When I asked a friend how they'd define employee engagement, they said, “It’s allowing employees to feel a part of the system. Giving them autonomy.” I polled another friend, and she said, “It’s employee happiness. Do people feel good about showing up to work?”
At Culture Amp, here's how we would define employee engagement:
Employee engagement represents the levels of enthusiasm and connection employees have with their organization. It's a measure of how motivated people are to put in extra effort for their organization, and a sign of how committed they are to staying there. Importantly, employee engagement is an outcome that depends on the actions of an organization, particularly the actions driven by leadership, managers, and people teams.
However, it's not enough to define employee engagement. What matters most is genuinely understanding employee engagement. That's why many of today's top HR and People leaders prioritize employee engagement.
In this article, you’ll learn:
Why it’s important to measure employee engagement (and how to get started)
The 20 best employee engagement survey questions to ask to measure and understand engagement
Why the question scale of an employee engagement survey matters
Why measure employee engagement?
If you work at a small company, you might think, "Why bother?" when measuring employee engagement. After all, you can ask people how they feel when you see them. At a larger company, you might think, "Measuring employee engagement takes ages, and we’ll never get the results to make a real impact. We have more important metrics to look at than people data." So, why measure employee engagement at all?
Collect feedback at scale. Employee engagement surveys enable teams to collect across the organization, empowering them with the right data – the data representing the collective voices of your employee base rather than the loudest voices of a few people.
Take informed action on improving company culture or people's experiences at work. If you’re not providing a way for people to provide feedback internally, you’re missing out on the opportunity to agilely improve your employee experience and company reputation. For example, many people may take to social media or public review sites like Glassdoor to voice their opinions of the company – but only once they exit the company.
Understand areas of improvement. Employee feedback collected through engagement surveys will help you flag problem areas before they become detrimental to productivity and company culture. With a regular cadence of surveys, you’ll not only be able to spot workplace issues before they get out of control, but you’ll also see what’s motivating people to go above and beyond at your company and why they're choosing to stay.
If you’re ready to collect feedback at scale and take action through employee engagement surveys, having the right questions in your survey is an important step. In any employee engagement survey, we encourage a balanced mix of validated questions (like the 20 we’ve provided below) and unique questions relevant to your organization's specific context. The more you survey your employees over time, the more you’ll be able to see what questions provide you with the best insights for action.
In the next section, we explain how we decided on the 20 best engagement survey questions, what these questions are, and how to interpret them.
We launched Culture Amp five years ago to help build a better world of work. Our team of organizational psychologists, data scientists, and engineers keeps our platform up-to-date with academic findings and feedback, and learnings from our clients. Our employee engagement questions have been used in surveys by 6000+ culture first companies. We pull this data together yearly for our benchmark research and to conduct industry analysis on employee engagement trends.
Our employee engagement survey questions have been validated through external metrics, including Glassdoor ratings and Mattermark Growth scores. We also use external research on an ongoing basis to identify questions that may be redundant (which are removed) or add questions that address areas of emerging interest.
We also provide typical benchmark scores for each of the following twenty questions. We used our "All Industry" data to provide the most general interpretation of each question. However, as our Chief Scientist Jason McPherson explains, “Our data is biased toward New Tech companies, who would typically have higher engagement levels. Indeed that means our benchmarks are somewhat biased in that direction. Culture Amp customers generally tend to be more engaged on average.” With that in mind, we’ve provided a general explanation of what the benchmark scores indicate and simplified interpretations of higher or lower scores.
Without further ado, here are the top 20 employee engagement survey questions you should ask on your next survey. They're divided into three main types: employee engagement index, LEAD, and free-text questions.
Employee engagement index questions
These first five survey questions represent our “engagement index.” We believe that understanding employee engagement takes more than one question. Our index combines questions that focus on the following key outcomes of employee engagement:
We measure these outcomes using the following five questions:
1. “I am proud to work for [Company]”
This question, unsurprisingly, focuses on an employee’s pride in their workplace. It’s colloquially called the “barbecue test” – as in, would an employee be proud to tell someone where they worked if asked at a barbecue? Scores on this question reflect levels of brand and mission affiliation and can give you insight into how your external brand is viewed by people internally.
The benchmark for this question is 80-90% agreement, which is relatively high. However, scores for this question should be high, and a low score (below 70%) is a red flag that there may be internal concerns about your brand.
2. “I would recommend [Company] as a great place to work”
This is our version of the Employee Net Promoter Score question, which we believe is critical to include in our engagement index. The eNPS was launched in 2003, and some companies use it as their sole indicator of employee engagement. However, we believe it’s not robust enough of a measure. For instance, people might recommend your company but be planning to leave. Likewise, they might be unsatisfied with their role but would still recommend your company because of high pay or desirable perks.
Our benchmark for this question is again around 80-90%, which indicates that people generally enjoy the experience of working at their company. Scores below 60% indicate that there may be day-to-day discontent concerning people’s roles or overall issues with the workplace environment.
