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Well-structured employee surveys can yield a wealth of management information you can use to create a more positive, productive workplace.

People want to be heard and valued. Conducting regular employee surveys sends a message that their perceptions matter and responsiveness is proof of management’s commitment to upholding a fair two-way relationship with staff. The result is a give-and-take that builds trust, supports higher levels of retention and engagement, and improves the overall strength of the organisation.

The type of employee survey you need depends on your objectives. Do you want to measure employee engagement or check alignment to strategy? Do you want to find out how employees feel about organisational culture or whether the organisation is fulfilling employees’ expectations?

Here are the basic criteria for constructing sound employee survey items that deliver actionable results.


1. Define your objectives

Begin by defining exactly why you’re conducting the survey. What are you trying to accomplish, and importantly, what will you do with the results? It’s critical that the survey content is aligned with objectives and that the results help boost organisational effectiveness and improve employee engagement and commitment. In other words, you’re looking for more than ‘nice to know information’. Survey results should be actionable and enable organisational improvement.


2. Make questions easy to understand

Make your employee survey questions clear and easy to understand by using plain language that everyone will generally comprehend and interpret similarly. Also, use short sentences that speak directly to the point of the question. This will keep the readability scores high and difficulty levels low.


3. Create content that’s applicable to everyone

As a general rule, make sure your survey content is rateable by all employees, not just those in a specific area of the business or at a particular job grade.  Asking for ratings on issues outside of an individual’s experience creates confusion and likely cynicism about the purpose of the survey.


4. Keep questions focused on just one issue

Each item in the survey should deal with just one topic – not two or more. Statistical results for an item that addresses more than one topic will be ambiguous. For example, ‘My supervisor sets clear goals and provides positive reinforcement when employees meet the goals.” What do you want to rate, the goal setting or the positive reinforcement?


5. Phrase items to generate disperse responses

Ideally, there is variance in how employees respond to an item. When all employees respond at either end of the scale, the results don’t reveal much about their perceptions or the differences among groups.


6. Word items in the positive

All survey items should be worded in the positive so that the same end of the response scale always indicates favourable ratings. There is a common myth that mixing in some negatively phrased items will increase accuracy. In fact, this only confuses both the employees taking the survey and the people interpreting the results.


7. Write items to fit with the response scale

There is no one ideal type of employee survey response scale, so make sure that all items are written so the chosen scale is applicable and appropriate. For example, eValue uses a Likert scale with responses written in the familiar either / or format (agree / disagree, important / not important).


8. Be sure not to confound items and response scales

Avoid confounding variables that may lead to inaccurate results. For example, with a frequency response scale (‘always to never’) an item such as, “My supervisor always sets clear goals”, would be confounded.


Repeat the process

Employee surveys are most useful when they’re part of an ongoing measurement system, rather than just one-time snapshots of employee satisfaction or engagement. Trend results are the most powerful way of determining what’s improving and which areas of the business require further attention or different interventions, assuming that some form of remedial action has been taken.

As for frequency, some organisations conduct annual employee surveys, with pulse surveys conducted throughout the year. Some only survey employees every 18 – 24 months. Ultimately, the frequency depends on the type of survey you’re conducting, what you’re trying to achieve and your readiness to act on feedback. Remember, the emphasis is on action and using survey results to improve the employee experience and business performance.