The start of the year usually heralds the annual employee engagement survey. But, it goes without saying, this year looks very different. With employees working remotely, under a patchwork of lockdowns and restrictions, and with an uncertain outlook, we look at how you structure your survey to serve your teams and build a better picture of your workforce going forwards.

At no other time in recent history has employee engagement been more critical. With employees away from the workplace since March 2020, teams are struggling to collaborate, communicate and connect effectively. With so much change, we’re looking at radically different organizations to the ones we surveyed in January 2020.

Employee engagement is an even stronger predictor of performance during tough economic times.


Keeping communication and connection with your workers is absolutely critical right now. An employee engagement survey not only helps with this but also digs up information that might otherwise be held back: the aggravations, annoyances, and deep-seated problems that might not yet have risen to the surface. These surveys tap into these thoughts and feelings of your people and help to unearth problems before they become too unwieldy.


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But how do you approach your employee engagement survey in 2021? What questions do you ask that will encourage your audience to open up and provide valuable feedback to your organizational strategy going forward? We look at those employee engagement questions you need to ask your organization right now.

Why are employee engagement surveys so important?

The ‘listening’ culture: now, more than ever, employees want to feel that their thoughts, feelings and opinions about the workplace are valued.

As a major component of a more comprehensive engagement initiative, an employee engagement survey offers many benefits:

Provides a ‘listening culture’: these types of surveys can measure the mood of the workforce but also allow employees to feel their feedback is valued. This is incredibly important to a sense of belonging in the workplace.

Provides a better understanding of leadership: If part of the survey focuses on managers and senior leaders, it can provide some valuable insights into the failings and successes of those people in charge. This critique can shape ongoing manager development programs.

Offers a place for frank opinion sharing: Not many employees feel comfortable speaking directly to their manager with a list of complaints. Surveys provide a platform for honest and anonymous feedback.

Employee engagement is more than a buzzword. The results from a Gallup poll show that it is business critical: Disengaged employees have 37 percent higher absenteeism, 18 percent lower productivity, and 15 percent lower profitability.

Highlights areas for improvement: Most business leaders would be happily unaware of the various issues within the workplace without the people on the floor highlighting them. This is valuable to the health of the business and the happiness of employees.

Helps develop foresight: Careful analysis of the survey will help you recognize trends, gaps, and disparities. This, in turn, enables you to spot issues before they turn into bigger problems.   

Promotes trust and engagement: When employees can share their thoughts and feelings, even anonymously, they feel listened to. But when their feedback is acted on, they know that their opinion counts and can positively shape the business’s direction.

The role of the engagement survey in 2021

Surveying your employees in the time of COVID: it’s essential that your survey focuses on the current situation and its ongoing impact

With the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and fears of a double-dip recession, businesses are at a critical juncture right now. Employees are feeling exhausted from twelve months of restrictions and fears of an uncertain future. This period will have put their position with your organization under a lens, raising questions about their aims and ambitions. Are they happy in their work? Are they fulfilled? Are they satisfied with how the business has handled the ongoing crisis? The relationship between employee and employer is very vulnerable.

89% of HR Leaders surveyed agree that ongoing peer feedback and check-ins positively impact their organizations.

SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Report

Therefore, your employee engagement survey is critical to picking up on the current mood and building an optimistic but pragmatic framework for the future. The raw but necessary feedback should be used to draw up plans, reassess the status quo and reimagine the workplace. Using software that ensures anonymity, employees should be invited to share their thoughts and feelings about all aspects of the business – from their views on senior management to whether they support the organization’s core values. A large number of your workforce will already have these opinions fully formed – now is your opportunity to let them share them.


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Now, more than ever, we need to be listening to our staff and understand:

How our employees are feeling and coping: the collective mental health has suffered during the pandemic. As employers, we have a responsibility to safeguard our employees and keep channels of communication open to encourage frank conversations regarding mental and emotional wellbeing.

If they’re still aligned to the business and their immediate teams: the decision to move work remotely was made quickly and under duress. There was little preparation for it. As a result, there are still areas of the relationship between the employee and the workplace that require close attention.

How to support them appropriately: Business leaders are still working out what the future of the workplace looks like. As a result, employees’ requirements are still evolving – and organizations need to understand what is needed, directly from the workers themselves.

Setting up this feedback loop will support our staff in the current circumstances and ensure we have solid foundations for the long-term.

Employment engagement survey vs. pulse surveys

Asking the right questions: When should pulse surveys be used, and when is it the right time for an employee engagement survey?

There are a number of ways to gather all-important feedback from employees, and it’s important to remember that employee engagement surveys are just one of many. Amid the questionnaires, in-depth surveys, one-to-ones, and other engagement practices that you employ, pulse surveys are also a recommended method. But what’s the difference, and when should you deploy each one?

Put simply; pulse surveys are light-touch, time-friendly questionnaires that get sent intermittently across businesses. They can come in the form of a poll, a YES/NO question, or eNPS score. These are sent unannounced, usually as a pop-up on the intranet homepage or through email. The ease of a pulse survey offers many benefits, but they should be used as part of a broader engagement initiative.

