Using staff surveys to measure employee happiness

  23rd October 2019       Private: Bond Williams
 Employment, Accounting & Finance, Client, Engineering, Science & Space, Human Resources, IT & Software Solutions, Office & Commercial

Measuring employee happiness or employee engagement is often a key metric for HR functions. Surveys can be anonymous, granting you honest answers to sensitive questions and they have become a popular tool.

This article looks at the various ways you can successfully deploy employee surveys and considers the types of questions to use and some to avoid. There is no one-size-fits-all solution so before you start sending employee surveys out via a free tool such as Survey Monkey, it is essential to ask yourselves a few key questions to ensure a valuable and useful exercise

  • Why are we doing this?

There may be a sudden internal corporate requirement for a staff survey, and perhaps because ‘everyone else is doing it’, but your motivation should be much deeper than that. Do you want to improve employee satisfaction and staff retention? Do you want to gather valuable data for reporting? Do you want to see how employee happiness impacts on the bottom line? If you want to do it as a PR exercise, then that’s fine too, but it should not be your primary motivation.

  • What resources do we have?

Putting together and analysing results of a staff survey takes time. You can use internal resources and free software to minimise the cost or outsource – something that might encourage uptake if employees think it’s being done independently and they can remain anonymous. The route you take will depend on resource and budget availability.

  • Is there commitment from senior management?

Support and collaboration from management is not only crucial to get resources signed off in the first place, but critical in being able to make positive changes as a result of the feedback.

Reasons surveys can fail

Employees can get survey fatigue – you know how you feel you’ve called your mobile phone provider, for example, and you get a message asking you to rate your experience? Well employees can feel a bit like that if they keep getting asked for their feedback but feel it is not acted on or listened to.

  • Timing

Annual surveys can give you really useful data and can be used to measure longer term progress and change. But sometimes you just want to get feedback or a reaction to a specific event so rather than wait for the next annual survey, use a mini or pulse survey with three or four questions related to the event or topic (new appraisal system, redundancies, management changes etc).

  • Negative feedback

If some of the survey results are disappointing or negative, don’t be tempted to bury them or lose them in a clever summary piece. You now know people think things could be improved. The fact that employees have been honest and told you is a good thing, so embrace it, learn from it and be transparent when sharing the data.

  • Badly written questions

Writing good questions is not as easy as you may think and that’s why people charge good money to do it for you. Depending on budget, there are plenty of options ranging from companies who will manage the whole process through to using a template from Survey Monkey. The questions you ask and how you write them should always go back to why you are doing the survey in the first place. If you really want honesty, don’t phrase the questions in a way that can the answers be manipulated.

Questions to ask

Depending on what your objectives are for the survey, the most common question types will be free text or multiple choice.

If you have limited resources and 100+ employees, you may not want lots of free text boxes generating lots of narrative. This is unless, of course, you want lots of qualitative data to sift through.

People may also be reluctant to provide their true opinion in type form because it takes longer and many people worry it could give away their identity.

Asking people to rate statements (from strongly agree to strongly disagree or excellent to very poor for example), will give you quantitative data that is more easily measurable and doesn’t take much time to answer.

Some statements that you could use include:

  • I know what to expect from my manager
  • I feel valued by my manager
  • My ideas are listened to
  • I have the tools and resources I need to do my job well
  • My responsibilities are clear to me
  • I have opportunities to learn and grow

Final tips

  • Ensure you explain why you are doing the survey and what you will do with the feedback.
  • Make it colourful, interesting and short.
  • Make sure every statement/question is necessary.
  • Stay away from wacky questions unless they are a good culture fit for your company.
  • Try to use the language and terminology of your workplace. If it is informal, make sure your survey reflects this.
  • Get senior managers to encourage their teams to take part.
  • Test it out on a small group before launching company wide.

Author: Debbie Donnelly, HR Consultant and Investors in People Practitioner, |
Debbie Donnelly works with SMEs across the south giving commercial HR advice and providing a range of services from documentation to strategy. Debbie is also an assessor for Investors in People and works as a cross-cultural coach.

Private: Bond Williams


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