20 questions to ask employees in 2020

Follow this guidance to craft smarter surveys and help your organization improve engagement, retention and morale.

20 engagement survey questions

What’s the secret to crafting employee engagement surveys that unearth valuable insights, opinions and preferences?

Views vary widely about the ideal length, depth and nature of questions—and there’s a thin line between surveys that push too hard or not enough.

There’s no such thing as a “perfect” survey, but you can start by considering the 20 thoughtful questions below:

1. You’re at a family get-together, and someone asks where you work. How do you respond?

a) Tell them the name of the company, confident that they will recognize it.

b) Tell them the name of the company, and give a short introduction to help them understand more about it.

c) Give them the name while wondering whether they have heard of the company.

d) Tell them the name of the company while being confident that they have not heard of it.

e) Don’t tell them the company name but just mention the industry or sector.

This question lets you know whether an employee would be proud to talk about where they work and how eager they would be to explain more about the organization to an outsider.

Scores on this question give you an idea of how strongly affiliated employees are to the employer brand and how sure they are that their acquaintances would know about the organization.

2. Your close friend is looking for a job and asks whether there are any openings at your organization. What is your response?

a) Tell them that it’s a great idea. Take an active interest in looking up vacancies, and ask them to get in touch with relevant managers.

b) Ask them to visit the company website and to let you know if any role stands out so that you can take it from there.

c) You take some time to consider whether they would fit in, and then help out.

d) Tell them that you’ll check and let them know, while wondering why anyone would want to work at XYZ.

e) Warn them that XYZ is a poor choice, and that they should steer clear.

This question helps uncover whether employees have evolved into brand ambassadors—or unhappy campers.

3. You’re perusing LinkedIn and notice the “jobs” tab. What do you do?

a) Nothing. Finish sharing a post, browse through the news feed, and log out. I love working at XYZ!

b) Don’t click on the tab, but wonder whether there are any exciting roles.

c) Check whether my HR can view my browsing history, and quickly glance at the job postings.

d) Go through the job posts while being unsure of whether to apply or not, though some look very tempting.

e) That “jobs” tab was the reason I got on LinkedIn in the first place!

This statement explores employees’ commitment to the organization. If you gather an alarming number of responses indicating that employees are looking for other work—or even open to the possibility—it could be time to overhaul your retention strategy. 

4. Where do you see yourself in two years?

a) Growing in my present role.

b) Being promoted to the next step at XYZ.

c) In another position more suited for me at XYZ.

d) Considering moving jobs.

e) As far away from XYZ as possible.

It is far better to retain than to retrain, so keep an eye on how many staffers provide noncommittal answers.

5. Your manager asks you to do a small task over the weekend. What do you do?

a) I do it willingly, knowing there is a valid reason for the urgency.

b) I ask my manager why it must be done over the weekend to clarify why it’s necessary.

c) I finish it off as quickly as possible without investing much time or effort.

d) I get it done but grumble about it to my colleagues, my family and possibly my manager as well.

e) I don’t work on weekends. Period.

This question gauges discretionary effort and intrinsic motivation. It also offers insight into how employees view their manager.

6. You’re a little unsure about a new process that will be implemented at work. What do you do?

a) I ask any of the leaders about it, since they are accessible and willing to explain all changes and implementations.

b) I ask my immediate manager about it.

c) I ask my colleagues first.

d) I’m unsure about who to ask, so I try to figure it out myself.

e) I don’t feel comfortable asking anyone, as I don’t want to ask too many questions.

It’s a huge red flag if employees feel uncomfortable or afraid to ask questions. If your managers do not communicate well, find new managers.

7. A colleague tells you that managers at XYZ should start practicing what they preach. How do you respond?

a) Disagree vehemently, arguing that managers do practice what they preach.

b) Ask them why they feel this way, and try to help them see that they might be judging too harshly.

c) Listen to them patiently and wonder whether they are right.

d) Check to see if any manager is within earshot and then agree with them.

e) Agree completely.

Bad managers will kill your engagement, retention and morale. Pay close attention to negative responses here, and give managers consistent communication training and support.

8. When someone from your family asks you what you do, how do you describe your role?             

a) I tell them in detail what XYZ does and how my role fits into the bigger picture.

b) I give them a brief overview of my job description.

c) I gloss over my basic daily tasks.

d) I tell them the sector that XYZ caters to and my job title.

e) I tell them my job title, but that I have no idea what my role is, because I don’t see it serving a direct purpose.

Workers must understand the “why” of what they do. Engagement hinges on employees’ feeling connected to something bigger than themselves and motivated to attain higher goals.

9. When your friend asks you how hectic your job is, what do you say?

a) It’s hectic but gratifying, and I feel supported at work.

b) I have good days and bad days, but I have most of the resources I need to handle expectations.

c) It does get hectic and stressful at times.

d) It gets hectic and chaotic often, and more organizational support would improve things.

e) It is too hectic, and I am beginning to wonder if this is the right job for me.

