Crafting an employee engagement survey for your NFP: A guide to what to ask, and why

Crafting an employee engagement survey for your NFP: A guide to what to ask, and why

Once you’ve hired great people, keeping them engaged isn’t always easy. But employee engagement is really worth focusing on. Why?

As Susan Henry – Head of People & Culture at Starlight Children’s Foundation, where staff engagement sits at a very high 89% – has told us:

If people are engaged they’re happier, they’re healthier, they achieve great results. And I think if they’re positive and they come to work each day in a positive frame of mind they’re more likely to be innovative and creative as well.

And the evidence backs this up. A meta-analysis of research on 2.7 million employees by US pollster Gallup found that organisations with highly engaged employees see a range of significant benefits, including:

  • 81% lower absenteeism;
  • 58% lower patient safety incidents (mortality and falls); and 
  • Between 18% and 43% lower staff turnover.

What is ‘employee engagement’ anyway?

The Society for Human Resource Management in the US has distilled the idea of employee engagement down to 10 common themes

  1. Pride in employer
  2. Satisfaction with employer
  3. Job satisfaction
  4. Opportunity to perform well at challenging work
  5. Recognition and positive feedback for one’s contributions
  6. Personal support from one’s supervisor
  7. Effort above and beyond the minimum
  8. Understanding the link between one’s job and the organisation’s mission
  9. Prospects for future growth with one’s employer
  10. Intention to stay with one’s employer

In other words, engaged employees are more motivated, productive, and committed to their organisation’s success, while disengaged employees are less productive, less satisfied and more likely to leave for another employer. 

How to measure engagement with a survey

To gauge and improve employee engagement levels, organisations mostly rely on semi-regular employee engagement surveys. 

A well-designed survey can provide valuable insights into the 10 areas above, enabling organisations to implement targeted plans for fostering a positive work environment.

A simple staff survey is easy to conduct – though analysing the data can get tricky. There are hundreds of companies that can help you (for a fee!) run and analyse a survey – some popular ones include Culture Amp, CultureMonkey and OfficeVibe.

But you really don’t need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to run a staff engagement survey. Using a free, anonymous survey tool like Typeform or SurveyMonkey, you can easily and quickly run an engagement survey yourself without too much work.

Here are the key steps for planning and running an effective engagement survey at your NFP:

Step 1: Define objectives and goals

The first place to start is clarifying the objectives and goals of the survey. You don’t want to get to the end of your survey process and realise you’re missing some key data that you really need!

So what do you hope to achieve through this survey? Are you looking to identify specific areas of improvement, measure overall engagement levels, or gather feedback on specific initiatives? 

Clearly defining the survey’s purpose will guide the entire process and ensure that the questions align with the intended outcomes.

Step 2: Involve key stakeholders

To ensure that the survey addresses your organisation’s core concerns, involve key stakeholders right from the planning process. This includes not only your HR or P&C team (if you have one), but also senior leadership, department heads, and managers. 

Their insights and perspectives will provide a well-rounded approach to crafting the survey, and make sure it meets everyone’s needs – or at least that they get a chance to have their priorities included.

Step 3: Design your survey structure and length

A well-designed survey is crucial to obtaining accurate and relevant responses. Here are some essential tips for crafting an effective employee engagement survey:

  1. Anonymity: Ensure that the survey is anonymous to encourage employees to provide honest feedback without fear of repercussions.
  2. Question Types: Most surveys use a 1-5 scale (known as a ‘Likert scale’) which helps keep the data analysis simple. You might also want some open-ended questions which can allow for a deeper understanding of employees’ opinions.
  3. Keep it Concise: While you want to gather detailed insights, keep the survey as short as possible to maintain employee interest and participation. Surveys length can range from just a handful of questions to around 60 questions at maximum – but keep in mind the more questions you ask, the fewer people are likely to finish the survey.
  4. Focus on Engagement Drivers: Frame questions around the key drivers of engagement, such as job satisfaction, work-life balance, growth opportunities, reward, recognition, and communication.
  5. Avoid Leading Questions: Stay neutral and avoid leading questions that may influence respondents’ answers.
  6. Do a pilot test: Before administering the survey organisation-wide, conduct a pilot test with a small group of employees to identify any potential issues or confusing questions.