3. “I rarely think about looking for a job at another company”
This question gets at an employee's present commitment to your company. It's sometimes a nice reality check for companies with high scores on the other engagement index questions. People who are engaged at work often find that looking for a job elsewhere hasn’t crossed their minds. On the other hand, those who are less engaged will find this an easy question to answer.
Due to the nature of this question, it has a moderate benchmark range of 55-60%. 70% or above would be considered a very high score. Scores below 40% are a strong indicator of turnover. For this question in particular, we recommend looking for variation across demographics.
4. “I see myself still working at [company] in two years’ time”
This question analyzes commitment in the same way that question 3 (“I rarely think about looking for a job at another company”) does, but with a specific time frame. An employee that isn't currently looking for a job at another company isn't necessarily an employee that intends to stay for another two years. Questions 3 and 4 give a picture of present and future commitment, which we use to calculate an overall retention index.
Benchmark responses for this question are in the 60-65% range. If your score is higher on this question than the above, you can somewhat discount concerns about retention. However, these two questions tend to move together and are usually a fair measure of retention.
5. “[Company] motivates me to go beyond what I would in a similar role elsewhere”
This question measures discretionary effort and is intended to assess whether your company motivates people to do their very best. In industries where tenure is traditionally low, this question is particularly important. For example, this would be a key question for a seasonal workforce in which low scores for “I see myself still working at ACME in two years’ time” would not raise any concerns.
This is generally a tricky question to score highly on, and benchmark responses are typically in the 70-75% range. Scores below 55% may indicate that people feel disconnected from the company mission or don’t feel enabled to get things done.
Questions about leadership, enablement, alignment, and development (LEAD)
After our engagement index, we ask questions about the four main factors that drive employee engagement: Leadership, Enablement, Alignment, and Development (LEAD).
The progression of questions in each section can be thought of as paralleling Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For example, in enablement, we look at things on the individual role level, broader career level, and overall company level. Basic hygiene needs (those on the individual level) generally need to be met before people can reach a higher level of engagement.
Questions about leadership
6. “The leaders at [company] keep people informed about what is happening”
Communication is critical for establishing any level of engagement within a company. Informing people about what is happening builds a foundation for communication from leadership at the most basic level.
As organizations continue becoming less hierarchical, scores for this question should go up. As it stands, our benchmark for this question is in the range of 65%-75%. If your company’s level of agreement falls below this range, look at how your internal communication takes place and where there are opportunities for improvement.
7. “My manager is a great role model for employees”
Rather than asking specifically about the relationship between a manager and their direct report, this question examines how people see their manager within the broader context of the company.
The benchmark for this question is in the 70%-80% range, with low scores indicating that additional training for managers may be necessary. Maintaining a high score will require identifying what is currently being done well and strategies for sustaining and scaling up these activities over time.
8. “The leaders at [Company] have communicated a vision that motivates me”
For this higher-level statement to be accurate, people need to first feel informed about what is happening at the company (as reflected in question six). Only then will they feel motivated by or connected to something "bigger" than their day-to-day work. Driving motivation is crucial for increasing employee engagement.
Benchmarks for this question are in the 65%-75% range. As discussed above, scores are often impacted by how informed people feel. If scores for both informing (question 6) and motivation (this question) are low, focus first on improving communication with your employees. From there, you can work on improving motivation.
Questions about enablement
9. “I have access to the things I need to do my job well”
This question is pretty self-explanatory: Do people have the day-to-day things they need to do their work and develop? This is a crucial hygiene factor, meaning you can’t move forward without this. It's good to note that we've intentionally used the word “things” here rather than a word like “resources” or “tools.” People aren't necessarily looking for more or better resources and tools in the modern workplace.
Benchmark scores for this question are in the 75%-85% range. Scores falling below this range indicate that you should look into what people lack when it comes to doing their job. This is where looking at free-text responses associated with the question can be beneficial.
10. “I have access to the learning and development I need to do my job well”
This question goes deeper and is more specific than the previous question. Put simply: Are learning and development opportunities (like training and information, coaching, intellectual and emotional support) available to people? How people respond to this question is important as learning and development is a consistent driver of employee engagement across industries.
11. “Most of the systems and processes here support us getting our work done effectively”
We’re intentionally avoiding using absolutes in this question, opting for "most" instead of "all." Even the greatest company will struggle to achieve a state where all systems and processes work perfectly. This question asks: On top of the things people need to get work done (question 9) and the learning and development opportunities needed for people to succeed (question 10), does a company-wide infrastructure exist that can enable all of this to happen?
Because of the relative difficulty of achieving effective systems and processes, the benchmark for this question is relatively low, sitting at around 55%-65%. Falling below this benchmark clearly indicates that you should reevaluate your company’s systems and processes and potentially invest in new infrastructure support.
Questions about alignment
12. “I know what I need to do to be successful in my role”
People need to know what they must do to be personally successful. This basic level of understanding needs to be implemented before people can further develop their alignment with the company.
Benchmarks for this question are generally on the higher end, in the range of 80%-90%. Lower scores can signal misalignment or misunderstanding on the individual level as to which actions people can take to be successful. Note that this question can vary based on a person’s team or tenure with your company.
