Employee Survey Questions About Management & Leadership: What To Measure

By Gena Cox, PhD - December 10, 2019

As we noted in a previous article, few things have more impact on day-to-day business operations and long-term business success than the actions of managers and leaders. Leaders chart the organization’s strategic direction and are ultimately accountable for organizational success. They also set the tone on values, ethics, and behavioral expectations. Managers translate leaders’ strategic intentions and values into local actions to guide the employees they lead, and are responsible for their team’s productivity. Working together, leaders and managers guide organizations forward.

Employee survey questions about leaders and managers give employees the opportunity to voice their opinions about day-to-day experiences within the team environment. Employee responses to these questions are usually based on their overall perceptions of the leaders and managers with whom they interact. In this article, we will discuss how employee surveys can be used to gauge employee perceptions about the effectiveness of your leaders and managers.

Wondering what you should be asking about the employee experience? Download our free guide, Using Employee Survey Questions To Support A People Analytics Practice, to find out.

Employee Survey Questions About Managers: What To Measure & Ask

Employee survey questions that focus on managers can be very useful if the design follows a few best practices:

  1. Focus the questions in a way that makes it clear who employees should have in mind as they answer the questions.
  2. Ask about observable behaviors.
  3. Ask about themes that connect to your leadership and manager competency models, values statement, code of conduct, or other widely communicated behavior expectations.

Make it clear who employees should have in mind:

Most employees interact with many leaders and managers as they work. However, survey questions are generally designed to focus on the manager with whom an employee has the most direct contact. For that reason, it is advisable to define what you mean by “manager.” Do you mean the person to whom the employee goes for guidance when they encounter a problem at work? Or the person who conducts their performance evaluations? Definitions can be built into the questions themselves, or they can be provided as dynamic instructions on each survey page.

Focus on observable behavior:

While there are many possible topics pertaining to manager behavior that could be asked in a survey, the best approach is to ask about behaviors an employee can directly observe; otherwise, you will be asking employees to infer or guess and the feedback will not be useful.

Instead of asking employees to rate a statement like this:

“I feel my manager is effective in supervising my work,” it is more effective to ask for opinions about statements like these:

“My manager gives me useful feedback about my work.”

“My manager asks for my ideas and my opinions.”

Any employee should be able to say whether they agree (or disagree) that their manager is displaying the behaviors in question.

Ask about themes that connect to your stated manager behavior expectations:

If you have communicated a model for expected manager behavior, use that model to guide the design of your survey questions. If you don’t have a model, think about what your organization is trying to accomplish that relies on managers for success. Define how managers should behave in order to support that future vision. Using this approach, you might even include some questions that are aspirational, asking about behaviors that leaders would like managers to exhibit, even if those behaviors have not been formally codified.

The only challenge with this aspirational approach is that scores may initially be low as you use the survey to establish a baseline. Scores should improve over time as the behavior expectations are more widely communicated. Simply posing the questions guides managers to exhibit—and employees to expect—the behaviors they suggest.

Ultimately, these are the things you want to know managers are doing consistently:

  • Setting clear expectations
  • Making sure employees have the resources needed for their work
  • Showing fairness to all employees they supervise
  • Showing recognition to employees regularly
  • Rewarding employees for their contributions

Ask about widely-expected manager behaviors:

Organizations are increasingly interested in the employee/manager relationship. As the workplace has evolved, so have employee expectations about management. Younger workers, in particular, have expectations regarding:

  • Sense of connection to the manager
  • Manager interest in and support of their career aspirations
  • Feeling like they are treated as unique individuals
  • Manager showing a personal interest, etc.

Employees are asking for more from managers than just guidance about how to perform their work tasks. They want meaning in their work, a sense of psychological safety (a feeling that someone has their back), and a sense of belonging.

Employee Survey Questions About Leaders

We are making a distinction between managers ( who are directly involved with the day-to-day guidance of their teams) and leaders (the executives that define the strategy and guide the organization to successfully execute it). Not all managers are leaders, but all leaders are usually managers.

Clarity about the strategy, confidence in leaders’ ability to execute the strategy, and clear communication about what is going on in the company influence employee engagement. These strategic drivers of engagement sit solidly in the purview of executive leaders, and are typically included in leader-focused questions in employee surveys. No other leader group in the organization can have as much impact on these aspects of organizational life.

More recently, again in response to changing employee expectations, new themes are emerging in employee survey questions that focus on leaders:

  • Visibility of leaders: Do employees see them and know who they are?
  • Social responsibility of the company: Do leaders guide the organization in doing what is right for the planet and for the communities they serve?
  • Inclusiveness: Do leaders set the tone from the top of the organization and use their voices to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

These types of questions reveal employee perceptions about leadership. They focus on topics requiring action that employees believe can only come from the top of the organization.

Managers and leaders have a big influence on employee engagement. Surveys can help managers and leaders to understand, and exhibit, the behaviors employees want to see. The key to starting this cycle of improvement is to ask the right questions. (Tweet this!)

Wondering what you should be asking your employees about management and leadership?

At Perceptyx, helping companies identify and remove barriers to engagement is our goal. With custom surveys, an advanced people analytics platform, and expertise in all aspects of survey design, strategy, and communication, we can help you identify what you should be asking employees to improve the experience in your company. Get in touch and let us show you how.

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