Correctly Implementing Employee Surveys

Maximize opportunities while minimizing risks
By Prof. Dr. Florian Becker

Employee surveys are used by most companies. SoSci Survey offers you solutions to meet each of your needs, from the standard questionnaire to individual support and advice for your project. When deciding which solution is right for you, please considering the following questions:

What are the objectives of the employee survey; which questions should be asked; how can your employee survey be effective; how can data protection be guaranteed; what are the biggest mistakes - and what solutions does SoSci Survey offer? The following text summarizes the most important information to help you consider the best approach to creating your employee survey.

What are the objectives of an employee survey?

Employee surveys should open an additional and systematic information channel, which provides insight into the employees’ experiences. Due to an employee survey’s anonymous nature and the questionnaire’s structure, reliable information is generated by the survey’s results. With this information, company decision makers are better equipped to make improvements. In addition, employee surveys can achieve specific objectives:

  • Screening

    Employee surveys are designed to ensure a screening of key business units. The goal is to identify challenges and grievances at an early stage; similar to a comprehensive check-up at the doctor.

  • Concrete indications

    Ideally, employee surveys provide guidance for practical actions to improve processes and situations.

  • Evaluation

    As an evaluation tool, employee surveys can provide indications as to whether targeted actions have produced the desired results.

  • Basis for decision-making

    Last but not least, employee surveys are increasingly used as a basis for decision-making, such as which executives are doing well in their careers and how high the variable salary component of the corresponding executives is.

Which questions should be asked in an employee survey?

An employee survey usually has a wide scope that allows it to focus on several important aspects of the respective work environment. These include …

  • the executives
  • the team in which the employees taking the survey work,
  • the concrete work tasks,
  • the company (area) where the employees work
  • important employee attitudes (e.g. motivation, satisfaction and company loyalty)

Scientific research has been conducted in all of these areas and can provide comprehensive insights into what the crucial aspects in each area are.

Of course, you may choose to conduct a survey that does not evaluate all aspects of a working environment, but rather focuses on one area, such as the manager and their leadership behavior or the employees and the status of their psychological stress.

How can an employee survey really have an impact?

It is crucial that the following points be considered in the practical implementation of an employee survey to ensure its effectiveness:

  • Participants’ Motivation

    Participants will only participate and give honest answers if they recognize an advantage in participating and there are no fears regarding anonymity, company intentions and data protection. An external, scientifically-oriented partner with a corresponding reputation may be useful in achieving these goals.

  • Clear definition of objectives and meaningful content

    If the survey’s objectives and content are clearly defined from the beginning, you can use the results from the employee survey immediately after they are produced as a basis for decision-making.

  • Systematic evaluation and sound interpretation of the data

    Pure results are usually of little use. The decisive factor in the first step of evaluating your survey results is applying a scientifically-founded classification and interpretation. As a second step, these results must be translated into actions.

How can data protection be ensured during an employee survey?

A single form of all-encompassing data protection does not exist. Rather, a number of techniques and regulations must be employed in compilation to prevent the misuse of the data collected from employee surveys.

Two aspects are in the foreground of employee surveys: First, the data must be protected at all times against the access of unauthorized and third parties. Second, every employee must be confident that their answers will not be used against them personally.

In general screening surveys, it can be technically and substantively ensured that every single questionnaire is anonymous. To achieve this, technical measures must be implemented. Additionally, no information that allows for the indirect identification of participants may be collected in the questionnaire. The SoSci Survey basic screening enables these prerequisites.

In a more focused employee survey, it may not be possible to avoid the indirect identification of individual participants (for example, based on questions categorized by department and task area). In this case, the evaluation should be completed by an external researcher. The external researcher can aggregate the individual answers to results (for example per department and per task area) and can subsequently provide the company with the results based on groups of employees who can no longer be identified individually.

For a detailed description of how SoSci Survey protects your data, see Privacy in Online Surveys.

Five Aspects to Avoid when Creating an Employee Survey

  1. Survey as an end in itself

    Any employee who takes the time to complete a questionnaire wants to know what will be done with the results. If the employee has the impression that nothing will happen with the results, they will have little motivation to participate in a future employee survey. Causes of such an outcome are often (a) low priority and bad planning (b) insufficient communication of the results and the subsequent actions that will be taken, and (c) the use of "standard questionnaires" that are neither aligned with the employee survey’s objectives nor with the main research aspects.

  2. Questionnaires with little relevance to the workplace

    Scientific-based questionnaires are ideal for answering theoretical, scientific questions, but they have not been developed for practice, i.e. the workplace. This raises two problems: on the one hand, the participants are bombarded with countless detailed questions, which repeat themselves in a similar way over and over again and sometimes cover exotic topics. On the other hand, the really important points that the survey aims to cover are missing, causing questions to remain open or important aspects to be overlooked.

  3. Lack of employee involvement

    An employee survey only provides reliable results if, as far as possible, all employees (or all employees of the departments/work areas considered) participate and fill out the questionnaire truthfully. A lack of motivation to do this is usually caused by a lack of communication regarding the survey’s purpose and how the survey’s results will benefit the employees. Additional causes include a low regard for the questionnaire’s significance or for the institution responsible for commissioning the survey and a lack of confidence in the institution’s ability to protect the participant’s anonymity and data.

  4. Belated stakeholder involvement

    Important groups such as works councils, staff councils and data protection officers are not involved or are involved too late in the survey’s execution process. If necessary, the project may be delayed, experience resistance to being accepted, or even be stopped altogether.

  5. Flawed interpretation of the results

    Errors are often made when the collected data is evaluated or interpreted: the evaluator may either lack the methodological qualification to condense data to results (e.g. in the internal analysis of complex surveys) or there is a lack of communication between companies and researchers, resulting in the researchers being unable to correctly interpret the results in the context of the individual company.

What solutions does SoSci Survey offer?

The most suitable solution for each survey essentially depends on the objective of the employee survey (see above) and on the current situation (such as time and budget). The decision regarding whether a standardized questionnaire is sufficient or whether the investment in individual support is worth it depends on the survey’s objectives.

Standard questionnaire for a short screening process

Are you interested in starting small? Are you looking for a survey that participants can complete quickly and can be created with just a small budget? Do you want to conduct a general screening capable of proactively preventing problems before they arise? To accommodate these needs we offer, in cooperation with Prof. Dr. med. Florian Becker, a basic screening that is designed using current scientific findings.

Individual support and advice

We understand that creating a high-quality employee survey is of central importance to you. Therefore, the survey you create should take your individual situation and objectives into account, provide deep insights, and allow you to soundly evaluate and interpret the results your survey generates. Lastly, your survey should help you determine concrete recommendations for action. If you are interested in creating a survey with these features and are looking to relieve yourself of operational procedures, then it makes sense to go beyond the standard questionnaire. Every company is unique and has its own individual situation and goals. In order to represent this, the employee survey should be individually tailored to the company's needs: Individual Employee Survey

Prof. Florian Becker, Experte für WirtschaftspsychologieThe SoSci Survey GmbH provides a reliable technical basis for creating employee surveys. We work closely with Prof. Dr. Florian Becker in order to provide you with the necessary expertise in terms of content. As a recognized expert in business psychology and the author of several books, he advises and supports companies, among other things, in the conception and execution of employee surveys. Key aspects of employee surveys are highlighted in the summary above.