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What Are The Most Vital Employee Survey Questions To Ask? As COVID-19 Shows: It Depends

What Are The Most Vital Employee Survey Questions To Ask? As COVID-19 Shows: It Depends

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
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • 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 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:

  • Communication
  • Response from leadership
  • Mission-critical objectives
  • Clarity of direction
  • How customers are being supported
  • Enablement
  • 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

  • I intend to stay with the company for at least the next twelve months.
  • I would recommend the company as a great place to work.
  • I am proud to work for the company.
  • My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment.

Employee Survey Questions About Culture

Culture Index Questions

  • The company culture is understood by employees.
  • Senior management makes decisions in a way that aligns with company values.
  • The company culture helps our company be successful.

Behavior-Based Culture Survey Questions

  • Where I work, innovation is encouraged.
  • I feel supported in taking calculated risks.
  • Mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities on my team.
  • My team collaborates to ensure quality work.
  • We are committed to serving our customers.

Qualitative/Open-Ended Culture Survey Questions

  • What three to five words would you use to describe the current culture of the organization?
  • What three to five words would you use to describe the ideal culture of the organization?

Employee Survey Questions About Management

Work Management Survey Questions

  • I understand what is expected of me in my role.
  • My manager provides regular feedback on my performance.
  • My manager is clear about how performance is evaluated.
  • Outstanding performance and accomplishments are recognized.
  • My manager inspires me to reach goals and objectives.
  • My manager keeps our team informed of business decisions.
  • I feel supported in my efforts to grow and develop.

Manager Relationship Survey Questions

  • My manager shows respect for employees.
  • My manager cares for employees as people.
  • I trust my manager to keep commitments.
  • My manager’s behavior reflects company values.
  • I feel comfortable approaching my manager for discussion.
  • My manager seeks ideas from employees and responds to them.
  • My manager promotes teamwork.
  • My manager supports a good work/life balance for employees.

Performance Management Survey Questions

  • I understand how my work supports the mission of the organization.
  • My manager has given me a clear understanding of performance expectations.
  • My manager gives me constructive feedback on my job performance.
  • My manager holds all employees accountable for their performance.
  • I have the tools and training I need to meet performance expectations for my job.
  • My manager encourages me to share ideas for improvements.
  • I receive the support I need from other departments/co-workers to properly perform my job.
  • I feel my work contributions are appreciated.

Employee Survey Questions About Leadership

  • Leaders clearly communicate the mission, values, and purpose of the organization.
  • Company leaders keep employees informed about decisions that affect workers and the business.
  • Our company’s leadership helps employees transition through changes more easily.
  • The company’s leaders have positioned the company to successfully compete.
  • Company leaders inspire optimism about the future direction and success of the company.
  • Company leaders consistently model the values of the company.
  • Leaders are visible to employees.

Diversity & Inclusion Survey Questions

  • My manager cares about employees as people.
  • Employees in the company are encouraged to share their ideas.
  • I believe that I am treated fairly at work.
  • I feel valued by the company.
  • My manager treats employees with respect.
  • I believe the company offers me career opportunities.
  • The company offers me opportunities for growth and development.

Organizational Change Survey Questions

  • Do you have a good understanding of the implications of the change for your job?
  • Do you trust the decisions made by leadership even if you don’t know the details?
  • Are you still committed to the company’s values and customer base?
  • Do you feel connected to the organization?
  • Do you have the resources you need for this transition?
  • Have you been able to handle your workload during the transition?

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

  • Senior leadership is effectively leading our organization through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
  • I am satisfied with the communication I am getting from the organization about its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The company is doing the right things to help us succeed in spite of the current challenges.
  • The company has implemented effective systems for keeping remote employees connected.
  • Senior leaders have communicated a clearly defined re-integration strategy.
  • There is sufficient communication about the transition back to my regular workplace.
  • I understand the changes to my job when returning to my regular work environment.

Health, Safety, and Well-Being

  • My health and well-being is a top priority for our organization.
  • The senior leaders in my organization care about my concerns.
  • I am willing to work in my regular work environment after it is determined to be safe.
  • I have a clear understanding of our company’s efforts to minimize health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If I do not feel well, I can stay home from work without fear of negative consequences.
  • I feel comfortable expressing my concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • My company's response to COVID-19 has minimized stress for employees.
  • Working remotely makes me feel more safe than when I was working in the workplace.
  • The stress levels at work are manageable.
  • This company has taken the necessary steps to ensure employees can return to the regular work environment safely.
  • What would you need to feel safe coming back into your regular work environment?
  • I am willing to work in my regular work environment (office, customer-contact role, etc.) after it is determined to be safe.
  • What is the most important action the organization should do to help ease your transition back to your regular work environment?
  • As I transition back to my regular work environment, I have the flexibility I need to manage my work and personal needs.
  • The organization will do all it can to support my job security.

Leadership and Organizational Support

  • I feel supported by my manager in making decisions about my health and well-being.
  • I feel supported in my efforts to adapt to these new changes.
  • My manager and I have discussed my plans to return to my regular work environment.
  • The organization supports me in adapting to changes that impact me and my job (training, coaching, etc.).

Employee Enablement

Enablement of Remote Workers

  • I have the resources and technology needed to work remotely.
  • I have the resources to do my job effectively while working remotely.
  • My remote work environment enables me to work productively.
  • I have been satisfied with the support from the IT department during the transition to remote work.
  • Our company culture enables me to work effectively as a remote employee.
  • What change to your work habits have you experienced working in an adapted environment that you would like to continue?

Enablement of Frontline Workers

  • The organization's communication channels and tools are effective.
  • The organization's processes for requesting resources and support are effective.

Customer Focus

  • I believe this company is doing what is necessary to support our customers during this pandemic.
  • I understand how to meet external customers' needs as my team transitions back to my regular work environment.
  • The way I work now will allow me to continue to meet customer's needs during COVID-19 pandemic.
  • We are able to support the needs of our customers while employees have moved to working remotely.

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.

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