ESAT Key Steps
Determining What to Ask in an Employee Satisfaction Survey

This is a much simpler process than it used to be just a few years ago. The old model was to have a consultant visit your physical location, interview employees for several days or weeks, and create a questionnaire. This approach had many drawbacks; among them:

  • It was time consuming,
  • It was expensive,
  • Although many of the same issues were addressed in questionnaires for different clients, inconsistency in question wording made normative comparisons nearly impossible.

Our approach both simplifies and improves this old process. We developed a base questionnaire containing core questions necessary for substantially all employers; questions addressing issues such as supervisor fairness, corporate communication, and physical work environment. Starting with this core document, we customize the questionnaire to fit it to the particular needs of the client, adding and deleting items as appropriate. Periodically, we review recent projects to see whether any of the custom items merit inclusion into the base questionnaire and whether any of the standard questions can be dropped (based on low importance, lack of differentiation between scores, etc.). This enables all clients to benefit from the creativity that has gone into other questionnaires, and makes possible the establishment of normative results against which to benchmark individual organizational results.

To determine what customization is required, we ask questions of the key client contact (and of others, as the contact deems necessary) during telephone conversations. These questions include:

  • What is the reason for conducting the survey at this time?
  • What hypotheses do the contact have about what is working well in the organization and what is not?
  • What rumors are in the rumor mill?
  • Are there any special concerns this business has because of the line of work? (Safety, ethics, quality, etc.)
  • What is the corporate mission statement?
  • Are there any prior employee satisfaction survey results? If so, can we review them?
  • What benefits are included in the benefits package?

We then craft a first draft of the questionnaire for the client's review. We exchange drafts via email until the client is happy with the document.

Some clients bring question wordings of their own to the survey process. We review these and suggest any wording changes we feel are appropriate.

The entire process usually takes a few days. It can take just a day or two for an organization with 200 or fewer employees, especially if the CEO is directly involved. It can take longer if the organization is either very large, has a culture of risk aversion, is highly political, or if a committee is involved in the process.

Larger organizations can expedite the process if they have a comprehensive list of departments and employee counts readily available. Much of the effort in questionnaire design when a few thousand or more people are employed by an organization goes into the layout of the department question, making sure there are no ambiguous department descriptions and that all departments are included.

The process, though simplified from the olden days, may sound daunting. However, it actually works quite well, and our clients always are pleased with the resulting questionnaire, the speed with which it is assembled, and with its ability to uncover the key issues in need of improvement.