Employee Surveys – The Complete Guide to Listen and Improve in 2024

To compete in the war for talent, listening to employees is an insight goldmine. Here’s how to run employee surveys, including which questions to ask.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
January 8, 2024
min read

Who loves taking surveys?

Not many of us (unless there's some reward at the end of it.)

But, in teams and companies, employee surveys are critical. I've seen their importance since running my first employee engagement survey years ago.

So let's dive into the why, what, and how of employee surveys:

1. What are Employee Surveys?

2. Benefits of Employee Surveys

3. Types of Employee Surveys

4. Designing Effective Surveys

5. Sending Employee Surveys and Collecting Data

6. Analyzing and Acting on Survey Results

7. Acting on Employee Surveys

What are Employee Surveys?

What Employee Surveys are

First of all, what are employee surveys?

Employee surveys are questionnaires or feedback mechanisms organizations use to understand their employees better.

They're designed to measure employee satisfaction, engagement, and overall experience within the company. Surveys typically cover work environment, communication, recognition, career development, and management effectiveness.

Employee surveys are valuable because they help attract, engage, and retain top talent – the lifeblood of any company.

Nowadays, companies take employee experience management as seriously as Netflix its content, and Tesla its cars (or at least, I hope), as they see it as the ultimate way to compete in a crowded talent marketplace.

And just like Netflix and Tesla do, getting inputs directly from the 'customers' is critical.

This is why employee surveys are increasingly popular in a tight labor market where we fight over top talent.

Benefits of Employee Surveys

Benefits of Employee Surveys

Why are most companies running employee surveys, from small startups to huge companies like Adobe, Hilton, and American Express?

Generate Insights

Employee surveys provide valuable insights into your company's employee experience, allowing organizations to understand employee satisfaction, engagement, and areas for improvement.

This feedback can help identify issues that may be affecting employee productivity, morale, and retention.

Running teams for over 15 years, I’ve used surveys to understand where I needed to work harder for a strong employee experience and applied many survey insights into how we improved.

Creating Transparency

Employee surveys promote open communication and transparency within the organization. Giving employees a platform to anonymously share their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions creates a safe space for honest feedback and fosters a culture of trust and collaboration.

While not everyone is excited about filling out surveys, I found that people appreciated that we listened. Of course, it's essential to then also action your insights, as Workplace Experience expert Christie Hoffman told me in our interview about employee engagement best practices:

"But when they do, if they do, you're lucky, even though the feedback is negative. Congratulations because you have a workforce that's at least telling you what's wrong. And then, just pick one thing from that survey at the bottom of the hierarchy and take care of one thing at a time." – Christie Hoffman.

Measure Progress

Employee surveys can also help identify patterns and trends over time so you can track progress and measure the impact of initiatives or changes implemented based on your employee survey results.

This data-driven approach lets you make informed decisions, prioritize improvement areas, and evaluate the effectiveness of your strategies.

I found that just changing things based on data from employee surveys isn't enough; you need continuous data to understand whether the improvements are, in fact, felt.

Types of Employee Surveys

Employee surveys come in many shapes and sizes. The most popular are:

Employee Engagement Surveys

Employee engagement surveys provide insights into employees' emotional connection and commitment to the organization. These employee satisfaction surveys help identify areas where employees feel connected and motivated or may be disengaged.

Pulse Surveys

Employee Pulse Survey is short, often frequent employee surveys that let people share real-time feedback. They provide a snapshot of employee satisfaction and help identify emerging issues or trends that may impact employee engagement and productivity.

To learn more about the art and science of running great pulse surveys, check out our guide to employee pulse survey, which includes a free downloadable template, and our complete guide to employee survey tools, which let you collect pulse survey data automatically.

Onboarding Surveys

Onboarding surveys help evaluate the effectiveness of the onboarding process and identify any gaps in training or support.

Additionally, they provide valuable insights into new employees' initial experiences and perceptions, helping you improve your onboarding programs, which is critical, especially in remote onboarding.

Exit Surveys

Exit surveys unlock reasons behind an employee's departure and highlight potential organizational issues. Analyzing exit survey data can reveal patterns or trends that can help address underlying concerns and improve retention rates.

While you can also perform exit interviews via the phone, Zoom, or in person, gathering exit data through surveys means more automation and less work, especially for HR teams.

To read more about creating and running great exit surveys, check out our comprehensive guide to exit interview, including a free downloadable template.

