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Shedding Light on Employee Survey Questions

Updated: Jun 4

Are you thinking about creating or improving upon a set of employee survey questions? In “Getting Action from Organizational Surveys,” William A. Schiemann, Ph.D. and Brian S. Morgan, Ph.D. suggest 10 key questions to ask about your employee survey process. Questions to ask include “Does our survey process capture our organizational goals and values?” and “Does it allow employees to share their observations about important capabilities and behaviors that produce value to our customers?”

The rest of Schiemann and Morgan’s questions include:

  1. Does our survey process measure the key elements of our people strategy?

  2. Does it provide feedback about our strategy execution, not just employee satisfaction?

  3. Does it enable us to meaningfully roll up dimension scores (e.g. leadership, rewards) in a strategic way that can be presented to our Board of Directors? And that they would think captures the value that has been invested in labor?

  4. Does it provide us with key survey readouts and analysis that enables us to focus resources in a targeted fashion rather than one-size-fits-all solutions? Are they connected to our budgets and initiatives in a systemic fashion?

  5. Does our survey process connect to our balanced scorecard? And not just the people components of the scorecard?

  6. Does it provide insights into our customers and the factors that drive our satisfaction, loyalty, and retention?

  7. Does it provide leading indicators of key performer retention, customer value, operating outcomes (e.g. speed of execution) and financial results? Do we have a process for prioritizing the indicators that are most strategic and will create the most impact?

Answering “Yes” to these questions means your team is ready to wrestle with strategic responsibilities. “No” answers to these questions indicate your employee survey questions are not incorporating strategic goals and won’t be as effective as possible.

Allan Kraut, Schiemann and Morgan’s editor for “Getting Action” notes that the quality and impact of employee survey questions depends on whether they explore critical issues and concerns. He believes employee surveys fail when the organization doesn’t take action on findings to improve organizational functioning and communication.

Companies use employee survey questions as part of continuous improvement efforts in workforce management and to drive successful business performance.

There are four main reasons companies conduct employee surveys:

  1. To identify organizational problems.

  2. To evaluate their programs and policies.

  3. To gauge employee satisfaction.

  4. To determine organizational outcomes for customer satisfaction and business performance.

When used properly, Scheimann and Morgan report that employee surveys are powerful management tools to assess strategy and human capital. Well designed employee survey questions reveal clear direction that leaders can use to understand and improve core business issues.

The Holy Grail of Employee Surveys

Kenexa is an IBM company “in the business of improving companies and enriching lives” as a global provider of human resources business solutions. It has annually produced

WorkTrends for 25 years, asking questions about employee engagement, managerial effectiveness, and performance excellence in companies the world over.

The 2012/2013 WorkTrends Report “Training and Tenure: Why Two Out of Three of Your New Hires Are Considering Leaving and What You Can Do About It,” Kenexa reports that employees who’ve been at a company less than a year are 12 percent less likely to leave if they receive basic training. The message is that giving employees the tools they need to perform well reduces turnover and protects the company’s investments in human capital.

This year’s WorkTrends also found that career growth is not only important to new employees but also to long-term employees. New employees want tools and training to do their new jobs and perform well in their new positions and long-term employees want training and education to prepare for promotions, lateral moves, and continuous learning.

Employee Survey Questions to Evaluate Employee Engagement

While it’s been shown that employee surveys are most effective when they incorporate questions about corporate strategy, they have traditionally been used to gauge employee satisfaction and engagement. The 2012/2013 WorkTrends Report “The Many Contexts of

Employee Engagement” starts with a reminder of what the definition of employee engagement is:

“The extent to which employees are motivated to contribute to organizational success, and are willing to apply discretionary effort to accomplishing tasks important to the achievement of organizational goals.”

The 2012/2013 WorkTrends employee engagement component included questions centering on employee trust in management.

WorkTrends reports that organizational scientists have found three factors in employee trust in management:

1. Benevolence – Employees trust bosses and employers who show they care about them. 2. Competence – Employees trust bosses and employers who can do their jobs well. 3. Integrity – Employees trust bosses and employers who are honest and straightforward.

Ask these types of employee survey questions to find out how much employees trust their bosses and employers:

  1. Do you feel your manager does a good job at making appropriate work assignments, setting priorities, and scheduling?

  2. Does your manager do a good job of dealing with people who work for him/her?

  3. Does your manager work with integrity?

Kenexa’s most recent WorkTrends also revealed that employees are more engaged when they have competent and engaged coworkers and feel like they belong to a team and that toxic team environments affect engagement even if all other work factors are positive.

Employee survey questions to find out how employees feel about their experience with coworkers include:

  1. Do the people you work with cooperate to achieve work goals?

  2. Do the people you work with do the very best for the company?

  3. Do you feel you are part of a team?

In Kenexa’s white paper “Beyond Engagement: The Definitive Guide to Employee Surveys and Organizational Performance,” author Jack W. Wiley, Ph.D. estimates that 72 percent of large corporations with more than 10,000 employees and 50 percent of small corporations with less than 250 employees use employee survey questions. Key components of employee engagement include commitment, enthusiasm for work, organizational pride, alignment with organizational goals, and willingness to exert discretionary effort. Wiley describes the blueprint of employee engagement as policies and procedures and leadership and managerial behaviors leading to employee engagement, which prompts discretionary effort, which then results in higher overall performance at the individual, team, and organizational levels.

Wiley reports that the Kenexa Employee Engagement Index measures employee engagement on a scale using a percentage of agreement in the following areas:

  1. I am proud to tell people I work for my organization.

  2. Overall, I am extremely satisfied with my organization as a place to work.

  3. I would recommend this place to others as a good place to work.

  4. I rarely think about looking for a new job with another organization.

Kenexa’s data-driven surveying methods of gauging employee engagement and its results show that high employee engagement is tied to organizational impact and performance excellence in the areas of team performance, customer satisfaction, market share, profit, and business growth. Their annual WorkTrends Reports and highly specific white papers should convince any organization of the value and importance of employee engagement and employee survey questions to monitor and improve their workforce.

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