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The 32 best employee engagement questions with the highest response rates

If you’re looking for the best employee engagement survey questions, these 32 questions have the highest response rates in Know Your Team – and share four distinct characteristics.

“How engaged are my employees, really?” We ask ourselves this, as leaders — and then write our employee engagement surveys questions, determined to find an answer. Yet during this process, we often find ourselves resorting to the familiar stock survey questions:

“What do you think could improve in the company?”

“How likely are you to recommend a friend to work at our company?”

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate work-life balance?”

It’s okay. These aren’t necessarily dangerous questions to ask. But you’ll notice when you ask them, usually, one of two things happen: You get the responses back with a sense of disappointment — only a handful of folks answered the question you really wanted people to answer. Or, you read through the answers and, while almost everyone responded, the answers themselves aren’t very revealing. You already knew or could’ve surmised what everyone ended up sharing.

You reflect on the employee engagement survey and think, “Well, we likely didn’t ask the right questions.”

You’re probably right.

After more than five years of research across 15,000+ people using Know Your Team, we’ve noticed how much the quality of the questions you ask as a leader determines the quality of the answers you receive. If the question is vague and general (“How’s it going?”), the response is vague and general (“Fine.”) If the question is half-hearted and boiler-plate (“What could be better?”), the response is half-hearted and boiler-plate (“Nothing I can think of at the moment”).

What makes for the best employee engagement survey questions to ask?

We took a look at the questions asked through Know Your Team — our hundreds of questions we’ve researched and written, and the hundreds of questions our customers have written — and pulled the questions with the highest response rates.

Interestingly enough, these questions tended to share one of more the following characteristics:

  • Specific. While seemingly obvious, it’s incredible what a difference in the degree of specificity of a question can make. For example, instead of asking “How can we improve?”, give this question a shot: “What’s one thing we could have improved about last month went?” The latter, more specific questions almost always results in a more specific response. Here are some tips I have for asking more specific questions as a leader.
  • Timely. Ask a question relevant to what’s currently happening in the team, and you’re far more likely to get an interesting or surprising answer. For example, if you have an all-team meeting coming up, ask, “What’s the most memorable all-team meeting (if any) you’ve had, and why?” A question that’s germane to the moment feels less arbitrary, and, accordingly, will help encourage more actionable responses.
  • Provocative. Questions that are trite and unassuming are naturally not going to prompt folks to deeply reflect and share a meaningful insight. Consider how provocative your questions are. Do they tap at something that’s typically considered taboo within your team? To they touch on an area your team often forgets to consider?
  • Vulnerable. This is key. Folks will be more likely to share a candid response if the question admits a bit of vulnerability in some way. For instance, instead of asking, “Do you feel micromanaged?”, try asking, “When was a time recently when you felt micromanaged?” The second question is more vulnerable: It assumes you’re already micromanaging in some way.

Now, of course, a question having one of these characteristics or more doesn’t guarantee you’ll learn something unexpected or particularly incisive. But at the very least, these questions are likely to encourage more people to respond — and more interesting responses.

Looking for more detailed guidance on this topic? Make sure to check out our Training Program.
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  • Have you met the last person we hired?
  • How many miles do you travel to/from work each day, and how long does it take?
  • Is risk-taking in the team encouraged, and what happens when people fail?
  • Do you want more feedback about your performance?
  • Do we get together as a whole company often enough?
  • What would you want our team to be known for 20 years from now?
  • Have you ever been afraid to suggest an idea at work because you thought someone might shoot it down?
  • Do you feel like you know what is expected of you in each of the areas you are responsible for?
  • If someone asked you to describe the vision of the company, would a clear answer immediately come to mind?
  • How is our team doing with gender equality? (You can keep your response private, it won’t be shared.)
  • Do you have time in your day to learn?
  • Do you feel like we have too many meetings?
  • What is the most repetitive part of your job, and do you have any suggestions for streamlining it?
  • What changes would you suggest making to our monthly team meeting structure?
  • Do we provide enough context about how we’re doing as a company?
  • Are there things you don’t know about the company that you feel you should know?
  • Is there one specific part of your job that you find the most difficult? What is it and why?
  • Which core value of the team speaks to you most, and why?
  • Do you crave more depth in any area of the work you do?
  • What are your top 2 wishlist items for your desk/work station?
  • Do you feel like your ideas are being considered?
  • Do you feel comfortable speaking up if you see something at work that doesn’t feel right?
  • Are you afraid of anything at work?
  • Do we take the time to recognize each other for a job well done?
  • Are you proud of how we treat our customers?
  • Is there anyone at the company you wish you could apprentice under or shadow for a day?
  • Are there any small things we could do to show our appreciation for each other’s work?
  • Did you have at least one 4-hour block of uninterrupted time to work last week?
  • Have you been confused by any recent decisions at the company?
  • What is your most productive time of day and environment?
  • Are there any benefits we don’t offer that you’d like to see us offer?
  • Did you take a vacation last year?

If any of these questions made you a little uneasy at the thought of asking them to your team — that’s a good thing. It means you might hear something you don’t want to hear, or something completely unexpected.

That’s the point of a good employee engagement survey, after all. You’re shining light in dark corners, and taking a magnifying glass to the cracks in the patina.

Look forward to seeing what your team thinks.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.