Deep-Dive Surveys

As the name suggests, these surveys dive deep into one topic of employee feedback. This could be:

  • Wellbeing Survey: to assess various dimensions of employee well-being, like mental, emotional, and social well-being. These surveys can reveal factors impacting employees' overall well-being, allowing you to implement targeted support programs. (Check out my interview with Alyssa Than-Stark, who designed a holistic well-being program for over 20,000 employees.)
  • Training and Development Survey: to evaluate the effectiveness of learning initiatives and identify areas for improvement. They also provide insights into employees' skill gaps, training preferences, and overall satisfaction with professional development opportunities.
  • Leadership Surveys: to gather feedback on leadership effectiveness, communication, and trust. They help identify areas where leaders can improve their management style, foster stronger team relationships, and enhance overall organizational performance. (Be brave and read the inputs!)

Designing Effective Surveys

Designing Effective Surveys

Crafting employee surveys with clear objectives, specific and relevant questions, and actionable data is crucial for getting the right feedback that you can turn into an improved employee experience. The following are key insights to consider when designing surveys:

  1. Define clear objectives: Clearly define the purpose and goals of your survey. What insights are you looking for? This will guide the entire survey design process.
  2. Keep questions focused and specific: Each question should address a topic or issue. Avoid asking multiple questions in one, confusing respondents and leading to inaccurate data. (Christie recommends sticking to tried-and-true questionnaires like Gallup Q12, as crafting the right questions is an art and science.)
  3. Use simple, concise language: Don't make people guess! Team members will likely take the survey in a rush, so use clear and easy-to-understand language so they can understand and answer the questions. Avoid jargon or technical terms that might be unfamiliar to some.
  4. Make questions relevant: Ensure each question is relevant to your employee survey objectives and the target audience. Irrelevant questions can lead to dropouts or inaccurate responses. (Just like too many questions!)
  5. Offer a variety of question types: Keep it engaging! Use a mix of question types like multiple-choice, Likert scale, ranking, and open-ended questions.
  6. Avoid leading or biased questions: Phrase questions in a neutral and unbiased tone to avoid influencing respondents' answers. Be mindful of using loaded language or leading statements that would sway responses. (I know, it's very tempting to say, "You like working here, right???," but will it give you helpful data?)
  7. Provide response options that cover the full range of possibilities: I learned the hard way that making sure the response options are comprehensive and cover the full range of possible answers is critical. Avoid overlapping or ambiguous response options. (Pollfish has some good details on this.)
  8. Consider the survey length: Especially if you involve other team or department leaders, there's a huge risk surveys become too long. Keep the survey concise and focused to prevent fatigue. Long surveys will result in dropouts or rushed responses, compromising data quality.
  9. Test your survey: Before launching the survey, conduct a pilot test with a small group of people to spot any issues with question clarity, relevance, or flow. Use their feedback to refine and improve the survey.

By following these insights, you can design surveys that effectively collect feedback that's valuable and actionable. And isn’t that what we all want?

The quality of your survey questions directly impacts the quality of the data you receive, so invest some time and effort to make it worth your while!

Sending Employee Surveys and Collecting Data

Sending Employee Surveys and Collecting Data

Now that you understand why surveys are important and how to write them, you will need a platform to send them.

You can use a simple Google Form, invest in continuous employee listening with an employee survey tool, or go all-in on a long-term partnership with an engagement survey provider.

No matter what fits you best, we have done the research for you:

Employee Survey Tools

Employee survey tools make sending surveys, collecting inputs, and analyzing data easier.

Survey tools are online platforms that organizations utilize to collect and evaluate feedback from employees regarding various aspects of the workplace, including job satisfaction, engagement, and organizational culture, on an ongoing basis (usually with an associated monthly fee.)

The most effective employee survey tools offer a range of survey methodologies, advanced data analysis capabilities, integration options, and expert assistance.

As managers and operational executives, we can greatly benefit from these features. They empower us to develop better action plans by analyzing employee survey results. Additionally, they enable us to make well-informed decisions that drive long-term change.

We can also seamlessly integrate the insights gained from these features into other business and HR systems.

Employee survey tools are best for companies who want to make an ongoing investment in employee listening.

Leading employee survey tools include:

  1. Culture Amp - Best for creating a strong data-driven people strategy
  2. Pingboard - Best for streamlining employee management and fostering connectivity in hybrid setups
  3. Deel - Best for integrating employee survey tools with advanced analytics and multilingual support
  4. CultureMonkey - Best for getting employee feedback and measuring employee happiness
  5. Connecteam - Best for easy-to-use employee management, communication, and collaboration software

For more, see our review of the top 11 Employee Survey Tools for Better Employee Engagement in 2024.

Employee Survey Apps

While employee survey tools are powerful and deliver a lot of value, not every organization wants to invest in monthly fees for continuous listening.

