Employee Engagement Survey Frequency: Quality Over Quantity

Employee Engagement Survey Frequency: Quality Over Quantity

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Employee Engagement Survey Frequency: Quality Over Quantity

Employee engagement is the cornerstone of a successful business, with a direct impact on turnover, customer satisfaction, and financial results. This is why many organizations have prioritized their employee engagement efforts and implemented formal employee experience (EX) programs—which often include high employee engagement survey frequency. But after time, this continuous approach to surveying can lose effectiveness, creating feedback fatigue and weakening survey participation.

One of the most important elements of any EX program is pinpointing the right employee engagement survey frequency. Too little and you could miss timely insights. Too much and you’ll get watered down feedback. Here are steps to achieving that balance.

employee experience best practice guide_SMG

Determining the right cadence

Although we are strong supporters of leveraging technology to enhance the experience and utility of employee surveys, continuous surveys (those asking questions daily or weekly) are often not the most effective approach to gain insight to truly action on feedback. Continuous surveys are typically shorter and not deep enough to give managers clear steps on how to improve the employee experience.

However, traditional annual surveys (with supplemental pulse surveys) have a proven track record of linking to business results. They are successful because they have the depth to provide enough feedback for managers to take action. The limitation to annual surveys is in the name—you’re only measuring one or two times a year. Now, more than ever, you can’t wait to take action only once a year to improve the employee experience when talent acquisition and retention is a key issue for many brands.

So how can you think about determining the right frequency and approach to your company’s employee survey process?

There’s no one answer—each organization needs to consider a few factors to determine their ideal cadence. First, organizations should always think about the intended goal each time they reach out to their employees for feedback. Second, companies should consider critical elements and moments of the work experience to listen and respond to pivotal points in the lifecycle or throughout the year.

As you begin to shape your surveying strategy, ask yourself this: What are the critical elements of your employees’ work experience? Here is where today’s survey technology provides some real advantages and where it makes sense to have a more frequent collection of employee survey data. Blending point-in-time surveys with more continuous methods can give brands the right recipe for success. A combination of a point-in-time collection like the typical core engagement survey with one or more of the solutions outlined below can give brands a mix of depth and relevancy for taking action.


Take, for example, the initial onboarding experience an employee has within an organization. Hiring is happening all year long, and a continuous measurement tool that captures insights from your newest employees can be very helpful. There is valuable insight in identifying locations doing a poor job of training and making new employees feel welcome—thus driving higher-than-necessary turnover.

Exit surveys

Exit surveys are another great example of where a continuous collection method really works. Employees leave at various stages, so it’s good to get a more customized read as to why they are leaving and if there are new trends you need to be aware of moving forward.    

Pulse surveys

Certain events—such as the implementation of a new POS system or other major operational changes impacting your field teams—lend themselves well to pulse surveys, aimed at understanding the impact of these critical changes to quickly identify red flags or opportunities to improve the adoption of the new tool.

We experienced the true value of this with one of our clients. The restaurant brand had invested in a new Kitchen Delivery System (KDS). Shortly after implementing, they surveyed employees for feedback about the system. What we discovered was a great deal of frustration in the kitchen. Many of the cook times associated with items were incorrect, resulting in food not being prepared as efficiently as it could have been. The company made some quick adjustments to the system, which had a positive impact on the kitchen staff and resulted in a better implementation of the new KDS.


Why should employees wait to give you feedback? An always-on voice of the employee (VOE) option is a passive feedback channel organizations can leverage to collect employee feedback 24/7—and meet the employee where they are at without waiting for a survey window to collect feedback.

It’s very flexible in terms of content: You can use VOE to crowd source ideas and suggestions, replace an HR hotline or distribution list, and integrate with case management to make sure clients close the loop on employee queries. It can also be leveraged as a way to recognize employees anonymously or used as a training evaluation form.

Common survey mistakes 

Asking employees questions about engagement only works if you listen to the answer and respond in a meaningful way. In fact—and this is important to understand—we’ve found measuring engagement and not devoting effort to following through on improvements can actually create more negative employee perceptions than if you’d never asked about engagement at all.

The good news is, the survey results can quantify the positive impact of follow-through, which can then be communicated across the organization. SMG’s research across clients demonstrates employees who experience positive follow-through improved their engagement by 18%, while those who had poor follow-through actually had decreasing engagement levels wave-over-wave.

The best action plans for creating positive follow-through will come from the very people who took the survey—your employees. By including them in the decision making and improvement process, managers can align engagement issues and concerns to employees’ needs and wants. Inclusion creates ownership and the opportunity for better business outcomes.

When employee survey results are reviewed exclusively at the management level and action plans are crafted without employee input, an organization risks creating a climate where employees reactively wait to be engaged instead of proactively solving for engagement with management. Managers should make an effort to involve employees in decision-making where possible. They’ll value having the ability to make an impact.

Lastly—and definitely importantly—make sure to thank employees for taking the time to take the survey and give feedback. They need to know their effort was appreciated, and this in turn will help keep your response rates up even if you are surveying frequently. Employees want to know the results of surveys as well as feel acknowledged and appreciated for providing feedback.

How to measure employee engagement survey results

Let’s take another look at thinking through an intended goal associated with your employee surveys. As with any change initiative, and especially one that involves changing your culture based on the collective voice of your employees, consistent actions will be needed following the survey.

Now, ask yourself: How long does it typically take to execute and fully implement organizational change—a day, a week, a month, a quarter? If you’re like many organizations creating alignment and executing a lasting change, it could take six months or longer.

This isn’t to say organizations can’t initiate smaller changes more immediately, but too many changes at once lessens the chance of permanent impact and change. The answer to the question “How long does it take to enact change?” is a great guide to helping you determine your survey interval. After all, no one likes to be asked the same question they already answered without some sort of feedback/response to their previous response.

Following through on an employee engagement program requires the same focused planning, development, accountability, and assessment that drive every successful business practice. Tracking actions around behaviors that address an employee’s everyday needs will increase the likelihood that engagement will improve.

HR departments can support organizations by implementing systems that make it easy to track improvement plans. In addition to improving accountability, interactive action-planning tools allow organizations to find pockets of success and share best practices across the company.

Putting this all together, your survey cadence should allow time for managers to take action between waves. For some brands that can be a couple months, for others, it’s six months. Building in that time between waves is crucial to not overload managers and give employees time to see real change in the workplace.

Avoid survey fatigue with these 3 steps

Consider how to best use survey technology and beware of the temptation that “more is better.” Engagement surveys provide a lot of great opportunities to drive employee satisfaction and improve employee retention, but over-surveying can be problematic and do more harm than good.

In summary, take these steps to ensure the right frequency for your organization:

  1. Always consider the “why” when asking employees for their feedback. What goals do you hope to achieve?
  2. Rather than continually asking for input, consider critical points when collecting feedback makes the most sense.
  3. Don’t ask if you don’t intend to act. Taking action on feedback is ultimately where the benefits of employee surveys are made. Make sure you are building in enough time to act between your feedback collections.

Creating a culture that engages your employees takes intentional implementation—building a plan and following through with accountability on activities and enhancements that work for your employees takes practice and insight.

If you’d like more information about how to build a highly engaged work culture for your employees, please reach out.