Employee Satisfaction Surveys
Learning What Your People Think
What is the most common force behind positive workplace results such as high productivity, high staff retention, and low absenteeism?
The answer: high workplace satisfaction. Satisfied people tend to work harder. They're motivated to perform well. And they show high levels of commitment to their organizations.
There's an important relationship between employee satisfaction and organizational success, so it's a good idea to discover the level of satisfaction in your workplace – and use that information to your advantage. But how can you do that effectively and efficiently?
It's very time-consuming to talk to every single person about the various factors that contribute to his or her satisfaction, and then compile that information. While you may have a sense of how your people feel about certain satisfaction indicators – such as salary and benefits packages, the level of support and training provided, and the way disputes and problems are managed – it's not necessarily easy to tell if your impressions reflect the views of the majority of your people, or just a those of a vocal minority.
A survey, on the other hand, is a great way of determining overall employee satisfaction. By conducting a survey, you allow your staff to voice concerns and frustrations as well as give positive feedback. From the information you gather, you can then plan to have more meaningful and focused conversations about employee satisfaction. What's more, you can determine whether the current level of satisfaction needs to be maintained or increased – and HOW.
Using Employee Satisfaction Surveys
To get the greatest benefit from employee satisfaction surveys, recognize that you should not do these just one time or once every few years. When the environment changes, people's attitudes also change. Most organizations are motivated to conduct their first survey after a significant change or when they discover a problem with morale or staff retention. But the key to long-term success with these surveys is to follow-up and to monitor satisfaction routinely.
Surveys provide a snapshot of how people are feeling at a specific point in time. Day-to-day interactions change the way that people feel, as do the actions you take to improve the situation. To tell whether things have improved, and whether your actions have been effective, you need to repeat the survey, and you need to keep on taking action and resurveying on an ongoing basis to keep on improving people's levels of satisfaction.
And of course, any time you gather information, you actually have to do something with it. This ensures that you don't waste resources, and it shows your workers that their answers are valuable and will actually be used to make something happen. If you conduct a survey and then don't do anything, you'll just annoy people and encourage cynicism.
Creating Employee Satisfaction Surveys
No two organizations are the same, therefore no two surveys should be the same. You can start with a generic, or general, set of questions, but it's really important to customize the questionnaire to suit your people, your culture, and your expectations.
Typical worker attitude surveys are structured around four key areas:
- Communication – How well do your organization's leaders communicate with people? Are there adequate systems for providing information?
- Development and support – How committed is your organization to providing training, advancement, and development opportunities?
- Culture – How do your workers describe and perceive their work environment?
- Compensation – Do your people think that their salaries, benefits, and other perks are adequate?
For each section, develop specific questions based on the type of information you want to gather. As a starting point, here's a generic survey for you to download. It provides specific examples of questions that are related to the four main areas of interest.
When creating your customized survey, compose your questions with the end in mind. Decide how you will analyze and use the information gathered in your survey. Asking questions creates an expectation for change. If you are interested in morale for instance, think about what you are prepared to do with the information before asking questions. Also, think about the amount of time and resources you have to analyze the data. Asking lots of open-ended questions is fine if you are prepared to sort through the answers you receive. Limited choice questions may not yield as much detail, however they are much simpler to analyze. By using a "backward" planning approach, you'll be more prepared to address the "why" and "how" issues related to the survey.
Also, when you know why you're conducting the survey, you'll be able to communicate more effectively with workers. You can help them understand why their answers are important, and you can plan how to share the survey results. People who understand the process are also more likely to participate: more people will complete the survey, and your results will be more accurate and meaningful.
Participation rates are crucial to the validity of the results, so create a survey that people will take the time to complete. Count the number of pages, and note the number – and types – of questions. If there are too many questions, or if they're all one format (for example, fill-in-the-blank), workers may be less likely to respond. Surveys that take more than 10 to 20 minutes to complete are often too long.
Consider the following when developing your questions:
- Provide a mix of question types – Include yes/no, multiple choice, sliding-scale (for example, never, sometimes, often), and fill-in-the-blank questions.
- Limit the open-ended questions – Use open-ended questions only when you really need to know something and you're willing to read through the answers. Remember, these are time-consuming to compile and analyze. Also, people who are dissatisfied with something are more likely to respond in detail than those who have had a positive experience.
- Include both positive and negative questions/statements – Instead of asking whether people agree with a series of positive statements, mix them up and ask some questions in reverse. For example, change "My manager provides me with constructive feedback" to "My manager provides little feedback on my performance." This tends to force respondents to think about their answers, and you'll probably end up with a more honest evaluation. Be sensitive, however, with the way you phrase negative questions: make sure that you don't appear to be leading people to criticize particular things or people!
- Keep questions short and precise.
- Ask about observable behavior where possible.
- Don't include multiple variables in a question – Additional variables can make it difficult to answer the question accurately. For instance, it's confusing to ask if a person receives enough support and training. What if the worker finds the level of support acceptable, but feels that training opportunities are inadequate?
- Avoid questions with obvious answers – When you ask people if they want more flexible schedules, few people will answer no. Instead, ask how much flexibility workers need in their schedules. This provides information that you can actually use.
Some organizations choose to capture demographic data in their surveys. This can help provide information on trends. However, don't ask questions that may identify respondents (most people prefer answers to be confidential).
For more useful tips, read our article on Developing Surveys: Asking the Right Questions the Right Way.
In addition to actually developing the survey, you need to focus on communication. Discuss and promote the survey wherever you can – it's hard to over-publicize an upcoming survey. Then, when the survey is complete, spend as much time publicizing the results and what you intend to do with them. Open up discussions with your people to communicate the information and follow up on key issues that you discovered. By using employee attitude surveys within your organization, you'll send a clear message that you want to know how people feel, and that you're interested in the trends – positive and negative – that are revealed.
Probably the most important step is the last one. Your employee survey will confirm what you're doing well and, perhaps, highlight areas that you need to address. You may need to conduct further surveys that target a specific area of concern. Or you may find issues within a particular department or among certain groups of people.
Whatever the survey results show, you must gain further clarity and make a plan for action. This becomes easier to do once you've completed a few surveys. Then you can determine whether things have improved over time. And by establishing a track record of identifying, addressing, and eventually resolving issues revealed by these surveys, you'll improve overall morale. When people are confident that they're being heard, they're more likely to talk about issues openly.
Using employee surveys is an efficient way of learning what your people are feeling. When you understand the issues they face, you can take action. Surveys like these help you to compile objective information and reach sensible conclusions about what's really going on in your organization. By regularly surveying worker attitudes and perceptions, you can make changes proactively – rather than wait for a problem to grow and become serious.