8 tips for conducting your employee survey

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Conducting an employee survey is always a big deal: At the latest when the invitation to the survey is sent out, voices are raised among the workforce.

To prevent your survey from being a shot in the dark, you should take enough time to lay a solid foundation for your survey before going online. Going straight into the formulation of the questions with ambition is premature.

Take the time to consider these 8 tips for conducting a successful employee survey and avoid common mistakes in the preparation and follow-up.
This awaits you – table of contents:

Why survey employees online?

We all need feedback – whether in our private lives or professionally. Whether as an employee or as a manager. Without feedback, we can’t measure up and make decisions based only on our gut.

There are many ways to solicit feedback: Personal one-on-one meetings, paper questionnaires, feedback cards, voting at meetings, etc.

In all cases, the feedback must be compiled and evaluated at the end in order to derive actions from the individual survey results of the employee survey.

Advantages of online surveys

  • Fast and uncomplicated evaluation of the results: If you want to conduct your employee surveys without the support of an online survey tool, you have to compile the results manually in Excel or a similar program. Based on the manual input, you then create calculations and diagrams for the presentation of the results.

    Many online survey tools take this process completely off your hands. From automatic e-mail invitations to real-time analysis. With a survey tool, you save valuable time and can take action sooner based on the collected results.
  • In addition, you reduce or minimize sources of error and increase the data quality of your results.
  • Different mechanisms allow you to conduct your employee surveys completely anonymously, partially personalized or fully personalized.

It’s not always possible to do it online

You can’t always conduct an employee survey and map it completely online. Especially in production companies, many employees do not have their own e-mail address or, due to their field of activity, do not have direct access to a PC.

In this case, you should implement the invitations to the employee survey with a hybrid model: Combine different options to suit the individual situation of your employees:

  • Responding to the survey on their own desktop computer
  • Answering the survey on a provided desktop computer/tablet
  • Option to answer on your own mobile device (smartphone)
  • Answering in the form of paper sheets

The advantage is that you can compare the different options and see whether, for example, the shared terminal generated fewer responses than the individual invitations for people with their own PCs.

Before you start creating questionnaires, questions and response options for your employee survey, you should first consider what type of survey you want to implement. 

Once you’re clear on that, you should do some more homework. Let’s take a look at what these are below.

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Tip 1: How to gain acceptance for employee surveys

It doesn’t matter if it’s an employee survey or any other survey: Participants must derive some personal benefit for themselves from participating. If they don’t get a personal benefit, then they either won’t participate, won’t give truthful answers, or are subject to “voluntary coercion.”

In order to implement continuous feedback management in a company, acceptance by employees is a prerequisite for implementation. And you create acceptance when there is a personal benefit for the employee from participating.

A small example:

In your company, the atmosphere between production and management is not ideal. You want to conduct an employee survey to smooth out the discrepancies.

Your boss now fears two things when conducting the survey:

  1. The survey will be used by production employees to simply “let off steam.”
  2. There is virtually no confidence that the survey will make a difference and participation will be low. 

In this situation, it is recommended to start with a “light” employee survey. 

For example, start with an employee survey on internal work aids and work clothing. These are personal optimizations for the individual employee and not critical: 

  • “What can be improved in the workplace from your point of view?” 
  • “How do you rate your work clothes?”
  • “Rate the quality of work aids: shoes, gloves, etc.”

In this employee survey, you address the employee’s personal benefit. If you then follow this up with prompt action, the employee will see the benefit of taking part in the employee survey.

In this way, you establish acceptance. In the next surveys, you can then set yourself the goal of also addressing more critical points in order to achieve improvements here. 

But always choose your questions carefully. Asking a direct question about a supervisor’s “negative” points will elicit exactly that kind of response. It is better to ask where the cooperation can be improved. That way, you steer the thoughts into a positive area.

Tip 2: Don’t be afraid of the shitstorm

Change and optimization also means dealing with negative comments. Depending on the size of the company and the mood in the individual departments, some employees may use the employee survey to vent their frustrations.

When fronts get murky: don’t be afraid of negative feedback in employee surveys. (Tobias Bjørkli, Pexels)

But, just when you have concerns about this, it is an indication that change is needed and there are discrepancies in the company.

What can you do to make the most of this situation?

