Employee engagement surveys can yield important data about environmental and managerial factors that motivate, and fail to motivate, employees.

Employee engagement surveys are widely prevalent in organizations around the country, regardless of industry, geography or staff size. Once commonly referred to as employee satisfaction surveys, these assessments represent a means for employers to gauge employee responses and preferences for everything from benefit offerings to leadership and management practices.

Engagement is a somewhat elusive concept in management. What, exactly, is an engaged employee? An effective employee engagement survey should yield the answers to that question. But, while many companies conduct these surveys, not all are equally adept at taking away meaningful insights from their survey results.

The goal isn't just to ask employees for their opinions — it's to act on those opinions in ways that can both boost engagement and benefit the bottom line.

1. Overall Level of Job Satisfaction

One foundational bit of information that employee engagement surveys provide is the level of job satisfaction among employees. Based on the demographic information you gather (e.g., work location, age, sex, years of tenure, etc.), you will also be able to compare and contrast levels of satisfaction to identify both best practices and areas of opportunity for improvement.

2. Effectiveness of Communication

Employee engagement surveys can gauge how valuable employees find the information they receive from the organization, senior leadership and their managers. Do they feel they are communicated with in a timely fashion? Do they feel the communication they receive is relevant? Useful? Transparent?

3. Motivation Tools

Asking questions about how satisfying or positive employees find various aspects of their work experience can yield insights into things that are important, what motivates them and can highlight aspects of their work or the organization that may be perceived negatively. Asking questions that seek both ratings of "importance" and "experience" can provide comparisons that can be used to identify opportunities for improvement. Consider the ratings posed in this chart, for instance.

How important is…?

(1-10, with 10 being high)

How are we doing?

(1-10, with 10 being high)

Gap

Having an opportunity to do meaningful work

8

5

-3

Receiving immediate feedback on my work output

3

5

+2

Having an opportunity to give back to the community

8

4

-4

Having autonomy in my work

10

3

-7

Having flexibility in work scheduling

9

4

-5

Based on these sample responses, this company would have the greatest opportunity for improvement related to employees' autonomy in their work and flexibility in work scheduling and, thus, would be wise to place focus there.

4. Leadership and Management Effectiveness

"An engagement survey can really let an organization know if they are using the right leadership and management style for employees and the industry itself," says Donna M. Lubrano, an adjunct faculty member in the communications and international business department at Northeastern University in Boston. For example, Lubrano notes that "a highly autocratic leadership culture could lead to less innovation and less engagement. This could be disastrous for industries where innovation is key to competitiveness and, ultimately, survival."

5. Issue-Specific Sentiment Analysis

"Pulse surveys and sentiment analysis are two newer methods that employers are using to better understand and follow up on employee engagement survey results," says Elissa Tucker, who leads APQC's human capital management research practice. Tucker explains that some organizations have used sentiment analysis "to predict whether new policies or programs will have the desired workforce impact." They've done this by monitoring employee social media sentiment and using the data to predict the effect that the program will have on engagement scores.

6. Levels of Engagement

Employee engagement surveys can highlight or measure levels of employee engagement through responses to questions exploring how motivated they feel by their work and how likely they would be to seek employment elsewhere.

7. Departmental Comparisons

"Look at comparisons between departments, shifts, locations, etc., to see if an issue is localized or if it is generalized across the company," suggests Dr. Joshua Kuehler, a consultant and analytics manager with FMG Leading. Digging deeper, he says, can help identify whether an issue is specific to employees under a single, ineffective manager—and, on the flip side, can also identify what works well for employees under another manager.

8. Loyalty

One final area of insight is related to how loyal employees are to the organization. A good way of getting at this information is to ask this question: "Would you recommend this company as a great place to work?" Often referred to as the "net promoter score," the response to this question has been highly correlated with employee loyalty and can provide early indications of turnover risks.

In the end, Kuehler recommends one final, important best practice for getting the most out of engagement surveys: "Always, always, always let employees know and see the main findings." Doing so, he says, helps to send the message that "we heard you."

Tags: Employee Engagement Learning and Development