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3 components of an effective employee survey

Surveys are a great way to gather information from employees, but they can be tricky. You need to know what questions to ask, how often...

Author Rachel McQuigge of WFHomie and GoCo

by Rachel McQuigge - October 4th, 2022


Surveys are a great way to gather employee information, but they can be tricky. You need to know what questions to ask, how often you should send them out, and what metrics to measure results. In this post, we'll walk through the three components of an effective employee survey and give some examples of questions that will help you get actionable feedback from your team!

Relational vs. transactional employee surveys

The next step is determining whether your company's survey will be relational or transactional.

Relational surveys gauge employees' relatively stable attitudes about their work, leaders, and the organization:

  1. Work environment and culture (for example, how employees feel about their work environment and their relationships with coworkers)

  2. Leadership support and development opportunities (for example, how they think about leadership in general, opportunities for career development)

  3. Organizational health (how employees perceive the health of the organization)

These types of surveys often ask questions like "I feel valued at work," "My supervisor provides me with appropriate training," or "I am proud to tell others I work here." A company interested in improving its workplace culture can use an understanding of these attitudes rather than focusing on specific metrics.

Transactional surveys measure specific metrics such as retention rates or recruiting quality candidates. Companies will use transactional surveys to improve particular business outcomes rather than measure employee satisfaction across a wide range of issues. The questions in transactional surveys measure specific metrics such as retention rates or recruiting quality candidates.

We recommend starting with a simple employee survey, such as an eNPS survey, for organizations new to gathering feedback from their employees. 

Anatomy of an employee survey: 3 components

Whether a survey is relational or transactional, effective employee surveys contain three main components: an outcome metric, driver items, and open-ended questions.

1. Anchor the employee survey on an outcome metric

Every employee survey should contain at least one specific, measurable outcome or metric.

An outcome metric is an overall measurement of the employee's experience and should communicate whether the experience was positive or negative.

For example, the outcome metric in a relational engagement survey would be employee engagement. In a post-onboarding transactional study, the outcome metric might be an overall rating of employees' satisfaction with the frequency of feedback they receive. 

2. Take action on employee feedback with driver items

Driver items measure specific aspects of the employee experience, telling you why employees feel the way they do and what the organization and its leaders can do to improve those experiences. 

Employers can derive driver items from the specific, detailed feedback that employees provide about their experiences in your organization. They should be relevant to the company and job, measurable, and aligned with strategic goals.

To use driver items effectively:

  • Make sure they're specific enough to allow you to make accurate conclusions about employees' satisfaction. For example, instead of asking, "How satisfied are you with your supervisor?" include an open-ended question: "In what ways have you seen your supervisor help or hinder your team?"

  • Ensure they don't limit employee response options as much as possible so that everyone can provide feedback. For example, while you ask, "Would you recommend working at this company?" also ask, "Why or why not?"

3. Let employees express how they feel with open-ended questions

Employees have a wealth of thoughts and feelings that they may be unable to articulate in the better-known multiple-choice questions. Open-ended questions are a way to gather qualitative data from employees who don't always feel comfortable sharing their thoughts on traditional survey platforms. Open-ended questions allow you to gain insights into the employee experience, including how satisfied employees are with their work or what new policies or benefits would make them happier.

Open-ended questions can also help you better understand why disengaged employees experience, which helps improve your workplace culture overall.

Are you measuring employee happiness?

In summary, your employee survey should contain the following:

  • An outcome metric.

  • A set of drivers (items that directly contribute to the goal).

  • A strategy for measuring drivers.

  • Open-ended questions.

Using these components will allow you to steer your organization in a positive direction. The grounded conclusions you can draw from effective surveys can have far-reaching implications for your business.

Remember these tips when completing your following employee survey, but don't be afraid to experiment with other strategies!

You need to know what your employees think to improve your company's employee engagement. And the best way to do that is by asking them! Employee surveys can be a powerful tool for assessing current performance and creating future goals. But if you approach this task carelessly, it can backfire on you—and even hurt your business in the long run. So make sure to keep these three things in mind as you develop an employee survey strategy.

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