An employee engagement survey is not just a “nice to have” in your HR arsenal. It’s also far more than a questionnaire. It’s a powerful tool that allows you to take the pulse of your team. When you measure how engaged people are in their work and garner qualitative feedback about their experience, you can turn those insights into improvements.

“Employee engagement is a predictor of overall employee commitment and productivity, two main drivers of organizational success,” says Christy Pruitt-Haynes, a 20+ year HR expert and consultant at NeuroLeadership Institute, a global neuroscience-backed consultancy advising over 50% of Fortune 100.

“Employee engagement also has a direct correlation to individual job satisfaction and employee retention. The more engaged your workforce the less likely you are to experience high levels of turnover and in the midst of the Great Resignation that is more important than ever.”

Benefits of employee engagement surveys

“An employee engagement survey is a great diagnostic tool that provides timely feedback from your employees in a way that they may not feel as comfortable sharing to their managers, department heads or HR department,” says Pruitt-Haynes.

According to her, engagement surveys serve as an additional data point that can help fill in the blanks on several “why” questions: Why are some employees leaving at the rate they are? Why are team members suddenly taking significantly more PTO? Why are others staying with the organization and what habits do you need to keep up to ensure this doesn’t change?

“Identifying specific areas or behaviors that are negatively impacting engagement gives an organization the opportunity to mediate the effects and ideally change their behaviors and habits to better support their workforce. All too often, absent a survey, managers don’t realize there is a problem with engagement until it’s too late and several employees have resigned,” she adds.

Things that should be in every employee engagement survey

If you’re wondering how to successfully run an employee engagement survey, here are a few key things to include in yours.

Specific and qualitative questions

“Engagement surveys should ask questions about behaviors and trends that employees want to see their organization stop, start, and continue,” says Pruitt-Haynes, adding that it’s critical to understand the experience of each employee on a qualitative level too. “Do they feel as if they belong at that company? Do they feel valued, respected, and heard? Do they feel their company is interested in their development?”

Questions about engagement drivers and killers

It’s also important to ask questions about what is increasing engagement and what is decreasing it. Leadership, company mission, role and responsibilities, and psychological safety in the workplace are relevant areas of focus.

Direct questions

An employee engagement survey is not a time for beating around the bush. Make sure you’re asking direct questions such as “What keeps you employed at this company?” and including a variety of multiple-choice responses such as “co-workers,” “compensation,” “the mission,” or “my manager.” An additional section for writing additional comments can also be helpful.

Demographic information

Pruitt-Haynes says that gathering enough demographic information so the data can be examined across multiple dimensions is ideal, but you’ll also want to make sure participants can still remain anonymous.

Feedback section and follow-up

Offering ways to provide additional feedback is crucial too. An employee engagement survey is an opportunity for your team to get honest about their thoughts, comments, and concerns. Capturing quotes verbatim gives you a valuable window into the reality of team members.

Whatever information you choose to include, following up after running your survey is paramount. “Letting employees know what they can expect next in terms of follow-up is critical,” adds Pruitt-Haynes.

Employee engagement survey tips

A few additional tips can help you take your employee engagement survey efforts from okay to outstanding. First, don’t ask questions that you aren’t ready to respond to, recommends Pruitt-Haynes. “Employee engagement surveys are only effective when the organization follows up on the information shared. When it doesn’t, it actually leads to a less engaged workforce.”

Choose your timing carefully too. “All organizations have moments where they are best poised to listen to, respond to, and action feedback. That is the ideal time to launch an employee engagement survey. Even if nothing changes, at a minimum, it is important to acknowledge what was learned and, if needed, explain why the organization is engaging the way it is.”

Additionally, consider segmenting the information by department and employee demographics so you can dig into the data and dodge problematic blind spots. “‘Saying ‘78% of all of our employees are highly engaged and consider this an ideal place to work’ sounds great but if the 22% who report a very different experience all work in one area or all share some demographic quality (race, gender, etc.), there is a larger problem that could be covered up if the company doesn’t dig into the data a bit deeper,” explains Pruitt-Haynes.

She also suggests making sure all possible responses have more context. For example, many engagement surveys use a rating scale, but one person’s version of a 7/10 may be someone else’s 4/10. It can be subjective. Tying a brief description of the numbers can help mitigate that challenge.

“For example, 1 means I am actively disengaged and looking for new employment, 5 means that I show up but I”m only going through the motions and would leave if an opportunity presents itself, and 10 means I am highly engaged and hope to spend the next several years with this company.”

Finally, avoid overreacting or overpromising based on the results, and make sure to track trends over time so you can tell whether you’re moving in the right direction.