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How to write employee survey questions they'll want to answer

Over 35% of employees say one of the top ways leaders at their organization can improve is by giving them the opportunity to provide feedback. 

  • Why it matters: Leaders who give employees the chance to provide feedback can learn the topics most important to folks, what channels individuals want leaders to send updates through, and how often they think messages should be shared — all of which create a culture of openness, alignment, and trust. 

When a leader signals they’re open to feedback and making improvements that will benefit the organization as a whole, it fosters an environment of collaboration, accountability, and personal responsibility. However, many leaders struggle to know what to ask colleagues to gain those much needed insights. 

How to craft engaging employee survey questions

One of the easiest ways for leaders to get feedback is to survey their readers. It’s a simple, straightforward way to ask a variety of questions in different formats in order to ensure feedback encompasses responses from all parts of the organization. 

But how do leaders know what to ask to ensure you get the most honest feedback possible? Here are the key things to think about when writing your employee survey questions:

  • Start with your reader. Consider how employees mentally process questions. Think about what you intend with your question versus how an employee might perceive it, rank it, and bring their personal judgements into it. Write with that in mind. 
  • Determine your theme. Asking too many questions or jumping around to unrelated topics can overwhelm your audience. Figure out the most important questions you need answers to and start there.
  • Be aware of your language choices. Use neutral, inclusive language and avoid SAT words that can be off putting to readers. Keep it simple and straightforward — and bring in other sets of eyes for review. 
  • Keep each question to a single topic. Too many topics in a single question can cause varied answers. For example, if you ask how folks feel about the number of PTO days and sick days, respondents are forced to give an overall answer instead of feedback on both those individual day allotments.
  • Vary your structure. Employees will zone out if all the questions look and sound the same. Vary the lengths and types of questions so survey takers don’t get bored. 
  • Don’t be overly broad. Write as narrowly as possible to drill down into specific problems and opportunities. This will give you a better picture of what’s actually happening for individuals, teams, and the company as a whole on certain issues. 
  • Consider what standards you’re setting. By asking a question, you may be signaling you’re open to discussing it/making changes to policy around it. You may also be normalizing information you don’t want individuals to internalize. For example, if you ask, “Does your team have a weekly meeting?” you’re setting the example that this might be what is expected from every team. 
  • Offer enough answer choices. Be sure you include a scale of answer choices — like having a “neutral” option — so folks aren’t forced into ranking something differently than they would prefer. That way you get a more drilled down quantitative look into how people are feeling. 
  • Provide comment opportunities. Individuals may want the opportunity to explain an answer, express concerns, or offer suggestions. That is often easiest when they can fill it in themselves. Offer a variety of response types to get the most info. 

The bottom line: The more you can keep your audience in mind as you craft questions, the better targeted they will be to your audience — making it more likely that people will respond honestly to your questions. 

Go deeper: There could be bias in your employee survey results

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