  • Proactive approach: Discuss up front where and what is causing the bad mood. Target your employee survey to these areas and actively ask about the current situation and how employees envision the target situation.
  • Understanding for both sides: Deal with the issue openly. Talk to both managers and their employees. Show both sides that the current situation should be improved.
  • Seek the root of the evil: First and foremost, don’t place blame – not on managers and not on employees. Nevertheless, one or the other may or will use the questioning as an outlet. That’s when you should dig deeper: read between the lines and identify the reasons for the dissatisfaction.

The following causes are conceivable:

  • Often, a negative attitude has arisen from a trivial matter, or from a wrong tone, which has “built up” in the course.
  • Management principles are not communicated properly to the employees.
  • An overly harsh tone creates the appearance of a negative work environment.

Interpersonal issues play a big role in the mood between managers and employees. 

If you ask specific questions and get everyone involved before the actual questioning, you’ll be able to find and root out the causes of the bad mood in the company.

Tip 3: How not to pillory managers

Department heads, executives and managers are important key persons in the company. They carry your philosophy and the company goals to the employees and are active in the daily business. It is therefore all the more important that they have professional and personal skills.

In order not to publicly pillory managers in an employee survey on internal communication or leadership style, the way the question is posed is crucial.

By asking the right questions, you won’t let your managers run wild in employee surveys. (by creativeart – www.freepik.com)

With questions about the manager’s personal skills and questions about cooperation, you can put both the employee and the manager in an awkward situation with the wrong wording:

  • “How would you rate your cooperation with John?”
  • “Where do you see room for improvement with Mr. Doe?”

With a slightly modified question, you defuse the situation and don’t pillory the managers:

  • “How do you rate the cooperation in the team/department?”
  • “What could be improved in your view?”

You can then read possible deficits in your managers between the lines of the evaluation and, if necessary, offer 360-degree feedback for the manager.

The type of question should be chosen according to how the cooperation in your company is structured. If you have an open, friendly culture, then you can address the personal competencies more directly.

If you are already concerned that you “have to” conduct an employee survey, you should choose the questions carefully. Put yourself in the employees’ shoes. Think about how they would answer each question.

Tip 4: Involve the works council in employee surveys

The task of the works council is to represent the interests of the employees vis-à-vis the employer. If there is a works council in your company, it therefore has a great interest in what measures are carried out with the employees and how they are “protected” in the process.

Depending on the type of employee survey, it is therefore important how you conduct the survey.

  • If you are conducting an organizational survey, for example to register for the upcoming summer party, your works council will probably agree without hesitation that personal data is requested. Without this information, the survey would not be possible.
  • Anonymity plays an important role in an employee survey on internal communication, satisfaction or 360-degree feedback. Under no circumstances may negative consequences for the employee be derived from participation.

Your works council will pay close attention to the way the survey is conducted.

Talk to your works council from the beginning and involve them in conducting the survey. (by freepik.com)

In order to integrate the works council into the survey project from the very beginning and to obtain its approval, the following procedure has proven to be effective:

1. Define the goals of the employee survey before conducting it.

What goal do you want to achieve with the survey? Do you need information for organizational purposes? This type of survey is not critical, although the data is needed in personalized form.

If you want to improve internal communication or give employees a voice for free expression of opinion, then the focus is not on the personalized survey, but on the mood in the company/department. Here you do not need any personal information, and thus the survey can/must be conducted anonymously.

First define the goals of the survey and why you need which results.

2. Involve the works council of the company

As soon as you have defined the goals and the project, you can already involve the works council. Even if you do not yet have a fully designed questionnaire, it is advisable to involve the works council at an early stage in order to adjust the orientation and implementation directly at the beginning, if necessary.

3. Create a goal-based questionnaire

In the next step you finalize your questionnaire, define with which questions you want to pursue which goal and how anonymity is ensured.

If you have already created the questionnaire in an online tool, it is best to send your works council a preview link by e-mail. This way, they can view the finished questionnaire 1:1 and approve it in writing.

4. Take data protection into account

In addition to anonymity and the protection of data content, technical data protection in accordance with the GDPR also plays an important role in employee surveys.

If you conduct the survey online, make sure that the selected software solution complies with German data protection laws.

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Tip 5: Anonymity in employee surveys

Anonymity when conducting employee surveys is one of the most important factors. If an employee feels that he or she has to draw consequences from his or her personal answers, then he or she will not participate or give you honest feedback. Therefore, discuss the degree of anonymity in advance in relation to the type of survey.

If the participants have the secure feeling of anonymity when filling out the questionnaire, it will bring you more honest answers. (Kaique Rocha, Pexels)

The right way to handle partial personalization

If you ask for personal data, use selection questions (department, seniority, gender, etc.) or set personalization in the online survey, conclusions can be drawn about the individual employee.

