.

Webinar: How to Drive Engagement for Hourly Workers

Jana Reserva is a content manager for

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