Combining pulse surveys throughout the year with a deeper, more probing annual employee engagement survey will ensure a more well-rounded insight into the thoughts and feelings of your workforce.

The changing face of employee engagement surveys

The workplace revolution: the feedback from your engagement survey gives a valuable insight into how the workplace of the future will look

For the majority of organizations, the questions in an annual employee survey are fairly broad. They focus on aspects of working relations between co-workers and managers and whether there’s any room for improvement in office-based comms. They are based on an average employee working in an average office, for example:

  • “How happy are you at work?”
  • “Are you aware of what constitutes good performance in your role?”
  • “Do you receive meaningful recognition for doing good work?”
  • “Do you feel comfortable giving opinions and feedback to managers?”

These are just examples lifted from a standard employee engagement survey. Sample questions designed to tap into the workforce’s engagement levels and aimed at gauging the happiness and job satisfaction levels, in ‘normal times.’ However, we are not living in normal times. The landscape of work has altered dramatically, and so, in order to be effective, your engagement survey questions need to reflect the current status quo.

This may well result in the tearing up of the traditional employee engagement survey blueprint and starting afresh, to address the needs and concerns of a COVID-19 workplace, covering areas such as:

  • Mental health
  • Leadership and communication
  • Remote working
  • Relationship with managers

The outcome of your survey will only be beneficial when you readjust the lens of your survey and zone in on the areas that are impacting working life.

The employee engagement questions to ask in 2021

Honest, frank and open: Surveys should encourage your employees to feedback their true opinions.

Working on these areas allows us to form an employee engagement survey relevant to the workforce of 2021. With questions that focus on these areas, it highlights to the audience that the organization is conscious of the present issues and is working to overcome them.

Mental and emotional wellbeing

Mental health should be a major focus in this year’s employee engagement survey

Mental health is a big, complicated area. The survey isn’t meant to fix anything right now, but to work out what condition employees are in, how your organization is currently managing this problem. Some questions you may want to ask your audience include:

  • What would you score your current mental wellbeing? (Excellent – Poor scale)
  • I feel safe at work (Strongly disagree – strongly agree scale)
  • The company enables me to enjoy a good work-life balance. (Strongly disagree – strongly agree scale)

Leadership and communication

The emphasis on communication should help provide laying the foundations for better remote connections going forward.

The past year has shone a spotlight on leadership and communication, as businesses adapt to remote working and the various complications that can develop from this situation. As a result, leaders have had to re-work their relationships with their teams, ensuring those valuable connections between them aren’t affected by home working. Questions that are relevant to this include:

  • I trust our leadership team to make decisions that protect my colleagues and me
  • Leadership visibly role model the behaviors they’ve asked of us
  • I am receiving the right amount of communication

Remote working

A year of working from home: find out as much as possible how employees are dealing with the current remote working situation.

For the majority of employees, working from home was a brand-new experience, but one that didn’t come without its fair share of problems. The scramble to get the right tech to work effectively from home, the threat of isolation and loneliness under COVID restrictions, readjusting ways of working with team members. While on the whole, it has been a success, to make it work long term, organizations need to listen to employees about their experiences of it so far. It’s recommended that text boxes are assigned to these questions to allow people to provide more of an in-depth response:

  • Has working from home affected your productivity?
  • Do you have the tools needed to work effectively from home?
  • What changes, if any, would help you to be more productive working from home?

Relationship with managers

Managers can gain valuable information in what has worked, and what hasn’t, over the past twelve months.

Arguably one of the most important relationships in a business, the connection between manager and employee needs to be open, honest, and supportive. It is the manager’s responsibility to keep the team cohesive, informed, and harmonious. This relies on open communication, and trust. It also requires the manager to take on a leadership role, leading by example, and encouraging the growth and development of each team member. The arrival of en-masse home working has put some relationships to the test, and it’s important to work out how and why. Some questions you may want to ask include:

  • Do you have enough contact with your manager?
  • Does your manager provide you with enough support?
  • Do you feel able to talk frankly about work-related issues with your manager?

The year of change

This year’s survey will probably look a lot different to previous years. It might be varying lengths, ignore a lot of the usual questions and generally focus on the events of the last twelve months. All of this is not only fine, it’s recommended.

Employees have been through a lot of turmoil – and there are main concerns are short-term: is my role safe? Can the business improve on certain areas? when can we start seeing normality? Therefore, if your survey only pays attention to aspects of the past year, then that’s fine. You can use pulse surveys and questionnaires later on in the year to address wider issues, but for now, use your employee engagement survey to address the key issues that are happening right now.

And of course, use the feedback, make an action list and create timescales for improvement. This should be fed back to your workforce, so they understand that the organization is not only listening, it’s being proactive in fixing any gaps that the survey results have highlighted.

This allows people to see the effectiveness of surveys, questionnaires, and polls and increases their level of participation in the next round of questions. The feedback you receive is incredibly valuable advice. Not only is it free, but it’s from people who know your business intimately. So while carrying out an annual survey is essential, what you do with your feedback counts, and contributes to moving your business into a period of recovery -and success.


Tasked with improving your internal comms?

Discover how your intranet can play a central role in effective internal communications; whether you’re planning a new project or need to get the most out of your existing tools.