Should you conduct an employee engagement survey?

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April 30, 2021

Employee engagement is one of the main driving forces behind any successful business. According to a recent study, organisations with high engagement levels benefit from a 22% increase in productivity.

While this is an impressive statistic, maintaining these levels of engagement can be a challenge, particularly in the new era of remote working. If leaders want to understand just how engaged their employees are, they need to quickly identify any pain points that may harm productivity, morale and overall workplace culture.

Surveys are often used to provide examples of high-level engagement and areas in need of improvement. These can then inform wide-scale changes and initiatives to help create a positive workplace culture. That being said, there may be cases where leaders are relying too heavily on surveys to provide actionable and sustainable insights. This article will weigh up the pros and cons of employee engagement surveys, helping you decide whether they are a worthy pursuit.

Advantages of an employee engagement survey

Gain in-depth insights into engagement

While performance reviews are commonplace, feedback should be a two-way street. Therefore, leaders must be proactive in gathering honest feedback on whether their employees are committed, satisfied and generally content in the workplace. Surveys allow employees to express their needs and concerns, resulting in a first-hand overview of workplace morale.

Identify potential causes of staff turnover

Turnover has an array of direct and indirect costs and should be preempted wherever possible. Surveys, in theory, could be used to ask employees outright about their intention to stay long-term and reasons why they might leave (with the strictest confidence and anonymity of course). Alternatively, identifying common concerns amongst employees is a key part of any strategy designed to reduce high staff turnover.

Monitor the impact of HR initiatives

One of the main benefits of surveys is that they provide clear performance benchmarks. These can be used to measure the impact of any new or ongoing initiatives that look to improve engagement. This can save key resources from being wasted on projects that have little to no impact on performance, productivity or morale.

Disadvantages of employee engagement surveys

They rely on a high response rate

For a survey to obtain any accurate insights, it requires a team’s full co-operation. Say, for instance, that only fully engaged employees filled out the survey. While their input is valid, it doesn’t represent the company as a whole. If employees have a lot on their plate, a survey will likely be a low priority. You could try and make it mandatory, or follow up on those who fail to complete the survey, but this may not go down well with your team.

They’re often susceptible to bias

Unconscious bias is a hot-button issue, and for good reason. It can often help us navigate issues in a workplace culture. For instance, ‘recency bias’ means that recent events resonate stronger in our minds over historic ones. Say an employee is asked to fill out an engagement survey after just having a negative performance review. Despite previously being engaged and content in their role, their review will likely be at the forefront of their mind when asked how happy and fulfilled they are.

Another example of how bias can distort survey results is a desire to keep things as they currently are, otherwise known as ‘status quo bias’. Even if people aren’t happy in their role, this is often outweighed by a fear of change, or even conflict resulting from voicing a negative opinion. Therefore, people may avoid being honest in a survey for fear of rocking the boat.

They may focus too much on the negative

A survey’s design will undoubtedly impact its results. If the questions are predominantly about what employees feel needs to be improved, this can paint an overly critical picture of workplace morale. Psychologically speaking, there are many areas in which we dwell on the negative. Therefore, employee engagement surveys need to strike a balance between understanding the positive and the negative, so that the results aren’t skewed in either direction.

They don’t always lead to action

The results that stem from employee engagement surveys are often worthwhile, but follow-ups must be carried out to ensure progress is being made. It isn’t enough to simply lead a survey; taking the right level of action is crucial in employees feeling they’ve been heard. If there is a lack of action, any future surveys are unlikely to be taken seriously.

Are they really confidential?

If you have a workplace culture where employees do not trust their leaders, any attempt to elicit feedback is likely to be met with scepticism, regardless of whether the survey is anonymous. For instance, employees may fear that their answers could cause backlash, especially within smaller teams. This can affect the authenticity of the survey and exacerbate any feelings of insecurity amongst teams. An issue with trust though, should be addressed immediately. Learn how to build trust in your teams with our on-demand webinar tackling the subject. 

How to communicate employee engagement survey results 

Sharing employee engagement results can determine the overall success of the survey itself. Communicating results poorly can have the opposite effect and cause disengagement. So make sure you get your feedback across correctly by following these essential steps. 

Thank employees for participating

Acknowledging your employees via a personalised email to thank them for taking the time to complete the survey. This shows team members that you value their feedback.

Provide an initial overview of results

Present your results in stages focusing on high-level results first and then filtering down to specific teams for deeper analysis. Make sure your overview is company-wide, highlighting both positive and negative results. Always include a plan of action in your outline.

Present detailed results

Once results are reviewed by leadership in more depth, you can present more detailed, conclusive results to employees. This should include an intended area of focus, previous actions, and plans for future steps focusing on the main points. 

Discuss results with your team

At this point, sit down with your team members and discuss the results. Keep it simple, ask questions, initiate responses and encourage communication whilst outlining the next steps. 

Throughout this article, you’ve hopefully gained a deeper insight into how surveys can be used to better understand employee engagement. At Totem, while we feel surveys definitely have merit, at times they can be sluggish and tricky to implement, particularly when we consider today’s hybrid workforce. 

Our platform uses Culture Insights, helping leaders to measure engagement with always-on metrics, just like they would turnover or revenue. This creates a consistent and continued insight into workplace culture. Request a demo to learn more about how our company culture app helps to improve employee engagement for long-term success.