September 23, 2021

Employee Engagement Survey: A 2021 Guide

Melissa Malec

Fun fact: companies with engaged employees outperform those without them by 202%, according to research by Gallup. 

The same research finds that business units with higher employee engagement levels enjoy higher retention rates.

But what is employee engagement, and should you be monitoring it with an employee engagement survey?

Building employee engagement is a massive win for businesses. The two most important benefits are: maximising people’s happiness and improving their performance at work.

We are in the midst of huge shifts in workplace culture that will see people speaking out about what they want from their workplace experience, and how senior management can help them do their best work. For employers, the pressure is on to keep their best team members. In the words of employee engagement experts at Peakon, “the dynamic between employee and employer is changing, and now employees are starting to become more vocal about their needs.” 



In this article, we take a closer look at what employee engagement really means and why it’s so important to keep tabs on it using regular surveys. 

We also offer some key tips on how to run effective employee engagement surveys, including our top picks for survey tools and key questions to ask. 

What Is Employee Engagement? 

In his 1990 theory of employee engagement, Professor William Kahn described an engaged employee as someone who is “fully absorbed by, and enthusiastic about their work.”


Employee engagement is a measure of how “sucked in” people are to their work: how easily they can concentrate on the tasks at hand and how readily they can give their best efforts to their jobs. 

What causes someone to be engaged in their work varies from person to person, but some factors that impact employee engagement include:

  • Accomplishment: Whether people’s work helps them make achievements that they care about.
  • Autonomy: Whether people have the freedom to pour their talents and ideas into their work.
  • Clarity: Whether people have the information they need to do their work well, including clear feedback on how they can improve when they need to (it’s also helpful for people to understand how their work contributes to the organisation as a whole).
  • Environment: Whether the physical work environment contributes positively to employee satisfaction, and whether they have the resources they need to do their jobs well.
  • Freedom of expression: Whether people feel welcome to express their opinions about their work, and whether employee feedback is valued.
  • Growth: Whether people’s work offers career and personal growth opportunities.
  • Management: Whether people are appreciated, respected and supported by managers who they can in turn respect and look up to.
  • Meaning: Whether people’s work is meaningful to them and whether the organisation’s mission and decisions align with people’s values.
  • Relationships: Whether the workplace social environment is welcoming and supportive of quality work.
  • Reward: Whether people are fairly compensated and rewarded for the work they do.
  • Safety: Whether people can trust their company to take action and protect them against misconduct.
  • Strategy: Whether people agree with the strategies set out by management and whether these decisions contribute positively to their work.
  • Wellbeing: Whether people’s work, workload and work environment allows them to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing.


What Is an Employee Engagement Survey?

An employee engagement survey is an employee survey that measures how engaged people are in their work. 

Measuring employee engagement gives organisations the information they need to make improvements to their people's experiences, so that their employees can be happier and more productive.


Why Are Employee Engagement Surveys so Important?

Employee engagement surveys let you measure your organisation’s engagement levels and gather data on who is most engaged and what is driving their engagement—or dragging it down. 

This information is vital to improving your people’s experience so that you can build and retain an engaged workforce.

Data from employee engagement surveys helps clear any obstacles to engagement before it’s too late and people start leaving. 



At Learnerbly, we call employee engagement surveys “people listening”: asking team members what they need from us so that they can keep giving us their best work, and listening to what they have to say.

Your people know best about what they need to stay engaged, and people listening gives them a say in shaping engaging work experiences for themselves.

Ultimately, your people are your organisation’s most important resource. Listening to their engagement needs helps you make the most of their passion, as well as helping them make the most of their time with you.

How to Conduct an Employee Engagement Survey

How best to conduct an employee engagement survey will vary depending on the specifics of your organisation, for example its size and what kind of work your employees are doing.

Here are some pointers that every company should keep in mind when designing their employee engagement survey questions and process. 

Who?

You should survey every employee in your organisation and give them as much anonymity as you can so that they feel safe enough to answer questions honestly.

