What Are The Most Vital Employee Survey Questions To Ask? As COVID-19 Shows: It Depends
By Brandon Riggs - July 29, 2020
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles on the internet offering opinions on “the x most important employee survey questions to ask.” While there is some agreement on particular questions or areas of exploration, a scan of many of these articles also reveals differing opinions about the most vital questions to ask employees to improve morale and engagement.
This is both unsurprising and as it should be. In reality, it’s impossible to zero in on a specific number or group of employee survey questions that are the most important for every organization. That’s because organizations, like individuals, are all different. What may be of vital importance to one might be irrelevant to another.
There are unlimited examples of good employee survey questions, and it is possible to get accurate, actionable information from surveys of any size—whether they have 500 questions or just five. The challenge is in determining which specific questions will provide the information that is most relevant to the organization at the time—the information that will allow key decision makers to see the way forward and make the best strategic decisions possible.
In this article, we’ll focus not on the specific questions any particular organization should ask, but on the areas of the employee experience that impact engagement and the types of questions that yield actionable information. Employee survey question examples are summarized at the end of the article. In addition, we’ll look at the importance of surveying through crises such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and provide examples of employee survey questions specific to the current crisis in another summary at the end of this article.
Learn more about employee survey questions you should be asking to gain insight into your company's challenges with The People Analytics Playbook.
The Employee Survey: What To Ask
While the most important employee survey questions to ask may vary from one organization to the next, asking employees for feedback is important for every organization.
That’s because every organization benefits from having a highly engaged workforce. High levels of engagement correlate to greater productivity, employee retention, customer satisfaction, and profitability. The employee survey is the key to measuring current levels of engagement and identifying areas in the employee experience that are barriers to engagement.
While everyone wants higher engagement, some companies are misguided in their attempts to achieve it, attempting to inspire engagement with ping pong tables in the breakroom, pizza parties, and making the workplace fun. Employee survey questions are the foundation of a more effective strategy for achieving high engagement, because the right questions will identify the real issues that may be preventing employees from being fully engaged. Fun perks are great if the real issues have already been addressed, but if they haven’t, a weekly pizza lunch isn’t going to make up for a bad manager relationship or other obstacles to engagement.
For this reason, most organizations find it useful to ask employee survey questions related to a number of different aspects of the employee experience, to make sure that all the barriers to engagement can be identified. The typical annual census survey includes several questions from most, if not all, of these categories:
- Employee engagement
- Organizational culture
- Work management
- Performance management
- Manager relationship
- Diversity and inclusion (D&I)
- Growth and development opportunities
- Work/life balance
- Organizational change (when appropriate)
We examined most of these categories in detail in Employee Survey Questions: The Ultimate Guide; most of the employee survey question examples from the guide are included at the end of this article.
Surveying across all aspects of the employee experience makes it easier to identify where barriers to engagement exist. (Tweet this!) Whether barriers are revealed through responses to employee survey questions about management, leadership, or culture, or through open-ended employee engagement survey questions, asking about all the important parts of the experience allows specific areas of friction to be pinpointed and guides the search for additional information; it also informs the actions to take in response to feedback. Subsequent surveys can track those interventions to measure the impact of actions, and interventions can be adjusted as needed to align with the feedback. Asking the right employee survey questions is the starting point for an ongoing process of continuous improvement.
The right set of survey questions will produce the inputs for your continuous improvement program—predictor variables such as perceptions about leadership, the manager relationship, and more. Engagement measurements represent the outcomes of the process. By looking at the inputs and outcomes in tandem at specific points in time, the weakest links in the employee experience in the organization, department, location, job type, or team can be easily identified.
Survey questions themselves should be focused on observable behaviors and be actionable. Instead of asking employees if they believe their manager is doing a good job, for example, ask about specific behaviors: “My manager provides me with timely, constructive feedback,” or “My manager clearly communicates performance expectations.” A low score on a question of this type pinpoints an actionable behavior; the manager can receive additional training or a nudge to be more proactive with feedback or more open with communication.
Regardless of which additional questions are most strategically important for a specific organization to ask, an employee survey program that measures engagement and covers the various aspects of the employee experience is—coupled with action—the key for building a culture of continuous improvement.
