Before launching your employee survey, you should communicate the plans, goals, and intentions with senior leaders, managers, and staff. These communications are separate from the actual invitation to fill out the questionnaire, and they should take place before the invitation is sent out.

Communication and trust are two key topics related to employee engagement. You have the opportunity to set a positive tone in these areas before the survey even begins. Moreover, communicating and establishing trust will also increase the response rate as well as the candor of the responses.

Communications Prior to the Survey

Senior Leadership Team and Management Orientation

  • The top leader and HR (and/or consultant) should meet with the senior team to discuss commitment to the survey process, the overall plan for the coming months, and the expected benefits to each senior leader. The goal is to gain buy-in and set realistic expectations for time commitment.
  • The top leader should outline their personal commitment to employee engagement - what it means, why it matters, and how it will benefit the organization and all stakeholders.
  • Provide an outline of the logistics, including expectations for each senior leader to conduct or oversee debriefing of results.
  • Define the roles of HR and the top leader, including the support to be given to each senior leader and department manager.
  • Highlight the benefits to each team member: increased morale and performance, reduced turnover, and enhanced leadership impact.

Introductory Email to All Employees

(see example employee email below)

Before sending the actual survey invitation to contributors, the top leader should communicate the plan to all employees in a personalized email. The email should be sent out a week or so before the process is scheduled to begin. It should:

  • Announce the upcoming staff questionnaire, with timeline.
  • Explain why you are conducting the survey.
  • Explain how and when the results will be shared.
  • Emphasize that all responses are anonymous and that the data are being collected by an outside company. Encourage contributors to respond candidly and get in front of any potential trust issues that might exist.
  • Highlight the benefits to each contributor. Simply telling people that you want to know about employee satisfaction or employee engagement might ring hollow with some people. It is OK to use terms like "employee satisfaction" in your communications, but make the benefits more personal. Think about the tone of your message from the staff's perspective. Explain to them what they can expect to gain from this process.

Sample Employee Survey Email (Prelaunch)

The sample email below should be adapted to your unique situation. It should reflect your company culture and capture the top leader's personal style. This email should be sent out a week or so before the survey begins.

To: All Employees
From: Top Leader (e.g. CEO)
Subject: Upcoming employee survey

During the coming weeks, we will be conducting a company-wide employee survey. We are conducting this staff questionnaire in order to get a better understanding of morale, satisfaction, and engagement at (COMPANY NAME). Your opinions are important to us, and this is your chance to express those opinions.

We will use the results for three purposes:

  1. to recognize skilled leaders who engage their people in a positive way
  2. to improve our policies to make them more practical and effective
  3. to fix problems that demotivate people, compromise customer satisfaction, or diminish performance

The process is being managed by an independent survey company. This outside company will host the survey on the Internet and collect your responses online. All responses will remain strictly anonymous. We will not be able to trace individual responses back to you. Management will only see combined data for groups of 4 or more respondents. Please be thoughtful, honest, and candid when you complete the questionnaire.

Once the data are in (APPROXIMATE DATE), we will share the results with the entire organization so you can see for yourself how we are doing. In the months that follow the survey, HR and management will meet with groups to discuss plans to improve our culture and performance and address any problem areas.

The results will be acted upon. Policies that need changing will be changed. Leaders who lack skills will be coached. Leaders who create excellence will be recognized. The amount of communication, upward and downward, will increase. Overall, (COMPANY NAME) will be a better place to work.

We would like to get 100% participation in order to ensure that each and every employee's voice is heard. When you receive the survey request (LATER THIS WEEK), please give it your prompt attention.

Thank you for devoting your time and providing candid input.

How to Communicate Employee Engagement Survey Results: Communications After the Survey Results Are In

Senior Leadership Team and Management Orientation

One of our favorite questions is, "Senior leaders will take action based on the results of this survey." For those contributors who agreed with this statement, don't let them down. For those who disagreed, now is your chance to prove them wrong!

  • Thank employees for their time and candor.
  • If your response rate was high, acknowledge that. If you reached any specific response rate goals, recognize those achievements.
  • Regardless of whether your results are generally good or bad, keep the tone of this message positive or at least neutral. Don't focus on failures to reach targets or disappointments with the response rate or the results.
  • If the results are mostly negative, you may want to acknowledge that "there is a lot of work to be done", but emphasize that you are eager to tackle the issues and excited about the positive changes that will be coming soon.
  • Let employees know an approximate date when the results will be shared. Make sure you have had a preliminary look at the results so you have an idea of how much work there is to be done. Make sure the senior leaders are all on the same page with regard to this timing as well. If you are in HR, analyzing the results and creating an action plan might be one of your top priorities, but other leaders might need more time to fit these things into their schedules.
  • Don't rush to share results before you are ready, but be timely as well. Keep the process moving forward while it is still fresh in employees' minds. A few weeks or so is fine. A few months or more is too long.

