Employee satisfaction survey questions: what to ask and why

by Mike Sharkey

Employee satisfaction survey questions

In the wake of the global pandemic, organizations are feeling the pressure to create a world-class Employee Experience (EX). But how can you create an exceptional Employee Experience if you can’t measure it? Learn how to use employee satisfaction surveys to move the needle.

COVID-19 forced organizations to find remote working solutions. Others were forced to furlough staff, reduce working hours, and worse. It’s placed huge pressure on people. And it’s putting significant pressure on organizations to make sure these employees are supported and enabled to do their jobs.

In other words, it’s pushed Employee Experience (EX) right to the very top of the agenda.

As the cautious return to work continues in some parts of the world, organizations find themselves with a duty of care. One of the best ways to respond is to improve people’s day-to-day experiences at work - whether it’s the technology they use, the environment they’re in or the way they collaborate.

Focusing on EX means moving from a world of complexity (process-first) to a world of simplicity (people-first). Only by doing so will organizations unlock the innovation, creativity and productivity that only people can deliver.

Employee satisfaction survey questions and EX

But how are you going to change EX if you can’t measure it? Employee satisfaction surveys are one tool you can use to understand what employees are feeling, thinking and experiencing. They give you the data and insights you need to effect meaningful change.

Here’s how you get them right.

What is employee satisfaction?

On the surface, employee satisfaction is a simple idea - a term HR departments use to describe how happy someone is in their work. But there are a lot of things that can affect people’s degree of contentment. Do they enjoy their work? What are their relationships with colleagues like? How do they see their career path? These factors can make a difference between a contented employee and a disgruntled one.

Employee satisfaction surveys look at all these things and more to help get a better understanding of individual employees’ feelings and the overall health of an organization. The rule of thumbs goes: the happier people are at a company, the better that company is run.

Employee engagement and employee satisfaction

People often use these two phrases interchangeably, but they’re separate ideas. While satisfaction is about contentment, employee engagement is about the bigger picture of how people relate to their work and workplace.

UK-based Engage for Success defines engagement as “a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organization to give of their best each day.” The group identifies ‘The Four Enablers’ of engagement as a vital strategic narrative, engaging managers, organizational integrity, and a sense that the employee's voice is valued.

One of the easiest ways of understanding the difference between engagement and satisfaction is to look at outputs. Satisfaction may be necessary for talent retention, but it has no other correlation with performance. Engagement, on the other hand, is directly linked to output and productivity.

Businesses that fail to address both can end up with one of two outcomes. A team that’s satisfied in their work may be complacent about it, doing the minimum to stay employed. On the flip side, an engaged but unhappy team may perform well while looking for opportunities elsewhere.

Although engagement can influence overall satisfaction, it’s also true that assessing satisfaction can help measure engagement. The ideas are intrinsically related.

Employee satisfaction surveys

Surveys are a common tool for gauging job satisfaction. A well-written questionnaire will help a business measure team happiness and the reasons behind people’s feelings. Rather than being a means of letting employees ‘blow off steam,’ you should design surveys to gain a better understanding of your organizational strengths and weaknesses. Then, it’s up to you to take these learnings on board and initiate change.

Pulse surveys

As the name suggests, pulse surveys help you to listen to the heartbeat of your business. Businesses send them out frequently to help capture ever-changing opinions and insights - some companies ask their staff to complete the quickfire questionnaires every week. This speedy process can complement annual surveys rather than replace them.

Pulse surveys are quick to do – they sometimes only have 3 or 4 questions – which means more people are likely to complete them. Asking for feedback often is also a signal that the business cares about what its employees think. It also boosts company culture and the overall Employee Experience: HR software company Breath found that toxic cultures cost the UK economy £15.7 billion a year.

Typical pulse survey questions

Rather than using questions that require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, pulse surveys usually ask people to answer on a scale, for example: strongly disagree; disagree; neither agree nor disagree; agree; strongly agree.

Exactly what you ask people to rate will depend on what you want to find out. You might want to include things like: I’m happy in my work; I have a good work-life balance; I can see a clear career path for myself; I am able to achieve my goals at work.

360-degree surveys

360-degree surveys - sometimes called full-circle feedback or peer review - allow employees to collect feedback on their work from people other than managers. Colleagues, and in some cases, clients, give anonymous feedback about the person’s performance. The employee then completes reciprocal feedback about their peers. At an allotted time, everyone receives their feedback to complete the full circle.

The idea with 360s is that everyone feels comfortable enough to share opinions they might otherwise keep to themselves because of confidentiality. People get an honest view of how well they’re doing, and managers receive valuable insight into their team members’ strengths and weaknesses.

