The results are in: Employee engagement drives work performance. Engaged employees work harder and smarter. They stick around longer, refer new people, and help to grow your business. Best of all, engaged employees create a virtuous circle where they encourage and uplift other employees to be more engaged, too.
The problem is that employee engagement is thoroughly misunderstood in most organizations. Some CEOs think it’s a ‘nice to have.’ Others equate high engagement with flashy perks. The largest group simply isn’t sure what engagement looks like or what to do about it in their own organizations.
But employee engagement doesn’t have to be such a mystery. The best way to find out if you have engaged employees (plus how engaged they are and why) is to ask them with an employee engagement survey.
Industry leaders like Gallup, Aon Hewitt, and IBM Kenexa have been testing and validating employee engagement surveys for decades to better manage employee performance. We've culled together their findings to provide strategic, evidence-based employee engagement questions you can start using right away.
Defining Employee Engagement
Almost everyone can agree that employee engagement is important. Companies with highly engaged employees outperform their peers in terms of customer loyalty (10% increase), productivity (20%), and profitability (21%). Not as many people can agree on how to define it.
Each industry leader has its own interpretation:
Gallup defines engaged employees as: “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”
For Aon Hewitt, employee engagement is: “the level of an employee’s psychological investment in their organization.”
Finally, IBM Kenexa defines Employee engagement as: “the extent to which employees are motivated to contribute to organizational success, and are willing to apply discretionary effort to accomplishing tasks important to the achievement of organizational goals.”
"Employee engagement is when employees want to come to work, are capable of doing their jobs, and understand how their work contributes to the success of the organization."
What employee engagement is not
Too often, employee engagement confused with employee satisfaction or performance management.
Employee satisfaction is merely the extent to which employees are content with their position. Employees can be satisfied or happy with certain aspects of their work (i.e. workload, hours, location), without being engaged with or committed to the organization’s success.
Like employee engagement, performance management can take the form of surveys or employee questionnaires. But performance management is about setting and tracking goals for individual employees. Employee engagement, the other hand, gathers specific signals at a specific time, and is best measured across the entire company at once.
Asking the right employee engagement questions
Now that we know what to look for, here are 12 proven employee engagement questions you can use to create your own survey.
Note → We've framed our employee engagement questions as statements. This makes it easy to gather and measure the answers on a five-point Likert scale. (For example: "On a scale from 1 to 5, how likely are you to agree with the following statements?)
Q1: I always recommend this organization to friends or peers as a great place to work.
This question measures the engagement indicator Pride. Your employees should be your greatest ambassadors! If they're timid or even ashamed to talk about their workplace, you need to find out why.
Q2: I have a solid picture of the company’s future direction and my place within it.
This question measures the engagement indicator Commitment, also referred to as psychological investment. It's easy to see why an employee who doesn't see a future with the company won't put their best work in.
Q3: My job is important in accomplishing the mission of the organization.
This is the indicator of Connection. There are various types of connection: connection to one's work, to one's colleagues, to the company's mission itself. We think it is most important for employees to know that their work contrubutes to the company's success.
Q4: I feel personally driven to help this organization succeed.
The statement gauges your employees' level of Motivation. While you can't force your employees to be motivated, you can find out what makes them tick and what will encourage them to go that extra mile. Pay special attention to this engagement indicator.
Q5: I have a clear understanding of my company's strategic goals.
This is the first engagement driver question. It measures Purpose: if employees don't understand the bigger picture of the work they do, they may begin to wonder if it's really worth doing.
Q6: In the last [time period since last survey, i.e: two weeks, month, quarter], I have had opportunities to learn and grow.
Continued growth is one of the most important and desired perks. Individuals at all levels want and deserve to keep learning - as an employer, it is your duty to help them! Mentoring, lunch'n'learns, professional development budgets, and career paths can all help boost this engagement driver.
Q7: In the last [time period since last survey], I have received recognition for my work.
Another key driver of engagement is Recognition. Bonus points if this comes from direct supervisors or team leaders.
Q8: My direct supervisor gives fair and practical feedback to help me improve my work.
We've all heard that people don't quit jobs, they quit managers. Great manager-employee relationships matter. Make sure your team leads are trained to provide useful, healthy feedback and encourage them to have regular one-on-ones with their direct reports. Alternative question: I believe that my direct supervisor cares about me as a person.
Q9: Senior leadership communicates well with the rest of the organization.
Even if your founders or executives aren't part of your employees' day-to-day, they should not be absent.
Q10: With my current workload, I am able to satisfy both my job and family/personal responsibilities.
Personal wellbeing or work-life balance are incredibly important engagement drivers. If your employees are stressed, overwhelmed, or otherwise distracted, they will not be performing their best. Period. If the scores are low, it may be time to revisit your company policy.
Q11: If something unexpected or confusing comes up, I know where to turn for help.
We all need to feel supported. Beyond having formal HR policies in place, employees should know that they have the support of their team and leaders.
Q12: I have enough information to make good decisions about my work.
The final employee engagement driver is Autonomy. When individuals are empowered with the tools and knowledge they need, they can truly do their best work.
Optional: Open-ended Questions
We love including open-ended questions to gather additional insight and really let employees know their voices are being heard. Startups and small businesses are at an advantage here since they can take the time to genuinely read and think about each answer.
Q13: What two or three things could the company do to help you better manage your work-life balance?
Q14: What is the number one source of stress for you at the office, and what might lessen it?
Q15: If you were CEO, how would you make this organization a better place to work?
Some notes on execution
In addition to using time-tested questions, it’s important to follow other employee survey best practices. Here are a few we suggest:
Anonymity: If you want honest answers, your employees will need to feel protected. Use a free survey provider, such as Google Forms or Typeform.
Frequency: You should measure engagement scores frequently. We suggest taking surveys on a weekly, biweekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.
Length: Survey fatigue is real. Employee engagement software experts Officevibe recommends that surveys take less than 7-8 minutes to complete (that’s around 7-15 questions). We also recommend setting a one-week deadline for employees to complete the survey so they don’t drag on.
Types of questions: Statement questions and rating scales work well to gather consistent and measurable answers. However, you may also choose multiple choice (i.e. “which of the following perks would help you perform better at work?”), true/false, or open ended question formats.
Customizing engagement drivers: There are many other possible engagement drivers. The ones you choose to measure will depend on your company culture and values. For example, if you’ve launched a new group benefits plan, you can measure employee satisfaction towards it. Aon Hewitt measures no fewer than 26 different engagement drivers!
As you become more familiar and comfortable with employee engagement surveys, you can decide which drivers are most important to your organization. But if you’re just starting, it’s best to focus on the most common and comprehensive areas so you don’t miss out on potential red flags.
What to do with your employee engagement survey results
We’d be lying if we said the hard part of employee engagement is the survey itself. In fact, the real work of employee engagement begins after your survey is complete and you’re ready to measure and act on your findings.
After each survey, gather your results into a spreadsheet so you can begin to track changes over time. Involve managers and senior leadership. Start by looking at the drivers with the lowest scores or those you can impact right away. Then, make a plan to act immediately. Communicate the changes you’ve made and dig deeper into your drivers in the next survey.
Finally, keep in mind that high employee engagement scores aren’t the ultimate goal of the survey. The goal is to drive work performance and ensure that your employees are able to be their best at work. With that in mind, go forth and survey. Your employees will thank you for it.