In that case, using survey apps may be a better fit for conducting employee surveys. Survey apps let you upload, send, and collect data from employee surveys without recurring monthly costs.

Even though they can be much more cost-effective, survey apps often still provide templates and automated support to run your employee surveys.

Employee survey apps are the best choice for managers and People Operations or HR at small to midsize companies for infrequent employee surveys at a lower (or even no) cost.

Some of the most popular options include:

  1. Google Forms - Best for simple and straightforward surveys with easy collaboration.
  2. NoteForms - Best for creating customizable forms and storing data in your Notion hub.
  3. SurveyMonkey - Best for streamlining survey management and providing extensive reporting capabilities.
  4. Typeform - Best for delivering personalized survey experiences for better data insights.
  5. Jotform - Best for reaching out to customers and collaborating with co-workers with short, quick, dipstick surveys

For even more options, check out our 10 best Employee Survey Apps reviews.

Employee Engagement Survey Providers

While survey apps and tools can give you helpful information to spot challenges and improve your employee experience, this is often not enough for larger companies.

Companies with thousands or tens of thousands of employees often have very detailed requirements for employee surveys beyond the most common questions smaller companies need to get the answers to.

In this case, engaging employee engagement survey providers, who can facilitate large and complex questionnaires and help design better employee surveys with dedicated consulting teams, can be helpful.

Employee engagement survey providers are best for larger companies wanting to invest seriously in continuously optimizing their highly tailored employee experience.

Some of the leading providers include:

  1. CultureAmp
  2. Lattice
  3. Qualtrics
  4. Glint

See our detailed review of the Top 18 Employee Engagement Survey Providers.

Analyzing and Acting on Survey Results

You've done it! 

You've crafted the right survey and sent it out through one of the platforms above. 

Now it's time for the terrifying but hopefully rewarding part: read about all the things you're doing wrong. (Just kidding, hopefully your results are very encouraging!)

Effective and objective analysis of employee survey data will help you gain insights into the state of employee engagement in your team or company and make meaningful changes.

Here are some steps to follow after surveying employees:

  1. Identify engagement drivers: Analyze survey responses to identify key factors that drive employee engagement. Look for patterns and trends in the data to determine which aspects, like communication, recognition, or career development, impact engagement most. If you're working with a platform or employee survey vendor, they'll likely highlight this to you.
  2. Compare against industry benchmarks: Benchmarking employee survey data against industry standards lets you understand how your organization's engagement levels compare to others in the same field. This provides context and helps identify areas where improvement is needed.
  3. Understand group-level differences: Analyzing the data from one or more employee surveys at a group level, such as by department or location, can reveal variations in engagement levels. This helps pinpoint areas of the organization that may require targeted interventions or additional support. (And leads to a few potentially tough discussions – remember to deliver the feedback and data carefully!)

Acting on Employee Surveys

You've sent the survey, received the data, and got insights. Now it's time for action!

Based on my experience, these are the most important steps to take:

  1. Link feedback to meaningful changes: It is essential to link employee survey feedback to tangible organizational actions and improvements. Use the survey data to create action plans, set goals, and track progress.
    Communicate the changes you're making based on the feedback so employees see that their input is valued, leading to real change. And, importantly, don't wait too long, as it kills the incentive for people to take surveys in the future.
  2. Continuously monitor and iterate: As mentioned above, analyzing survey data is not a one-time event. Regularly conduct surveys to track progress and identify ongoing areas of improvement. Use the feedback received to refine strategies and initiatives, ensuring that the organization's efforts align with employee needs and expectations.

By effectively analyzing data from employee surveys, you'll gain valuable insights into employee engagement, identify areas for improvement, and implement meaningful changes that drive positive outcomes.

Explore more our best all-in-one HRIS software to keep all employee data in one place, improve efficiency and compliance.

This process also creates a culture of listening, responsiveness, and continuous improvement, increasing employee satisfaction, productivity, and overall organizational success – all key, especially in managing remote teams.

The Bottom Line

As I've discovered over the past years, employee surveys are essential for understanding and improving the employee experience in any organization.

By surveying employees, teams and companies can gain critical insights into employee satisfaction, engagement, and overall workplace dynamics.

This, in turn, helps attract, retain, and develop top talent, ultimately fostering a more productive and harmonious work environment.

Whether through engagement surveys, pulse checks, or exit interviews, employee surveys offer a direct line to employee perspectives, allowing for data-driven decisions and continuous improvement in the workplace.

I found that the key is to listen genuinely, act on the feedback, and demonstrate to employees that their voices are not just heard but are instrumental in shaping the company culture and policies.

Let's tune in – and let me know if you need any support with your employee surveys!

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