But 360-degree surveys come with a few words of warning. As Mary Vinson points out in The pros and cons of 360-degree feedback, people can make hurtful comments, there may be conflicting opinions, and there’s also the problem of people only asking their friends to rate them. So these processes must be appropriately managed. Think about how you can phrase questions so people don’t use them to settle scores.

Typical 360 questions

360s can ask various questions, but why not keep it short and constructive with ‘What is the person doing well,’ and ‘What could they improve?’

Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) surveys

Businesses often use a Net Promoter Score to measure customer satisfaction. The employee Net Promoter Score, or eNPS, does the same but within a workforce.

Results rely on answers to one fundamental question: ‘On a scale of zero to ten, how likely is it that you would recommend our organization as a place to work?’ Employers then divide the scores into three categories:

  • 0-6 Detractors – employees who are dissatisfied with their job and won’t recommend their employer’s business
  • 7-8 Passives – generally happy employees who aren’t fully committed to an organization
  • 9-10 Promoters – the most satisfied and positive employees

Employers then take the number of detractors away from promoters, before dividing the answer by the number of total responses. This sum is multiplied by 100 to give the eNPS. Scores range between -100 to 100, and anything above 0 is usually considered acceptable. A score between 10 and 30 is perceived as good, while anything above 50 is excellent.

Annual surveys

Annual employee satisfaction survey questions tend to go into more detail than those used in other processes. These surveys are designed to build a comprehensive picture of an organization’s culture, and you should try to send them to as many people as possible for maximum effect.

Typical annual survey questions

You have lots of freedom, here. Ask people to give scores and feedback on questions covering anything from teamwork to opinions of the company’s leadership or the work-life balance.

There’s no set number of questions for an annual survey, but don’t include more than 40 or fatigue might set in. This is an opportunity to get deeper insights than you would from pulse surveys or 360s, so have open and closed questions to encourage more in-depth responses.

Tips for employee satisfaction survey question success

Whatever type of employee satisfaction survey you’re doing, there are a few factors directly linked to getting meaningful responses and positive change in your organization.

Make sure your survey is confidential

For a survey to produce the most insightful and honest responses, confidentiality is critical. An organization that takes the feedback process seriously will reassure people they can answer in total confidence. After all, if an employee can’t be honest when sharing their opinion, they’re highly unlikely to be satisfied in their work.

Keep language simple

Needlessly complex language can muddle the quality of survey responses. Clear, simple questions will help people give honest feedback with confidence. Watch your wording and keep it consistent across all surveys to always identify which aspects of satisfaction you’re measuring.

Set deadlines

People need to know a timeline for when they need to complete a survey. Give them too long, and they’ll forget about it. Too little time and they’ll feel harassed and rush it, which could skew your results. You can experiment with time frames, but often a week is about right.

Analyze results

There’s no point in putting effort into creating, distributing and completing satisfaction surveys without analyzing the results. Arrange for analysis to be done - and within a reasonable amount of time. Don’t sit on data that can soon go stale. Results should be scrutinized as soon as possible to consult on new Employee Experience policies and processes.

Communicate change

People can get frustrated if they share feedback through satisfaction surveys then feel like the business has ignored it. So whether survey responses have triggered fundamental change or just small tweaks in everyday processes, communicate your actions and updates as soon as possible.

What are the best employee satisfaction survey questions?

Although job satisfaction surveys come in different shapes and sizes, there are several key questions that should feature across the board.

Employee satisfaction survey examples

Do you find your work meaningful?

In a survey from >Workhuman, the number one reason for people sticking with their companies was “my job – I find the work meaningful.” Thirty-two percent of respondents chose this as their motivation for staying loyal to their employer. Teammates, salary, and company culture were all ranked lower.

Do you like our company culture?

And why? This is a key indicator for companies focusing on improving EX. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that one in five Americans have left a job in the past five years due to bad company culture, costing organizations a whopping $223 billion. Ask the question and dig deeper to understand the detail behind the responses.

On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend our company as a good place to work?

The golden eNPS question is often considered the litmus test for employee satisfaction. Many organizations offer incentives for employees when they recommend successful candidates and with good reason. The time-efficient process puts the people who know a business best - the workforce - at the heart of the recruitment process. It’s in the best interests of current employees to refer the best talent, and it's a win-win from a management and team perspective.

If you were to leave your job tomorrow, what would your reason be?

This question opens the door for some of the most revealing and unexpected insights into the health of a business. Remember, the best employee satisfaction survey questions should prompt honest answers that lead to impactful changes.

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