10. Your colleague asks whether you ever wonder about going back to school. What is your response?

a) I have an abundance of learning opportunities at work to help me grow, so I never miss it.

b) I cannot complain, since I have access to enough courses and learning technologies at work.

c) I do miss learning at times.

d) I am considering a few learning opportunities independently, since XYZ does not fund it.

e) I am losing interest in learning and developing my skills altogether, because XYZ does not promote a learning culture.

Does your company offer opportunities to learn, develop and advance? If not, you could be alienating some of your most productive, promising employees. 

11. When a colleague asks you if you feel your time is wasted on meaningless tasks, what do you say?

a) Every process is efficient and effective, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

b) Yes, some of our processes are convoluted, but they serve their purpose.

c) Some processes could be made more efficient.

d) Sometimes my time is wasted in meaningless tasks.

e) Yes, my time is wasted on a lot of trivial tasks.

Employees who feel bogged down by boring, repetitive minutiae will quickly check out, so carefully monitor negative responses here.

12. A friend who is disappointed in their own job asks you how you find meaning in what you do. What do you tell them?

a) It becomes a lot easier to find meaning when you know that every little thing you do serves a bigger purpose.

b) It helps to take a step back and look at how your role helps further the organization’s goals.

c) I remind myself of my purpose at work.

d) I feel a lack of meaning at times as well, and I can empathize with you.

e) There is a total mismatch between what I do, my goals and XYZ’s objectives, and that makes it challenging for me to find meaning at work.

If you have many employees who are just going through the motions to collect a paycheck, take strides to make them feel appreciated, valued and respected.

13. When you feel that you have accomplished something at work, big or small, what usually follows?

a) I’m treated like a superstar for achieving it, no matter how big or small an accomplishment it is.

b) I feel appreciated most of the time.

c) I try to tell my colleagues and manager about it, since they might not notice otherwise.

d) I feel that it would be nice if XYZ could make a bigger deal of my achievements.

e) Nothing. I know that it will not be recognized nor appreciated, so I go back to what I was doing.

Rewards and recognition are a crucial aspect of engagement. Consistently praise and honor your workers with genuine appreciation to maintain morale, productivity and motivation.

14. A colleague asks you whether you ever feel like nothing will change for the better at XYZ. What do you say?

a) XYZ is always changing for the better.

b) There are quite a few aspects where you see XYZ trying to improve.

c) Maybe some facets of work need more focused change.

d) At times, it does feel that there is a sense of complacency throughout the organization.

e) Yes, we’re all doomed, and nothing will ever get better here.

Even the best companies and cultures can grow stagnant, so it’s crucial to monitor whether employees believe improvement is prioritized—whether that’s in big policy decisions or in streamlining everyday aspects of work.

15. Your manager asks you where you see your career headed. What do you say?

a) I am happy with the career path that has been mapped out at XYZ based on my aspirations.

b) I know the general milestones and am glad to grow with the organization.

c) I see an immediate career progression within XYZ but would like a more tangible plan.

d) I am not clear about how my career can progress within XYZ.

e) I don’t see a future at XYZ, since my aspirations don’t match the path set out for me.

If employees feel they have nowhere to go or grow, motivation will remain low.

16. Your family asks you whether you’re happy in your career. What is your response?

a) I am pleased, because my job at XYZ is the best path to further my professional goals.

b) I’m happy, since XYZ offers some opportunities for growth.

c) XYZ might be a good steppingstone for bigger things down the road.

d) I’m not overly satisfied with where I am in my career right now.

e) I regret accepting the job at XYZ.

Do your workers foresee the potential for professional prosperity at your workplace—or a dead end?

17. If your manager asks whether you are keen to explore a skill or career development plan, how would you respond?

a) Jump at the offer and say I need more support in expanding my skills.

b) I would be keen to understand the skills development options on the table.

c) I would be skeptical, wondering whether they are trying to help or trying to put me down.

d) I would say more support would be great.

e) I would say I’m always eager to learn—but emphasize that I have all the help I need to develop myself holistically thanks to XYZ.

Do your employees feel they have the opportunity to develop their current abilities—while picking up new skills that would help them in their careers in general?

Employees feel more valued when they believe that the company is willing to invest in their career enhancement.

Consider asking these open-ended questions:

18. What, specifically, do you love about working here?

19. What aspects of work make you hate Monday mornings?

20. Did we miss out on something you wish to talk about?

Selecting smart questions is just the beginning.

It’s crucial to create a campaign around your survey, including communication before and after it goes out. You want to generate buzz and awareness, but you should also focus on reassuring colleagues that all answers will remain completely anonymous. How else will you get honest, candid feedback?

Creating and analyzing engagement surveys takes work, but it’s a great opportunity to uncover a wealth of information that will help your company do a better job of engaging, retaining and caring for employees.

What kind of employee engagement survey questions do you think work best? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

A version of this post first appeared on HR Technologist.

Gain more insights into improving employee engagement at our upcoming Best Practices in Internal Communications Culture Conference.


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