Top 5 Best Practices for an Employee Survey

Most HR professionals know that an engaged workforce can be counted on to deliver superior products and services, which in turn leads to greater customer satisfaction and lower employee turnover. Frequent surveys are a critical tool to help management identify and prioritize issues for action, monitor the effectiveness of change initiatives, and establish performance objectives for managers. Since the results of the surveys will be used to guide key decisions, a high level of participation by the employee base is critical. Not surprisingly, participation in an employee survey is a direct result of how well the survey process is designed and implemented.

Here are 5 best practices for designing and implementing employee surveys that keep participation high and the data output strong.


  1. Develop a survey plan. Prepare a comprehensive survey plan to support each stage of the assessment. The plan should include a schedule of communication emails as well as formally assigned responsibilities across the organization. For example, each team manager should understand their role in having their reports complete the survey. In addition, there needs to be a communication plan so everyone recognizes the importance of the survey to management.

  2. Broadcast clear goals and objectives. In the early planning stage of a company wide survey, articulate the overall goals and objectives of the analysis and define the anticipated outcome. These objectives should be developed with management input all across the company, not just at the executive level. These objectives should be clearly communicated to employees in order to demonstrate the importance of the process. Without long-term objectives that are clearly linked to something tangible, the survey may fail to elicit the broad based support that you need. For example, if employees know a coveted benefit is on the chopping block, employees will be aware that if they wish to keep that benefit, their opinions need to be heard.

  3. Demonstrate management commitment. The research process will have greater credibility if employees believe that it is endorsed and supported by senior management. Senior management commitment can reassure employees that their views will be taken into account and acted on. When management commitment is lacking, employees may view the survey as just an exercise to get data, but there is no plan on ever doing anything about the data. A good idea here might be to have the survey announcement come from a high level executive that is not on the HR team.

  4. Choose the right tools. Consider the data-collection methodology that is best suited to your workforce. Gone are the days where surveys need to be distributed on printed paper. Paper was difficult for both the survey creator and taker leading to a cumbersome process for all. Web tools make it very easy to create the questionnaires and analyze the results, and not surprisingly they are actually more cost and time effective than paper.  There are myriad online options from advanced survey tools like SurveyMonkey down to form collection tools like Wufoo. Carefully determine the features that your organization will require when choosing the platform that you will use. Things to consider are features like randomization of questions, the availability of benchmarks, and advanced logic that allow for survey takers to skip over irrelevant question.

  5. Ask the right questions. Follow questionnaire writing best practices and look out for unintended bias in questions. Use scales whenever possible instead of bipolar yes or no questions. Balance the questions between quantitative and qualitative, but minimize the need for employees to type comments. Text statements can be harder to analyze than multiple choice. Don’t ask unnecessary questions, if you aren’t sure what you will learn from a question, skip it.

It is well known that workplace issue can lead to sleepless nights, high employee turnover,  and disappointed customers. Finding and addressing workplace problems will lead to happier employees and delighted customers and just discovering the issues can end the vicious cycles. With these tips in mind, you are well on your way to a successful survey that will engage management and employees and serve as impetus for cultural change and a productive and open dialogue with management. The employee survey can be used to develop a strategy for creating a high-motivation work environment and improving business performance. No workplace survey process will ever be perfect, so every time you run a survey, take note of every misstep or failing and use them as a way to improve on future surveys.

If you have any additional tips on running a successful survey, please share in the comments. 

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