Employee feedback can vary widely from team to team based on factors like resources, work processes, workloads, and management. 

The employee experience can also vary based on demographic factors, like gender for example. Gathering demographic data in your engagement surveys can help you evaluate whether there are diversity, equity or inclusion issues affecting employee engagement.

When? 

For previous generations, measuring employee engagement typically happened once a year. 

However, it’s now best practice to conduct these surveys at least once a quarter, and many organisations conduct shorter “pulse” surveys more frequently. 

Annual surveys provide an incomplete snapshot of your employee experience (many people might not stay around long enough to participate in one!) and not collecting this data often enough can make it harder to spot issues.

Employees might respond differently to questions if they’re being surveyed on a particularly good or bad day. 

The more you conduct an employee survey, the easier it is to see what feelings are normal and what responses might reflect a particularly good or bad moment rather than their general experience.

At the same time, asking too many questions too often can tire people out and stop them from taking the time to answer each question honestly. 

We think it’s best to conduct a more thorough, general engagement survey once a quarter, and supplement these with pulse surveys between once a month and once a week. 

Pulse surveys should be short and focus on specific elements of engagement depending on what kinds of changes are happening and what problems you’re facing with engagement.

How? 

Online survey tools are the best way to measure employee engagement. This is because they provide anonymity and simplify the process, so you can focus on improving your employee satisfaction by choosing the right questions and evaluating results. 



Our three top tools are: Peakon

Leapsome

Humu

What Questions to Ask

There are too many great engagement questions for us to list here, and which questions are best to ask in each survey depends on your company and the unique challenges it’s facing. 

Remember, you don’t have to cover all of these topics in every employee engagement survey. It’s better to keep your surveys short so that people don’t lose concentration and you can focus more closely on their answers.

We recommend choosing key areas to assess in each survey, making sure each question is short and clear. A quarterly survey takes a maximum of 30 minutes to complete, and a pulse survey should only take five!

It’s also a good idea to repeat certain questions across surveys so that you can accurately measure how your employee experience is changing over time. 

Most importantly, keep your measurements consistent. One way to do this is to stick to the same scale, for example choosing numbers 1 to 5, with 1 being “strongly agree”, 3 being “neither agree or disagree”, and 5 being “strongly disagree”. 

As a starting point, here’s an overview of all the different elements of employee engagement that we keep tabs on here at Learnerbly, and some of the questions we ask. We use the one-to-five scale and ask people to rate how strongly they agree with each statement. 

Engagement

  • I would recommend Learnerbly as a great place to work.
  • I see myself still working at Learnerbly in two years’ time.
  • If I was offered the same job in another organisation, I would choose to stay at Learnerbly.
  • I’m satisfied with working at Learnerbly. 

Accomplishment

  • Most days, I feel a sense of accomplishment from what I do. 
  • I have the opportunity to do challenging things at work. 

Autonomy

  • I feel I am given enough freedom to decide how to do my work. 
  • I’m satisfied with the amount of flexibility I have in my work schedule.
  • My work gives me the opportunity to do what I do best every day. 

Clarity

  • I get enough feedback on how well I’m doing my job. 
  • The information I need to do my job well is readily available. 
  • I know how my work supports the goals of Learnerbly. 
  • My manager provides me with the support I need to complete my work.

Environment

  • My physical work environment contributes positively to my ability to do my job. 
  • I have the freedom to choose where I do my best work (e.g. at an office vs at home).
  • I can easily find space for collaboration and conversation with others. 
  • My workplace is free from distractions and I find it easy to focus on my work. 
  • I have access to the equipment and tools I need to do my job well. 

Freedom of Opinions

  • I feel like my opinions are valued at Learnerbly. 
  • My co-workers are open to opinions that are different from their own. 
  • At Learnerbly, we value open and honest communication. 
  • I know what is expected of me to be successful in my role. 

Growth

  • My job at Learnerbly enables me to learn and develop new skills. 
  • I believe there are good career opportunities for me at Learnerbly. 
  • The work I do is meaningful to me. 

