Culture Crash Course Lesson 4: Best Practices for Employee Surveys

Collecting ongoing employee feedback, through both informal and formal channels, is a crucial component of a successful human capital strategy. It is how you know what is keeping employees around, what might be encouraging them to leave, and any opportunities that fall in between. 

Surveys, though not the only form of collecting employee feedback, are especially important because they enable you to systematically collect data that you can then use to make educated decisions going forward.

There can be a lot of details to sort through when it comes to surveying employees, so we compiled our most frequently asked questions to help you sort through some of these decisions.

How often should we send surveys?

This really depends on the size of your company and what your goals are, so it’s best to focus on why you are collecting feedback, rather than on how often. Here are three common types of employee surveys:

Company-wide culture survey

At CultureIQ, we recommend at least one company-wide culture survey every 12 to 24 months. This survey will produce your baseline metrics so that you can plan accordingly going forward and track progress. Here are some best practices for building your culture survey, such as what demographics to include and how to phrase questions.

Surveys to track progress

In addition to your annual culture survey, you will want to re-measure progress throughout the year so that you can course correct and re-prioritize if necessary. Companies will do this quarterly or six months after their initial culture survey — this depends on how quickly you are able to implement measurable changes.

If you’re following the CultureIQ methodology, you can use an abridged version of our core culture survey, which re-measures the 10 culture qualities without diving deep into any of them. Alternatively, you can choose to only re-measure specific focus areas. For example, if you rolled out programs related to Communication and Wellness, then you can re-measure only those qualities. Another option is to choose one question, such as the eNPS, and send it on a regular cadence to track engagement over time.

For any of these options, if you are using the CultureIQ software, you can also use trend questions to track progress in a truly ongoing way, without risking survey fatigue. You can see what this looks like in the image below.

trend questions

Topic-specific surveys

Throughout the year, you will also want to get a sense for how employees feel about specific topics as they arise. This will help you dive deeper into focus areas as well as evaluate initiatives you roll out. For example, you’ll probably want to collect feedback after a wellness program you rolled out so that you can tweak it accordingly.

Here is a sample survey schedule:

DateSurveyRecipients
January Culture surveyAll employees
MarchCommunication deep diveManagers
AprilQuarterly eNPSAll employees
JuneOffice move feedbackLondon office
JulyCulture survey [abridged]All employees
AugustIntern program feedbackSummer interns
OctoberQuarterly eNPSAll employees
DecemberWellness program reviewProgram participants

What are some other opportunities to survey employees?

  • Idea sourcing (e.g. Do you have any ice-breaker ideas for our next meeting?)
  • Collecting feedback on programs and initiatives (e.g. Please rate last week’s team-building event)
  • Diving deeper into specific pain point
  • Exit surveys
  • Onboarding surveys
  • Meeting follow up
  • Meeting planning (e.g. Please submit your questions for the CEO before Wednesday’s meeting)
  • Gauging interest in a program (e.g. Would you participate in a lunch-n-learn series?)
  • Training follow up
  • 360 reviews, team reviews
  • After mergers and acquisitions

How do I prevent survey fatigue?

We like to say that there is no such thing as survey fatigue, only inaction fatigue. This means that as long as employees feel like their feedback is considered valuable, they will not tire of providing it. However, you do want to be respectful of employee time and energy when sending surveys. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to learn with this survey?” and have a clear understanding of how you will use the feedback before collecting it.

You should still be on the lookout for a drop in response rates or a decrease in comments over time. These could be signs that employees don’t feel comfortable taking the survey or that  they don’t feel their feedback is considered valuable.

What is the best time of year to send a company-wide survey?

You’ll want to align your employee feedback schedule with your business and planning schedule. Therefore, consider sending your company-wide survey in December or January, so that you can incorporate your culture goals with your annual company goals. If you are collecting feedback throughout the year (which we highly recommend doing), the timing of the annual survey is less important, because you’ll have access to other data to help you make decisions.

Additionally, take into consideration the natural cadences of your industry. For example, if you are an accounting firm, avoid sending your culture survey during busy season because employees will not have enough time to provide high quality feedback. Instead, send a dedicated follow-up survey after busy season to see how you can set employees up for success next time around.

How do you encourage employees to participate in surveys?

Employees should understand how their feedback fits into both the big picture and the more immediate picture. To do this, explain why you are sending the survey, how it will be used to make changes, and how it ties into broader company goals and initiatives. Even after the survey is complete, be sure to reference the findings from the survey in future communications. For example, if your team develops an initiative based on survey results, provide that context when you roll out the program.

Most surveys (there are exceptions, such as onboarding and exit surveys) should be anonymous so that employees feel comfortable providing honest feedback. If a survey is anonymous, clearly communicate the details of the anonymity policy and how the information will be used, especially if demographic information is collected. If the survey is “known” (not anonymous), make sure that is clear as well.

Here are some tips for achieving a high response rate.  You can also consider providing a friendly motivator to participate (such as entrance into a raffle), but clearly state that the reward is based on participation and not on the actual feedback.

Who should we include in the survey?

The rule of thumb is that anyone who wants to provide feedback should have an opportunity to do so. Remember that all employees — whether they are full-time, part-time, or even interns — experience your culture in some way and impact the business. That said, they probably experience it differently and will benefit from different programs. Therefore, we recommend including demographic information (tenure, department, location, etc.) when you collect feedback from a diverse employee base so that you can understand the nuances and unique opportunities across groups.

How soon after implementing an initiative should we collect feedback?

This depends on the type and scope of the initiative. Is it something that affects employees immediately on a day-to-day basis? Then you can probably send a survey 30 days after the initiative launches. If it is something that takes longer to play out, such as an acquisition, then you will want to wait longer before collecting feedback.

Some initiatives, such as wellness programs, can start out strong but lose employee interest over time. For these, you might want to consider a 30/60/90 day feedback schedule, so that you understand the immediate reception of a program but also get a sense for how it fits into the culture long-term. You might learn after 90 days that no one has benefited from the program and resources would be better allocated elsewhere.

 

We encourage you to not get tied up in the details, because you will want to cater your feedback program to your employees and your business.  When in doubt remember your goals and ask yourself: What am I trying to learn with this survey? How will this help us make better decisions to improve our culture? and How can I collect the highest quality of feedback?

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