COVID-19 Employee Surveys: Supporting Engagement During Change
In a previous article, we looked at surveying through organizational change, and why surveying during big changes is even more important than asking for employee feedback when everything is “normal.” This certainly applies to the COVID-19 pandemic, which abruptly disordered normal business routines across the entire economy.
Beginning in early March, Perceptyx introduced a series of COVID-19-specific employee surveys; to date, we’ve amassed a database with over 500 million data points. Some of our most important findings are summed up in our free whitepaper, The Young and the Restless. More broadly, we’ve found that where organizations are having the most success navigating the pandemic while maintaining engagement, they are asking for employee feedback about these employee engagement survey topics:
- Response from leadership
- Mission-critical objectives
- Clarity of direction
- How customers are being supported
- Manager support
Organizations that have ramped up their employee survey programs during the pandemic are using employee feedback in a meaningful way; typically their engagement scores have not nosedived. Through measuring employee perceptions about communication, employee enablement and support, and other issues, they are using what they’ve learned to improve the employee experience, tailoring it to the unique needs of their workforces in this unique moment.
Top-of-mind for frontline employees is having what’s necessary to do their jobs safely, and being comfortable about their safety in the work environment. Employees working remotely have a different set of needs around feeling connected and supported by their managers and teams, and maintaining communication. And most employees, regardless of their work setting, have anxiety about their job security due to the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Many of these core issues are tied to trust; right now, employees need to be able to trust the organizations they work for and the people they work with. It’s important not only that employees feel like they can be open and honest in their feedback; they also need to feel like the organization cares about their concerns and opinions around the decisions the organization is making.
Now more than ever, empathy, authenticity, and inclusiveness are important to combat employee uncertainty and anxiety. The simple act of asking employees for feedback will help build trust—as well as identify areas the organization needs to address to reduce employee distress and avoid burnout and disengagement. A series of COVID-19-specific employee survey questions follows the general employee survey question examples below. Note how the questions are tailored to communicate trust. As with other types of surveys, the questions on change surveys are part of the dialogue between the organization and its employees, and an opportunity to shape employee perceptions.
As we’ve outlined above, there is no definitive list of employee survey questions that are most important for every organization; the pandemic itself proves that. Even if it were possible to create a list of five or 10 questions that are the most important for every organization to ask, those questions would most likely not be the most important ones that organizations need to answer in the current circumstance. The most important employee survey questions to ask now are, as always, those that will provide the information most relevant to the organization at the time they are asked—and help the organization see the way forward to greater success.
Sample Employee Survey Questions
The following list provides examples of employee survey questions. This list is not exhaustive; there are additional areas of the employee experience that can be explored, including the onboarding experience, growth and development opportunities, and more.
Items in the list that are posed as statements are rated by employees on a five-point Likert scale indicating degree of agreement or disagreement. The list also includes several examples of open-ended employee engagement survey questions.
Although there are an endless number of questions that could be included in an employee survey, the following list of around 60 items is already longer than needed for a comprehensive annual census survey. In our practice, Perceptyx has found that responses to as few as 30–40 items—provided they are the right items, focused on what matters—offer ample, actionable insight into the employee experience.
Employee Engagement Survey Question Examples
Employee Survey Questions About Culture
Culture Index Questions
Behavior-Based Culture Survey Questions
Qualitative/Open-Ended Culture Survey Questions
Employee Survey Questions About Management
Work Management Survey Questions
Manager Relationship Survey Questions
Performance Management Survey Questions
Employee Survey Questions About Leadership
Diversity & Inclusion Survey Questions
Organizational Change Survey Questions
Sample COVID-19 Employee Survey Questions
The following list of employee survey questions focuses on employee perceptions and opinions about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their work and work environment. Again, this list contains more items than would necessarily be needed to measure employee sentiment, but illustrates the range of questions that could be asked and the topics we’ve found to be most important to employees.
Communication and Clarity of Direction
Health, Safety, and Well-Being
Leadership and Organizational Support
Enablement of Remote Workers
Enablement of Frontline Workers
See the way forward to higher engagement.
The Perceptyx platform gives you the flexibility to develop a listening strategy that fits the needs of your organization and identify the barriers blocking engagement. Combined with support from our analytics experts, our platform can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your people’s perceptions, so you can provide the support they need to become fully engaged. Get in touch to see how we can help your organization increase engagement—and profitability.