Employee Engagement Surveys: how to get started

Welcome to the ultimate guide on employee engagement surveys. This is by far the most comprehensive guide you will find online.

Employee engagement is a hot topic that every organization should care about. As knowledge work continues to rise in popularity, many organizations are realizing that their most valuable asset is not the equipment or IP, but their employees. We welcome this change, as it puts pressure on organizations to create a truly great place to work.

Many organizations seek to measure and improve employee engagement by asking questions. HR departments typically administer an annual employee engagement survey (or bi-annual), collect insights, and relay feedback to departments and managers to guide change.

In this guide to employee engagement surveys, we’ll discuss everything you need to know and help you get up and running.

This guide is intended for CXOs, HR leaders, and anyone inside an organization who cares about creating a great place to work.


The first thing you need to understand is that a problem exists inside your organization, whether you realize it or not. Gallup estimates that nearly 70% of the United States workforce is disengaged

You read that right. If you manage a team of ten people, it’s possible that seven of them are disengaged.

Employee Engagement Defined:

Employee engagement is defined as the emotional commitment an employee has to the organization and its goals.

This disengagement has enormous productivity implications. A disengaged employee costs an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary. If you pay a $60,000/year salary, disengagement could cost approximately $20,000 for a single employee.

This problem is expensive and oftentimes hides beneath the surface.

What are you doing to measure and improve engagement inside your organization? Do you KNOW if you’re making improvements this year vs. last?


Before you dive deep into how to get setup and running an employee engagement survey, we think it’s important to set expectations.

First, an annual survey guides strategy, not the tactical day-to-day issues your organization might encounter. Collecting feedback once per year can be helpful to capture a high-level overview of how the company is trending, but it’s not suited for real-time issues.

Also, because the survey is anonymous, it’s can’t help you drive change with pinpoint accuracy. It’s like painting with a broad brush.

If you’re looking for more tactical insight, use our weekly check-in tool (you can also learn about check-ins here).


It’s possible that you still may need to convince colleagues that measuring employee engagement is an important metric to measure and improve. Here’s what we suggest: 


At the end of the day, businesses are driven by the need to increase revenues or cut costs. We recommend you use research to make the case that an engagement survey is worth the cost and employee time.

We also recommend that you work with other leaders to develop an ROI model. What key inputs will be measured to determine if an employee engagement survey is worth the cost?


Many leaders will only make changes when it’s obvious that change needs to be made. Use internal data around turnover to build a business case that measuring engagement matters. For example, what is the % annual turnover inside your organization? What is the cost to hire a new employee? How long does it take for the new employee to ramp?


Did a key employee leave recently? Oftentimes an “emotional” story alone doesn’t help vs. data, but when you combine data and a story together, it can be a powerful combination to persuade colleagues.


If you are encountering resistance around an organization-wide survey, we highly recommend starting with a pilot group instead. This is a lower-cost option to prove that the insights are meaningful and can help drive change across the organization.

You can also benchmark ROI with the pilot group vs. the rest of the organization.


After you’ve convinced colleagues that an employee engagement survey is worth the time and cost, it’s time to pick a provider. We highly recommend a digital survey vs. the traditional paper survey. A digital platform can save many hours due to the ability to process and aggregate data quickly.

So what questions should you ask when evaluating a vendor?


How long does it take to get up and running with a survey platform? It will take time to import your company directory, create user accounts, and get the company set up.


For an annual survey, we recommend using most of the template questions that vendors will recommend. However, there’s value in asking questions that are specific to your organization.


Measuring engagement across the organization is helpful, but these insights must be segmented by department or team to dive deeper. It’s worth asking vendors how you might be able to slice and dice the insights you collect.


If this is your first employee engagement survey, you may want the additional support to guide you through the initial survey process. It’s worth the time and cost to understand the best ways to administer the survey and collect feedback.


It’s important for organizations to be able to benchmark results over time. Make sure that when an organization presents an engagement score, it’s something you can recreate in the future. The last thing you want to do is receive a score, change vendors, and have no idea how the current results compare to past years (due to a proprietary score).


This is by far the most important section of this post. There is an art and a science to what questions you ask in an employee engagement survey. But first, let’s look at the building blocks and aspects of the business that you should be measuring: 


The first thing you need to measure is whether the work is meaningful or not. This is a key aspect of what an employee does on a daily basis, so it’s important to understand if there’s a fit between the employee’s goals and what they do on a daily basis.

Next, it’s important to understand if employees have the autonomy they need to make an impact. Is the team small enough to move quickly? Or is there too much bureaucracy so decision-making is pushed to leadership? 


It’s tough to work for an organization if you don’t trust them and what they stand for. That’s why it’s important for leaders to be transparent in communication, especially when the company is struggling.

Next, what is the mission of the organization? Does it fit with an employee’s worldview? Does it seek to do good in the world?

Finally, is the organization investing in its people? Do employees feel that there’s an equal value exchange? If they work hard, will that be rewarded by the organization?