Sharing the Results with Employees

We generally assume that companies will share some of the survey results with employees. Not sharing at least some high-level results reinforces many of the things that have a negative impact on employee engagement and satisfaction. Sharing some of the results with employees signals trust, openness, and most importantly, respect.

  • Be fair and honest in what you share. Don't share only the positives, while omitting obvious problems. Employees know what the problems are. Acknowledging these problems openly will help you gain credibility and respect.
  • Don't focus only on the problems, either. Seek some degree of balance.
  • If your results are overwhelmingly negative, and you can't find very much positive to talk about, you probably need to simply acknowledge the seriousness of the problems. Employee morale and satisfaction are not going to decrease further as a result of recognizing what everybody already knows. This is your chance to turn the corner and set things moving in the right direction.
  • Use discretion with what you share and how much you share. Don't share everything. Don't single out specific departments, groups, or managers that are having problems. These things should be addressed in a less public forum.

Communicating your the Action Plan

We emphasize "the" action plan because it is important to create buy-in at all levels of the organization. You will need to decide how you want to approach this. Some companies involve employees in the planning process to some degree. Other companies take a more top-down approach. There is no universal right or wrong answer here. The decision depends on your organization's culture, size, and the sorts of problems and actions that are needed. Regardless of which approach you decide to take:

  • Make sure the entire senior leadership team is on the same page and supportive of the action plan. Show employees a united front and convey your strength and competence as a leadership team. This can be easier said than done, especially if some functions had worse results than others. Functional leaders or other key stakeholders may feel threatened or take the results personally. If you anticipate or encounter problems, this is one point in the process where an outside consultant can be particularly helpful.
  • Make sure that managers are not blindsided. You may want to share the survey results and your action plan with all managers before communicating to all employees. This allows managers to be prepared for any questions that might arise. It can also help generate support and buy-in from managers.
  • Share the action plan at the same time that you communicate the results. If you will involve employees to determine solutions in some areas, communicate that. In other areas, share the specific details of the actions that will be taken.
  • There are various ways to structure action plans. One option that we recommend is to make sure all of the actions adhere to the S.M.A.R.T goal criteria.
  • The action plan should include some things that can be done quickly and that are easy for employees to observe. These should not be superficial actions. Employees should be able to see a positive impact fairly quickly, even if the impact is modest.
  • The action plan should also include some longer-term, more substantive plans that will have a deeper impact, but that will take longer to implement and achieve.

Ongoing Communications

  • Don't stop now!
  • Establish a pattern of regular communication about senior leadership's commitment to employee morale and satisfaction. Share progress toward goals, milestones reached, and other activities related to the action plan. Don't expect employees to automatically know everything that is being done or to simply observe the changes that are being made. Continue to celebrate successes and acknowledge when efforts fall short.
  • Ongoing communications can also help drive accountability. When employees are reminded of promises that were made and goals that were set, the people responsible for delivering on those promises are more likely to follow through. It is as simple as peer pressure and can be a useful technique to impose on yourself and others.

When and How Often to Repeat

Finally, at some point, it will be time to repeat the employee survey in order to measure progress and also to assess whether any new problems have emerged. For many organizations, repeating the process after one year makes the most sense. It usually takes about a year for a company to analyze the results, implement an action plan, and for employees to observe the changes and shift their attitudes.

For companies that are undergoing significant changes (like a merger or a major restructuring), a follow-up survey can be conducted after three to six months.

More frequent pulsing surveys are recommended for organizations that can handle the logistics and that want to stay on top of emerging engagement issues. If using pulse checks, keep the following in mind:

  • Pulse surveys need to be short. This means they won't provide the same detailed results as a more comprehensive engagement survey. Important issues can slip through the cracks. Therefore, plan to repeat the full questionnaire every 12-18 months.
  • Employees will quickly grow tired or annoyed if pulsing surveys are too frequent or too long. Response rates will suffer as a result. Find the right balance, and keep an eye on your response rates. If you demonstrate that you are taking action based on the feedback from the pulse checks, response rates will be more likely to remain high.
  • When done right, pulsing surveys can signal to all employees, from the CEO on down, that employee opinions matter and employee engagement is a priority.