Step 4: Decide what to include in the survey

What questions should you ask? There’s no easy answer for this, so every organisation needs to choose the questions that are best for them. We’ve included an appendix at the bottom of this post with three, free sets of example questions you can use or build on.

You really don’t need to ask about every possible topic in every survey, some areas to consider asking employees about are:

  1. Demographics: Gather basic demographic information such as age, gender, job role, department, and whether the person identifies as indigenous/first nations. This will help in segmenting and analysing data to identify patterns.
  2. Overall Engagement: Include some overarching questions that measure the overall engagement level of employees with the organisation.
  3. Job Satisfaction: Assess employees’ satisfaction with their current role, responsibilities, and work environment.
  4. Communication: Evaluate the effectiveness of internal communication channels, both top-down and peer-to-peer.
  5. Management: Managers drive engagement through who they are and what they do. employees tend to flee bad managers, so ask about manager behaviours.
  6. Organisational leadership: Senior leaders in your organisation establish a vision, create a workplace environment and culture, and set values and communication norms – assess how your organisational leadership are seen by employees.
  7. Work-Life Balance: Understand how employees perceive the balance between their personal and professional lives.
  8. Growth and Development: Measure employees’ satisfaction with learning opportunities, career advancement prospects, and skill development programs.
  9. Recognition and Rewards: Assess the effectiveness of recognition programs and how valued employees feel for their contributions.
  10. Well-being: Inquire about employees’ physical and mental well-being, as well as the support available from the organisation.
  11. Suggestions and Feedback: Provide open-ended questions to allow employees to offer suggestions and additional comments.

Step 5: Pre-survey communication

Before launching the survey, let everyone know that it’s coming, why you’re doing it, and how important and helpful it is to complete it. Transparency and clarity will encourage higher participation rates and foster trust in the survey process.

Step 6: Survey distribution and data collection

Send the survey to all employees – apparently Friday is the best day to launch your survey, according to the data, if you want to maximise participation.

And make sure to include a clear deadline for them to complete it by – on average it takes employees about 4 days to complete an engagement survey, but it’s recommended to keep it open for at least a week to allow time for the stragglers.

Then what?

Planning and running your survey and collecting the data is probably the easy part. Analysing the data and deciding how to respond is the next challenge, and we’ll delve into the question of what to do once you’ve run your survey in an upcoming post.

Appendix: What questions should your survey include?

There’s no right answer to what questions should your survey include, but here are three options you might like to consider:

1. SurveyMonkey’s free 42-question employee engagement survey template

2. Gallup’s 12-question survey (Used with over 100,000 teams and 2.7 million employees)

a. How satisfied are you with your organisation as a place to work?

b. I know what is expected of me at work.

c. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

d. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

e. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

f. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

g. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

h. At work, my opinions seem to count.

i. The mission or purpose of my organisation makes me feel my job is important.

j. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

k. I have a best friend at work.

l. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

m. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

3. Culture Amp’s top 20 engagement survey questions:

Engagement index questions:

  1. I am proud to work for [Organisation]
  2. I would recommend [Organisation] as a great place to work
  3. I rarely think about looking for a job at another organisation
  4. I see myself still working at [Organisation] in two years’ time
  5. [Organisation] motivates me to go beyond what I would in a similar role elsewhere

Questions about leadership, enablement, alignment, and development (LEAD)

  1. The leaders at [organisation] keep people informed about what is happening
  2. My manager is a great role model for employees
  3. The leaders at [Organisation] have communicated a vision that motivates me
  4. I have access to the things I need to do my job well
  5. I have access to the learning and development I need to do my job well
  6. Most of the systems and processes here support us getting our work done effectively

Questions about alignment

  1. I know what I need to do to be successful in my role
  2. I receive appropriate recognition when I do good work
  3. Day-to-day decisions here demonstrate that quality and improvement are top priorities

Questions about development

  1. My manager (or someone in management) has shown a genuine interest in my career aspirations
  2. I believe there are good career opportunities for me at this organisation
  3. This is a great organisation for me to make a contribution to my development

Free-text and open-response questions

  1. Are there some things we are doing great here?
  2. Are there some things we are not doing so great here?
  3. Is there something else you think we should have asked you in this survey?

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