Employee satisfaction surveys: Why they’re controversial
While you don’t have to love what you do, it certainly helps when you at least like it. That feeling is called employee satisfaction, and it’s more elusive than you might think. In fact, only 49% of U.S. employees are satisfied with their jobs.
Businesses have a vested interest in improving worker satisfaction, because companies with high worker satisfaction outperform low satisfaction companies by 202%. Even small improvements can help drive productivity and loyalty.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what employee satisfaction is, how it differs from engagement, how to measure it, and more. We’ll also explore the controversy around using employee satisfaction as a workplace metric and explain why employee engagement is a better, more informative alternative.
What is employee satisfaction?
Employee satisfaction measures the degree to which your employees are satisfied and happy with their jobs and their workplace experience. Strong employee satisfaction has been tied to higher productivity, higher loyalty, and lower turnover, so it’s in businesses’ best interest to pay attention to it. Not to mention, employee satisfaction can help you understand the overall health of your organization, especially when tracked over time.
The tricky part lies in determining how to improve employee satisfaction. Many factors influence employee satisfaction, including compensation, recognition, coworker relations, company culture, manager satisfaction, and more. Learning where your business is doing well and where it has room to grow is crucial to improving employee satisfaction. We’ll talk about this later on.
What is the difference between employee satisfaction and employee engagement?
Employee satisfaction used to be a common HR metric, but in recent years, engagement has taken over in popularity. That’s because employee satisfaction is one-sided. It only measures how your employees feel about your business.
Employee engagement, on the other hand, measures connection and effort. Because it’s tied to both emotional state and output, it’s a metric that benefits both your employees and your business. Over time, HR professionals realized satisfaction at work isn’t enough to make employees do their best. For example, an employee can be satisfied but not engaged. In fact, we saw this in 2022 with the “quiet quitting” trend. While relatively satisfied, these employees became complacent and unproductive – just showing up, going through the motions, and collecting a paycheck. Their company retains talent but at a hit to productivity. In contrast, engaged employees are likelier to go above and beyond their job duties to help their company succeed.
What we’re saying is that your employees must be both satisfied and engaged to unlock better outcomes for your business. It’s important to remember that satisfaction and engagement are different measurements, albeit interrelated. Satisfaction is a key component and indicator of engagement. For an employee to be engaged, they must also be satisfied.
How do you measure employee satisfaction?
Since so many factors influence employee satisfaction, the best way to measure this complex metric is with a survey that touches on different areas of the employee experience. Here’s a brief step-by-step guide to getting your first employee satisfaction survey up and running:
1. Launch an annual employee satisfaction survey
Every year, build and administer an employee satisfaction survey. This allows your employees to share what they’d like to see improved within your organization and gives your business an opportunity to listen to and take action on their feedback. A survey tool like Culture Amp makes creating and launching one-off surveys easy thanks to an extensive library of customizable survey templates.
2. Analyze your data
Once your survey concludes, it’s time to analyze your results. Of course, you’ll want to see where your business scored highly, but more importantly, keep an eye out for areas where your business received lower-than-anticipated scores. These are usually areas your business will want to address. Of course, to prioritize what to fix first, you’ll need to do a bit more digging to determine which areas of opportunity are likely to have the largest impact on employee satisfaction.
3. Use benchmark data
Whether this is your business’ first satisfaction survey or one of many, it’s always helpful to gain additional context into your scores using benchmarking. Culture Amp benchmarking gives all our customers access to real company data with an average response rate of well over 80%. We offer three types of benchmarking:
- Industry benchmarks which include a minimum of 20 companies and 20,000 people.
- Geography benchmarks which include a minimum of 50 companies and 10,000 people.
- Function benchmarks which include a minimum of 50 companies and 5,000 people.
This data can help you understand how your business compares to your competition so you can remain a competitive employer and build the best possible workplace for your employees.
4. Make an action plan
Running a survey will do you no good unless you take action on the findings. After the conclusion of your survey, be sure to sit down with your findings and create an action plan to address your high-priority items. This step is crucial as it sends a powerful message to your employees: your business listens to and acts on their feedback and cares about their experience at your company.
By taking regular action on your survey findings (and communicating both your findings and plans for actions to employees), you can actually help prevent survey fatigue. You’re showing employees that their feedback helps drive meaningful organizational change.
Employee satisfaction survey question examples
When it comes to putting your employee satisfaction survey together, you’ll want to include a mix of open-ended or free-text questions and rating questions to allow your business to collect both qualitative and quantitative feedback. As a reminder, employee satisfaction is impacted by a wide variety of factors, so you’ll want to include survey questions that cover many different areas of the employee experience.
Here are a few sample questions you can add to your next employee satisfaction survey:
- Do you clearly understand the company’s strategic objectives?
- Do you enjoy our company’s culture?
- Do you think work is fairly distributed across teams?
- Are you satisfied with your job overall?
- How meaningful do you find your work?
- I have clearly defined goals.
- My manager welcomes honest and candid feedback.
- When my manager says they’ll do something, they follow through with it.
- I am satisfied with the growth opportunities available to me at [Company].
- I feel like my work is valued at [Company].
- I feel like I am fairly compensated for my work.
- I feel like I have a good work-life balance at [Company].
- What are three things we could improve at [Company]?
- How often do you get to work on projects you’re passionate about at [Company]?
- Do you feel you have a strong understanding of what career growth opportunities are available to you at [Company]?
Pros of measuring employee satisfaction
- Reduced turnover: Satisfied employees are more likely to stay with your business longer. By keeping close tabs on employee satisfaction, your business can learn where to direct your resources and investments to improve the employee experience and not only keep your talent happy, but also keep them around longer.
- Increase productivity: When employees are satisfied with their jobs, they may be more likely to go above and beyond to help their teammates, your business, and your customers. Check this out in practice – we partnered with customer service software company Zendesk on a study that found engaged employees provide better customer service.
Cons of measuring employee satisfaction
- Focusing on satisfaction may not give you a full picture: As we mentioned earlier, you can have a satisfied but unengaged employee. By focusing on employee satisfaction rather than engagement, your business may inadvertently allow this type of behavior to continue, causing you to miss out on building deeper relationships with your talent. Instead, investing in both satisfaction and engagement can help you build an exceptional workplace culture, improve performance, and support your business’ success.
- Engagement is a more holistic measurement: Most HR professionals and businesses agree that investing in engagement has a better return on investment. Companies with higher engagement report higher profitability, higher productivity, lower turnover, lower absenteeism, and even lower workplace accidents, according to Gallup research. Since engagement measures how your employees feel about your company and how they are willing to act based on those feelings, it has a stronger connection to individual performance metrics and better business outcomes.
Why we recommend measuring engagement rather than satisfaction
At the end of the day, employee engagement is a more comprehensive measurement. It looks after your employees and their happiness while also measuring the productivity and loyalty your business cares about. That’s why we recommend tracking engagement over time rather than satisfaction.
Because engagement is an outcome, you can use surveys to learn which factors are helping and holding back your employees. At Culture Amp, we combine engagement and driver questions to measure engagement outcomes and determine which key factors are most impacting these outcomes.
Using Culture Amp’s engagement survey solution, your business gets access to all of these questions and can run your own surveys whenever you want. Post-survey, our powerful analytics tools make it easy to slice and dice your data so you can draw meaningful insights quickly. Plus, our Focus Agent tool helps you identify, prioritize, and take action on the highest impact areas, so you can get to work right away introducing change within your organization.
Ready to build a world-class employee experience?
Get a demo to see the Culture Amp engagement survey tool for yourself and start listening to your employees today.