Management

  • If I do good work, I know that it will be recognised.
  • My manager genuinely cares about my wellbeing. 
  • My manager or mentor at Learnerbly actively supports my development. 
  • My manager is a great role model for me and other employees. 
  • My manager cares about my opinions. 
  • I feel I am growing professionally. 

Meaningful Work

  • I make a difference in my team. 
  • At work, I have the opportunity to use my strengths every day. 
  • I see how my work contributes to positive outcomes for our users. 
  • People from all backgrounds are treated fairly at Learnerbly. 

Relationships

  • I feel I am part of a team. 
  • I see Learnerbly as the kind of place where I could make friends.
  • My co-workers are committed to doing quality work. 

Reward

  • The process for calculating pay in our organisation seems fair and unbiased.
  • I am fairly rewarded (e.g. pay, promotion, training) for my contributions to Learnerbly. 
  • I can have well-informed and constructive conversations with my manager about pay.

Safety/Alignment

  • If I witnessed serious misconduct at work, I’m confident that Learnerbly would take action. 
  • I can count on my co-workers to help out when needed.

Strategy and Direction

  • I’m inspired by the purpose and mission of Learnerbly. 
  • Learnerbly effectively communicates the goals and strategies set by its management. 
  • We hold ourselves and our co-workers accountable for great results. 
  • I can genuinely identify with the values of Learnerbly. 
  • The overall strategy set by management is taking Learnerbly in the right direction. 

Wellbeing

  • I believe my workload is reasonable for my role. 
  • Working here, I feel that I can live a physically healthy lifestyle. 
  • Learnerbly really cares about my mental wellbeing. 
  • I find my workload manageable. 
  • I am able to arrange time out from work when I need to. 
  • Learnerbly cares about my general wellbeing. 
  • When I need a break, I have space to chat and relax with others.


Peeling the Onion: What to Do with Your Survey Results

Once you have your survey results you can act on them, right? Not so fast!

In fact, getting to the bottom of employee engagement issues is more like peeling an onion: you take it apart, layer by layer, until you get to the core—and that’s where you find your actionable results.

Think of your quarterly, broad-strokes employee engagement survey as peeling back the tough outer skin of the onion. 



To peel back the next layer, you have to use these results to choose a specific area of engagement to examine in follow-up surveys.

Then, once you’ve pinned down a specific aspect of your employee experience to improve, you need to gather qualitative data on what would be the best way to improve it. 

To gather this kind of data, you can ask your employees for their opinions and suggestions in focus groups or interviews and use their insight to develop a plan of action for tackling the issue at hand.

Now you can start to have some really productive conversations with the management team. By exploring why their people feel a certain way, you should be able to:

  • Zero in on specific issues with managers to help them solve their most pressing people problems.
  • Start advising managers on different tactics to address issues.
  • Help managers understand best practice from other teams in the business

Then, once you’ve set your plan in motion, you can use the same employee engagement survey questions to see whether your interventions have been effective.

If they have, hooray! Now you can move on to improving other areas of your people's experience. If they haven’t, you’ll need to keep trying to find a solution that works.

Summary

Employee engagement refers to people’s level of absorption, interest, and passion in their work. It’s a valuable resource for businesses because people who are engaged in their work tend to be more productive and keener to stick around.

Conducting employee engagement surveys will help you measure how engaged your people are and figure out what you need to change to boost engagement.

It’s important to measure employee engagement anonymously, but gather demographic information about each person to determine how your employee experience varies for different groups of people.

Our best practice is to conduct quarterly engagement surveys that take no more than 30 minutes, and supplement these with five-minute pulse surveys every month or week which focus on specific topics.

Gathering employee engagement data is like peeling an onion layer by layer. Broad survey questions peel back the outer layer, more specific pulse survey questions peel back the inner layers, and from there focus groups and interviews with your people can help you get to the core of what you need to improve.

Once you’ve finished your research and charted an improvement plan, you can use future employee engagement surveys to measure how successful this plan has been and figure out your next steps from there.

Good luck!

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