It’s been said that employees leave managers, not the company. We don’t agree completely with this statement, but there’s a lot of truth to having supportive management. We believe that effective middle-management is the key to a healthy business.

As a manager, it’s important to set clear goals and expectations for work. These are the rules of engagement. Like a sports coach provides frequent communication and feedback during a game, it’s important to measure this in an engagement survey too.


This next section is pretty simple – do employees have what they need to do their job? Most of this building block is focused on the tangibles (office layout, software, etc).

Another key consideration is recognition. If someone does great work, are they recognized for it? Do people say “thank you” frequently? This contributes significantly to the work environment.


Do employees have the opportunity to learn and grow inside an organization? Is the organization investing in providing learning opportunities and continuing education for the team?

Next, the organization should understand an employee’s longer-term career goals and do everything they can to support their aspirations. It’s important to understand if managers are being supportive and asking the right questions. This also sometimes means that employees work in different departments.


We recommend using something similar to the questions below:

  • I know what my job requires of me.
  • I have the opportunity to use my strengths to do my best work.
  • I have the tools, software, and equipment I need.
  • In the last week, someone has recognized my contributions or said: “thank you.”
  • My boss cares about me as a person.
  • I’m coached and encouraged to develop my talents.
  • I have a friend at work.
  • My viewpoints and suggestions have an impact.
  • I’m aligned with the mission and direction of the company.
  • Over the last six months, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and grow.

The respondent is given the choice to pick one of five options between strongly disagree and strongly agree.

We also recommend that these questions have optional fields to submit qualitative data. For example, you can ask “what is the reason for your score” to undercover deeper insights and get the context you need.


It’s important that you involve as many people as possible in the engagement survey process. We highly recommend that you have an understanding of how many people responded to the survey, expressed in a percentage.

If you have one hundred employees and seventy answered it, that’s a 70% completion rate.


Due to the anonymous nature of the survey, don’t expect every employee to answer. We generally see a 70-80% response rate.


If this is your first time sending an employee engagement survey, make sure to set clear expectations with the organization. We recommend that you mention during a company meeting that you will be sending a survey to measure their employee experience.

It’s important that the organization knows WHY the survey is being sent, and what you intend to do with the results.

“We are sending a survey to measure how we can improve as an organization. Your feedback is important to us and helps understand exactly where we need to improve. Without your honest feedback, we won’t know what we need to fix.”


One easy way to improve the engagement survey completion rate is to resend the email at a later time, changing the subject line and email body. If you send the employee engagement survey once, there’s a variety of reasons why someone might not complete it. It could be a busy day at work, vacation, etc.

We highly recommend sending the survey again a week later. Consider sending it three times.


Finally, it’s important to note that the survey length matters. The longer the survey is, the fewer people will complete it. A lengthy survey also leads to analysis paralysis internally. 


After the results have been collected from the engagement survey, it is time to analyze the results. The most important thing you need to know is that looking at the results in aggregate only tells a piece of the story.

It’s important to segment the employee engagement survey by a host of factors. We’ve included a few suggestions below:

  • Department
  • Manager
  • Gender
  • Tenure
  • Age
  • Geography (especially with remote offices)
  • Seniority

One final note – when analyzing results, you might feel the urge to tell a story that everything is okay. We recommend taking the opposite approach – analyze the data with the goal of finding an area to improve. It may be a small issue or a large one.


Now that you have segmented results, it’s time to identify the top three areas that you need to improve. Meet with the leadership team to agree on what these items are – they should be driven by data, not by opinions and gut-feel.

It’s important to choose a few key items and agree on them. This is because if you try to improve several items, it’s easy to split time, effort, and focus. This leads to subpar improvements. Focus is critical.


You’re almost done – it’s time to report the results to the company. We have a few recommendations:


It’s important that these results be conveyed to the appropriate managers/leaders. For example, if a manager needs to improve at recognition, this must be communicated with them.

It’s common to share results with teams of five or more in order to protect anonymity. Managers should also be prepped on how to share the results with their team.


Now it’s time to report the results to the entire organization. It’s important to be transparent with the results, even if they aren’t glowing. In this meeting you should discuss the aggregate results, the top three areas of improvement, and how managers will be following-up with team-specific results.


In the next part of action-planning your employee engagement survey, you need to dig deeper into the highest-priority issues. This can be accomplished through focus groups and hearing rich feedback from employees.

You may want to hire an external HR consultant to encourage employees to open up. It depends on how deep the issues are.


You also need to get tactical and create a timeline for implementation. The worst thing you can possibly do is talk to your organization and then do nothing. The point of collecting insights is drive change. If you don’t, you’ve wasted everyone’s time.

We recommend that an organization focus on driving change as quickly as possible, without sacrificing quality. It’s important that the organization know that the change was caused by the feedback they gave.

Involve the entire company in this process. The solution to organizational problems can be found through employee feedback, not just what leadership thinks.


An employee engagement survey can help you discover the insights you need to improve your organization. This process may take time, but if you take action on the results, you can improve engagement inside the organization.