Get The Data You Need With These 6 Employee Survey Design Best Practices

By Lauren Beechly, PhD - March 22, 2019

As most of us know from experience, the quality of any product is only as good as the thoughtfulness of design and skill of creation that goes into its manufacture. This principle holds true for employee survey design as well—you can only get the information you need if you know what to ask, ask in the right way, and measure the responses properly.

By following some best practices for employee survey design you ensure your survey elicits the information leaders need. There are six components of survey design, all of which should be paid careful attention: 

  • Scope
  • Structure
  • Question Design
  • Measurement Scales
  • Demographic Data
  • Data Collection

 This article will focus on these critical aspects of employee survey design and the considerations for each.

Get your employee survey design right the first time (and every time) to get the data you need. Sign up for a demo of the Perceptyx platform to see how best practice yields the best data.

1. Determine The Scope Of The Survey

The scope of the survey should measure aspects of the employee experience that are important to the organization. One way to determine the scope is to conduct stakeholder interviews. These interviews illuminate what is important for leaders to know about their employees in order to achieve the organization’s strategic goals and will help determine the goals of the survey itself.

Surveys should cover a scope of topics broad enough to allow leadership and management to realize their larger objectives. (Tweet this!) For example, if leaders need to monitor progress through an organizational change, the survey should focus on questions and items related to the change. Having a clear scope is also helpful to ensure the survey is concise. Even for broad annual engagement surveys, best practice is to keep the length to no more than 50 questions to avoid employee fatigue.

2. Employee Survey Design Structure

To help ease interpretation of results, group questions in thematic categories of similar length. The following is a list of key survey categories useful for measuring the overall employee experience:

  • Clarity of direction
  • Pride in company
  • Continuous improvement
  • Manager relationship
  • Performance management
  • Employee empowerment
  • Teamwork
  • Resources and support
  • Recognition and reward
  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Learning and development

Sometimes leaders are interested in additional topics such as diversity and inclusion or communication. In these instances, relevant items may span across a variety of categories. Creating an index by pulling relevant items together across multiple categories can ease interpretation of results and clearly communicate how employees feel about a critical topic.

3. Employee Survey Question Design

To get a clear understanding of employee perceptions, you have to ask the right questions in the right way. Perceptyx has developed an A-B-C model for survey question design to assess the value of survey questions. Following the A-B-C model, questions should be:

  • A–Actionable: Is the organization willing and able to do something if the survey item emerges as an opportunity? Is the item written in a way that makes it clear what action can be taken to make improvements?
  • B–Behavioral: Respondents should be asked to assess behaviors. Assessing behaviors is more objective and requires less speculation than assessments based on perception of intent.
  • C–Clear: Survey items should address only one variable at a time, and use clear language. Questions with multiple variables and obscure acronyms, jargon, and overly complex sentence structure are easily misunderstood and introduce a lack of clarity into the data.

4. Employee Survey Measurement Scales

Surveys are a method for collecting data. For data to be useful, it is important that responses are captured using appropriate scales. The five-point Likert scale is the most commonly used for employee surveys and is an industry standard for three important reasons:

  • Each point on a five-point Likert scale is anchored with a clear value associated with it, allowing for consistency in interpreting what each response means across employees.
  • The odd-numbered scale allows a neutral response to questions where respondents do not have strong opinions or experience a lack of consistency on a given topic.
  • Five-point scales allow for variability in responses without providing too much granularity.

Although agreement is the most commonly measured response, other Likert response options include importance, satisfaction and frequency.

Many other types of survey scales may also provide value to achieving the strategic goals of the survey. For example, employees may be asked to rank items, select from a list the most important items and then drill further, slide a response along a continuum, or select from a multiple-choice menu. Providing open-ended feedback allows for richer insight into why employees may have responded to the scaled questions in a specific way or suggest ideas for further improvements.

Regardless of the scales used, it is important to allow employees the opportunity to skip questions, or to respond with “not applicable.” Just as participation in an employee survey should be voluntary, responding to each question should also be voluntary. If employees do not have an opinion on a topic or do not wish to provide an opinion, they should be given the option to skip that question.

5. Employee Demographic Data

Data collected in an employee survey is more useful if paired with demographic data. (Tweet this!) The demographics may be organizational (manager name, department, business unit, job title, location, etc.) or personal (age, tenure, performance rating, etc.).

Surveys can be completely anonymous, with respondents self-identifying demographics through a series of questions, or attributed, with each participant responding to a unique link that corresponds to pre-loaded demographic data from HRIS or other databases.

Some environments make it more difficult to use attributed surveys:

  • Companies that lack complete employee records or do not have an adequate HRIS system.
  • Companies that depend on paper surveys. Although codes can be used to link paper responses to demographic data, the process can be arduous.
  • Companies that operate in environments where regulations (legal, union, etc.) restrict the use of employee data.

For all other situations, pairing demographic data with survey data is recommended. Attributed surveys where individual responses are kept confidential provide a variety of analysis options to help organizations better improve the work experience, employee engagement, and ultimately business outcomes:

  • Organizational performance data (such as customer service ratings, quality ratings, performance ratings, etc.) can be attributed to individuals to determine the differences in work experiences between top and bottom performers.
  • Sensitive data (such as gender, ethnicity, age, etc.) can be made available where it is beneficial to examine how experiences differ for different populations. When examining diversity demographics, it is important to remember no employee belongs to only a single group. Examining diversity demographics alongside job level or job title, for example, can provide much richer insight into how different populations perceive the work environment.
  • Additional post hoc analysis can be performed with attributed demographics. For example, creating a demographic of all employees who voluntarily left the organization within a year of the survey allows the organization to determine how the employee experience was different for those who left compared to those who stayed. Over time, this information can be used to build profiles of “at risk” populations and move toward the creation of predictive analytics relevant to retention, performance, or engagement.
  • Other demographics can be created, such as employees who have completed specific training or development activities. These can be used to gauge productivity of this group versus employees who have not completed training and to evaluate the value of the training.

6. Employee Survey Data Collection

There are a number of different ways to collect survey data: unique links to an online platform, pin codes, kiosks, or even paper. Of all these, we recommend collecting survey data online using a unique URL for each employee when possible because:

  • Personalized links can be sent in the employee survey invitation email, maximizing data security.
  • Online-only data collection minimizes response time and speeds access to the data.
  • Unique links allow for question content to vary based on the employee’s demographics such as department, location, or job.
  • Personalized links allow attributed demographic data to be easily correlated to survey responses.

Although there are many decisions to make when designing an employee survey, these six aspects are critical to consider in order to maximize the benefits of the survey process. By taking each of these into consideration when designing your employee survey, you can be sure you will generate the data most relevant and useful for your organization’s unique needs.

Want to capture the data most relevant for addressing your company’s greatest challenges?

At Perceptyx, people analytics includes customized surveys to collect the data you need to solve your biggest problems. We incorporate employee survey best practices into every aspect of our work to make sure you get the insights most important for your company’s success. Get in touch and let us show you how surveys tailored to your company’s challenges can provide your leaders with the information they need to make better decisions.

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