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Engagement
7 Min Read

3 Types of Employee Engagement Surveys and How to Choose the Right One

Nicole Klemp

The market is now saturated with an abundance of employee survey tools and software. Perhaps you’ve already tried a few but experienced much lower than anticipated response rates. Or maybe you aren’t seeing significant outcomes. 

Some of these surveys are valid and valuable. A few are convenient for employees to take. But how many truly measure employee engagement and will it result in a significant increase?

In the blog article, we’ll break down the three most common types of employee engagement surveys and how they do (or don’t) help organizations tackle engagement. We’ll also share some critical elements of an effective employee engagement survey.

The 3 main types of employee surveys

There are many different types of employee engagement surveys that an HR team may consider sending out to employees. However, most of these can be placed into one of three buckets: vanity surveys, self-commissioned surveys, and psychometrically-valid employee engagement surveys.

“Vanity” employee surveys

If you Google employee engagement surveys, many that rise to the top are what we call “vanity” surveys. This includes things like “best workplaces” or “top culture” surveys. They give your company the opportunity to be recognized as a great place to work — which may look good in a press release — but does little to drive on-the-ground engagement. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the selection process for these high-profile lists, the main thing to know is that many rely heavily on anonymous surveys and employee interviews. The idea is to scratch beneath the surface to better understand how employees truly feel about their workplace cultures.

Earning a much-deserved award isn’t a bad thing, and you certainly want to create a winning workplace culture. However, placing too much emphasis on these lists can turn your attention away from bigger priorities that will truly move the business forward.

Let’s look at a few reasons you might reconsider going after a “best place to work” type of award:

  • Top workplace processes lack ongoing feedback: Once-a-year questionnaires will tell you how employees feel about the workplace during a particular season. But these vanity metrics rarely, if ever, show how people perceive the culture in general and over time.
  • “Best workplaces” often lack real meaning: Just because an organization lands on a “best” list doesn’t mean employees find their work significant, which is unfortunate since employees are most likely to be motivated and engaged when they derive real meaning from their work.
  • Winning workplace lists reflect satisfaction, not engagement levels: The vetting process for these lists often involves gauging employee satisfaction or happiness, with winners lauded for providing comfortable uniforms and mindfulness zones. But while employees can be happy with a job or its perks, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re engaged or inspired.

Self-commissioned employee surveys

Another common approach is for an HR team to create and run their own employee engagement survey. Not only are the questions biased and (in most cases) not scientifically or statistically valid, the responses are unreliable, mainly due to another factor at play: the issue of anonymity.

Employees are not only increasingly suspicious of claims that company survey results will be kept confidential. They’re also getting advice from workplace advisors to distrust them. As a result, many employees will either ignore your survey requests or provide the feedback they think you want to hear.

Why engagement survey responses should be anonymous

Anonymous feedback helps to diversify and triangulate the feedback you receive. Triangulation means considering data from various sources to improve your understanding of the complete picture.

Data gained through anonymous engagement surveys is especially useful to look at alongside other forms of feedback, such as regular check-ins, 1:1s between team members and managers, team-level debriefs or retrospectives, and external reviews of your company. Plus, anonymous surveys foster psychological safety in the workplace and offer everyone an opportunity to speak up without fear of consequences.

Psychometrically-valid employee engagement surveys

This last type of survey is by far the most reliable, in large part because it focuses first and foremost on an employee’s psychological state and well-being. These surveys start with a benchmarking process that allows you to gauge current levels of true engagement — even if they’re lower than desired — so you can measure for improvement over time.

Instead of crafting survey questions that will lead to high scores, the goal is to get an accurate understanding of actual engagement through increased response rates and honest answers that can be explicitly mapped to engagement instead of satisfaction alone. 

A survey grounded in psychometrics instead of mere job satisfaction or desired outcomes will ultimately lead to real and lasting results. So when you do win that “best workplace” award, it’ll be a meaningful reflection of true engagement.

Want to launch your own psychometrically-valid employee engagement survey? Learn more about 15Five Engage >

The most actionable surveys measure the psychological factors of engagement

Everything you do as a business impacts engagement. Employee engagement is comprehensive. It involves a person’s perception, feelings, and beliefs about the business, the people they work with, the leadership, and the work they’re doing. 

What drives employee engagement is highly personal, highly dependent on the organizational culture, and therefore highly variable for each individual. 

It’s possible that with two teams that are clones of each other, you could foster engagement in each with very different leadership styles and organizational practices. However, at the root of those two engaged teams would be the same three psychological conditions:

  • Meaningfulness
  • Safety
  • Capacity

So what do these three conditions mean in the context of employee engagement? Let’s take a look at each.

Meaning

Everything starts with meaning. An organization can’t thrive if employees don’t believe their work is valuable. Meaningfulness is the sense of value received (purpose, money, status, and influence) when we immerse and express ourselves in our role performance. Essentially, the power of the “why” motivates us to want to work toward the company’s benefit.

When your team sees value in what they do each day, they have a psychological condition that motivates them to engage. For that motivation to turn into engagement, they need to feel like engaging won’t be risky or have negative consequences. That risk is captured in the psychological condition of safety (or the lack thereof).

Psychological safety

Psychological safety is a sense within the individual that they can show and employ themselves without fear of negative consequences to their self-image, status, or career. They feel workplace situations are trustworthy, secure, predictable, and straightforward regarding consequences.

If an employee finds meaning in work and sees investing in that work as a safe thing to do, then the final requirement is their capacity to invest. 

Capacity 

In an employee engagement context, capacity is the sense of possessing the physical, emotional, and psychological resources necessary for investing oneself in their role. 

It is the sense of feeling capable of driving physical, intellectual, and emotional energies into work performance. Does the employee have enough energy to focus at work? Are they well-equipped for their tasks, or are they overwhelmed?

It’s not about the survey results — it’s what you do with them that matters most

To create a culture where employees are consistently motivated to do their best work, it’s critical to look beyond basic perks and pay. You need to foster a sense of achievement, regularly recognize accomplishments, provide plenty of growth and development opportunities, and, once again, help each employee find meaning and purpose in their work.

Start turning engagement insights into outcomes with 15Five >