13. “I receive appropriate recognition when I do good work”
Once people know what they need to do to be successful, they should be appropriately recognized for their achievements. If people don't get any recognition for making progress, it's hard for them to stay motivated.
Like in the alignment section, scores for this question can be influenced by how people feel about the previous question. Recognition is also a more challenging target for companies to reach, which is reflected in the benchmark falling around 65%-75%. Scores below this level indicate that employees are not feeling recognized for their work. Low scores may also indicate that employees are unsure how success is defined in their role (question 12).
14. “Day-to-day decisions here demonstrate that quality and improvement are top priorities”
This is the top of the hierarchy of needs regarding alignment. When we initially wrote this question, we visualized engineering teams.
“Engineers typically have values around doing work that they're really proud of, and the company needs to be aligned with that and demonstrate a commitment to that kind of work,” explains our Chief Scientist, Jason McPherson. Over time, we've found this philosophy to ring true across departments and roles.
We know that this question is among the top drivers of engagement. This is especially true for high-performing, financially successful companies. The benchmark for this question is 60%-70%. If you’re falling below the benchmark, consider holding focus groups with your people to dig deeper into why the company's day-to-day decisions are falling short.
Questions about development
15. “My manager (or someone in management) has shown a genuine interest in my career aspirations”
This question examines the one-on-one level interactions that build the foundation for people to feel like they can develop at the company down the line. It’s great when managers have the technical competence and can share those skills with their team, but employee development is arguably more important for any employee's success. For that reason, it's important for managers to focus on development during 1-on-1 meetings.
If the score for this question is low, either the manager doesn’t realize development is part of their job, or the organization hasn't communicated to the manager that developing team members is a key part of the manager's role. The benchmark for this question is in the 65%-75% range.
When people believe good career opportunities are available to them, they’re more engaged at work, regardless of whether these opportunities fall within their current scope of work or outside of it. We try to avoid words like “upwards” or “advancement” – things that connote a higher level. The core factor is opportunities, which could be at the same level or in a different department. This language is essential in less hierarchical organizations.
16. “I believe there are good career opportunities for me at this company”
We see the scores for this question in the 60%-70% range in our benchmark. Falling below this range can signify that people’s perceptions of career opportunities are low. It’s up to your company to start ensuring that these opportunities are available and communicate this fact.
17. “This is a great company for me to make a contribution to my development”
This question was inspired by author Dan Pink’s idea of mastery. It asks: Does the company contribute to your development in your craft or industry? This kind of development is often beyond the company itself and doesn’t necessarily need to be related to the bottom line or the company’s goals.
This question is frequently one of the top drivers of engagement, and the benchmark range is 70%-80%. Since development is a huge driver of engagement, you should prioritize taking action on low scores for this question. Find out why people don’t feel the company contributes to their development, make changes based on their feedback, and communicate these changes to your people.
Free-text and open-response questions
18. “Are there some things we are doing great here?”
19. “Are there some things we are not doing so great here?”
20. “Is there something else you think we should have asked you in this survey?”
For all the questions above, you’re looking to solicit open-ended feedback and allow people to provide general comments. Responses to these questions tend to focus on tangible things (like workplace environment), but employees may also give you feedback on leadership, development, and more. If many people feel that the survey doesn't address a particular topic of interest, you can consider including new questions focused on that topic in the future.
The value of free-text questions is that they provide qualitative and quantitative data that scale-based questions give. However, you can also provide an area for open-ended feedback in scale-based questions. This takes us to a quick note on Likert scales and why they matter in surveys.
A quick note on Likert scales
For all of our questions (except free-text-only responses), we use a 5-point Likert scale that measures agreement to a statement. You might be asking, “Why five? Why not seven? Why not eleven?!”
There is ample academic research that debates the pros and cons of various different point scales. We’ve found that a 5-point scale encourages survey participation (fewer choices means it’s faster to complete) and gathers the right amount of detail. A more detailed scale could add more nuance to your survey results, but we’ve found that it’s sometimes an unnecessary amount of detail. A consistent, 5-point Likert scale is simple and suits the needs of our people geeks.
How our Likert scale response works
For example, the survey-taker is presented with a statement: “I am proud to work for ACME”
They then choose from a scale of agreement with the following options:
Neither Agree nor Disagree
Using a consistent Likert scale throughout the employee engagement survey will allow people to answer questions more easily. The familiarity of the scale removes some of the stress associated with answering survey questions. We also think it’s important to have levels of agreement rather than just a number-based scale, as different people will interpret a 1-5 numerical scale differently. To further reduce ambiguity, our questions are all phrased to identify the ideal state (for example, again, “I am proud to work for ACME”).
In addition to the Likert scale, each question has a field to collect open-text responses. We encourage this for all employee surveys, because it allows you to tap into quantitative and qualitative employee feedback. As you can see below, Culture Amp's employee engagement tool not only leverages the Likert scale, but it also allows employees to optionally add their own comments.
Start crafting your employee engagement survey
Collecting employee feedback is the best way to start shaping your company’s culture. Listening to the voices of your people, then sharing with them what you’ve learned and how you’ll move forward together is a cornerstone of what it means to be a great company today.
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