However, to evaluate by location, department or team at the end of the employee survey, you need at least partial personalization.

With small teams of two to three employees, the feedback could still quickly be traced back to one person. To prevent this, good online tools offer an anonymity function. As soon as you activate this function, results are only displayed if a minimum number of participants is reached. This way you still have the possibility to evaluate the results and still keep the anonymity.

The use of anonymous access codes

To ensure an even higher level of anonymity for your employees, you can also implement a survey in such a way that participation is only possible via access code. Each employee then receives an access code, which is only valid once.

Print out the codes, put the slips of paper in a pot and each employee draws his or her own code. This way you achieve a maximum of anonymity and trust.

Tip 6: Make the survey easily accessible to everyone in the company

Every company has different structures and workplaces. Some with direct access to a computer – some without direct access. Some employees have their own e-mail addresses, others do not because of their field of activity. Nevertheless, it is important that you invite all employees to the survey and that they can participate.

Employees with their own e-mail

The easy way: If an employee has his own e-mail address, you can simply send him the survey link by e-mail via the internal distribution list or from your online tool.

Employees without their own e-mail

For employees without their own e-mail, you have several options:

  • You can provide the survey link on PCs that are located in a separate room and accessible to these employees. Alternatively, you can use tablets or terminals as endpoints.
  • If your internal policies allow and employees agree, they can also use their own smartphones – ideally on your company’s WLAN.
  • To make the survey link accessible to every employee, you can place the survey link as a QR code on the payroll statement, for example. Or you can post the link / QR code on the “bulletin board”.
  • Publishing it on the intranet is also a possibility to give access to many employees.
Make sure your survey is easily accessible: for example, by using a QR code and optimizing the survey for smartphones. (Pixabay, Pexels)

You will have to discuss and decide which option is best for you based on your structures. A combination is easily possible and gives you maximum freedom in designing the invitations.

Tip 7: Interpret the results of the employee survey

Following the employee survey, the evaluation of the results begins. Before you now prepare and publish the results, consider the following three things:

1. Put on the employee glasses before reprocessing:

Try to see things from the employee’s point of view and read between the lines. This will give positive or negative comments a different weighting. Even if employees have been very critical in their responses, it helps to put yourself in their shoes. People tend to exaggerate easily.

If you take this into account, some comments will be put into perspective and provide you with valuable insights to derive effective measures.

Before you start the evaluation, look at the answers again critically through the employee glasses. (Designed by Freepik)

2. Analyze individual areas and departments

In addition to the overall result, you should also take a look at individual areas and departments. By separating them into individual groups, statements and answers are given a different weighting. After all, not every department has the same technical requirements, or every department has different requirements, which then also affect the answers.

3. Identify discussion needs

Before publishing, discuss with the survey team whether you can publish all the results or only part of them. If some employees have made very specific negative comments about a person, you should talk to the person in advance and discuss the results.

Tip 8: Let action follow

Willingness to participate in an employee survey comes from a personal benefit to the employee. If the employee does not see and experience a benefit in participating, he or she will not participate or will not answer truthfully.

Therefore, it is even more important to follow up with action and constructive measures. Be aware of this in advance and plan your survey accordingly. If employees do not experience any change afterwards, they will lose confidence in the survey and see no benefit in participating.

If you know in advance that the changes you are asking for will take a long time, share the results with your employees. Explain which measures are planned step by step and in which approximate period of time things will be tackled.

Only in this way will the employee survey gain the acceptance of your colleagues and you can plan further surveys so that continuous improvements can take place.

Conclusion: Well-planned is half done.

Conducting a good employee survey is an extensive task: Especially if you consider how much preparation and follow-up work is necessary. As is often the case, good planning is half the battle:

  • It is essential that you involve the right stakeholders early on: from management to the works council to departments or employees who are known to be difficult: it is important to get everyone on board so that your employee survey is accepted.
  • Ask the right questions. To do so, you need to know your goals and try to create a positive, solution-oriented attitude among your colleagues by formulating the questions correctly.
  • Make sure that you reach all employees: Your employee survey is not only aimed at office employees with their own PC and e-mail address. Create the right setup so that everyone can participate easily.

If you take these tips into account from the beginning, you will have already avoided many of the problems that always occur with employee surveys. This way you can ensure that your employee survey does not become a half-hearted compulsory exercise. You have the chance to really make a difference and ensure a good working atmosphere.

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