What NOT to Ask on Employee Satisfaction Surveys

Employee surveys are supposed to help a company gain insight into what employees like about their job and which areas need improvement. As a secondary function, it is also meant to increase employee engagement, and ultimately, satisfaction. To accomplish this, HR departments need to curate survey questions that actually work to understand employees’ viewpoints and opinions. However, in many cases, HR departments ask questions that make employees dread having to answer them.

So yes, there are wrong questions to ask on an employee survey. The next time you utilize your survey software of choice, don’t waste it on asking questions like:

In what ways can the company improve?

This is an open-ended question that will usually lead to disingenuous answers that employees put just to fill up space and get on with their day. While there may be a handful of useful answers there, they are often too numerous for a company to implement, leading to employees feeling ignored or undervalued. Moreover, the people who do try to give insightful answers won’t give the same effort on the next survey because they think that the company won’t listen to them anyway.

The best alternative to this question is to ask employees if they approve of a specific change that the company is planning to make. It’s direct and not open-ended. Better yet, it makes it easier for management to determine if the change they’re planning will be well-received by its employees.

Do you enjoy working for the company?

People can be satisfied with their job, but they might not enjoy it, making this question vague and extremely unhelpful. Most importantly, employees do not need to ‘enjoy’ their job to be good at it. What’s more important is that they are satisfied with their positions and receive ample motivation from their supervisors.

Questions about personal life

Even if your company is leaning towards an informal setting, it is still crucial to uphold the line between work and personal lives. Do not ask questions about employees’ personal lives because, first and foremost, you have no business knowing about it. Moreover, this question is unhelpful in gauging employee satisfaction–how they feel about the company has little to do with what goes on outside of it. And do you really expect employees to answer personal questions honestly?

Do you think you will have a long-term stay in the company?

Employees don’t want to answer questions that can potentially harm them. If they answer ‘no’, they may think that the management will treat them as less valuable employees because they don’t plan to commit yet. If they answer ‘yes’, well, how can HR be sure that they will stick to that?

Moreover, the answers to these questions are often predictable. Your highly-compensated and high-ranking employees will be the ones to answer ‘yes’. The younger, entry-level employees will be the ones to answer ‘no’ because they are not ready to commit to a long-term stay in your company. However, the latter group will most likely still answer ‘yes’ in fear of making themselves look bad.

working employee

Are you making enough money?

There are a lot of ways you can ask employees if they are satisfied with their compensation, but this specific question is not it. Firstly, ‘enough money’ is vague. What makes a person think that they are making enough money? Is it when they can afford two vacations a year? Or is it if they can pay the bills every month on time?

Instead of asking this specific question, find a better way to word it like: How satisfied are you with your compensation package? Then, allow your employees to explain why or why they are not satisfied and bring up which parts of the package are they referring to.

What do you think of your supervisor? / Rate your supervisor from 1-10

When asking about the performance of the management, it’s better to ask specific questions than vague questions like this. There are so many factors that affect a supervisor’s performance. Trying to get employees to rate their managers on a scale or asking such a general question as ‘what do you think about your supervisor’ won’t bring much value to your data.

Instead, ask questions that will help you formulate concrete ideas on how to improve. For example, you can ask about how the management is incentivizing them if they receive adequate motivation, or what they think about the level of supervision they are given.

Creating a good survey design is a challenge, but it is easier if you avoid unhelpful and potentially morale-damaging questions like the ones highlighted above.

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