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The Science Behind Employee Engagement Surveys

Published by MyAnova

12 April 2024

Picture this: your workplace humming with productivity, your team members brimming with enthusiasm, and your company thriving amidst the competitive landscape. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, administering a well-designed employee engagement survey and taking action might just be the secret sauce to turn this dream into reality.

Why Do Employee Engagement Surveys Matter Anyway?

Before we go into the science, let’s pause for a moment to ponder over the significance of these surveys. They’re not just your run-of-the-mill questionnaires; employee engagement surveys offer a peek behind the scenes, revealing the heartbeat of your organisation. These surveys are not just checkboxes on an HR to-do list; they are the compass guiding you through the intricate understanding of your organisations’ employee sentiment, satisfaction, and alignment with objectives. By administering these surveys, you start a journey towards data-driven decision-making, promoting a culture of continuous improvement and innovation, and, most importantly for some, business success.


Think about it: engaged employees are the heart of the business. They're not just showing up for a paycheck; they're emotionally invested, committed, and driven to excel. And guess what? Effective surveys are the catalysts that ignite this fire.

The Science Behind the Surveys

Employee engagement surveys are like the pulse checks for companies - they're essential for figuring out how happy, committed, and productive their workforce is feeling. But at the core of these surveys lies a clever mix of psychological principles and statistical methodologies (we go through these in the next section of this blog!) Plus, with the advanced power of data analytics, companies can uncover all sorts of hidden gems in the survey results, spotting trends and patterns that they might have missed otherwise. It's like peeling back layers to reveal what really makes the workforce thrive.

Best Practice Methods:

Crafting survey questions backed by science and evidence is crucial for ensuring the validity and reliability of the data collected. Here are some strategies to align survey questions with scientific principles:


  • Utilise established measurement scales: Leverage existing, validated measurement scales whenever possible. These scales have undergone rigorous testing to ensure their reliability and validity. For example, the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) is a widely recognised tool in the field of organisational psychology.

  • Ensure clarity and specificity: Each question should be clear, concise, and unambiguous. Avoid vague or leading language that could cause bias in responses. Scientifically sound questions are formulated to measure specific constructs or variables of interest, leaving no room for misinterpretation.


  • Draw from Psychological Constructs: Base survey questions on psychological constructs relevant topics such as resilience, retention, and productivity. For example, for resilience, consider questions related to coping strategies e.g. "When faced with challenges at work, how quickly do you overcome them?". There are also helpful frameworks to help you understand what needs to be measures, such as the JD-R model which considers employees' perceptions of the availability of resources and support in their work environment, influencing their ability to cope with job demands and maintain wellbeing. An example question might be a statement agreement to “'I have access to the necessary resources to effectively manage my workload.”


  • Consider response scales: Choose response scales that align with the construct being measured and adhere to best practices in survey design. Likert scales, for example, offer a range of response options from which participants can express their agreement or disagreement with a statement. Additionally, ensure the scale is balanced and includes a neutral midpoint to capture nuanced responses.


  • Pilot Testing: Before administering the survey to the target audience, conduct pilot testing with a small sample to assess the clarity, relevance, and comprehensiveness of the questions. Pilot testing helps identify any potential issues or ambiguities in the survey instrument and allows for refinement before wider distribution.


  • Include reverse-coded items: To mitigate response biases such as acquiescence or social desirability, incorporate reverse-coded items within the survey. These items present statements framed in the opposite direction to assess whether respondents are providing thoughtful and consistent answers. For example:

    • “In the last month, how often have you felt that things were not going your way?”

  • Timing is everything: Imagine receiving a survey right after a turbulent merger. Not the best timing, right? Employees may be experiencing heightened stress and uncertainty, making it difficult to provide accurate feedback. Survey frequency and timing play crucial roles in capturing the true essence of employee sentiment. Too often, and you risk survey fatigue; too rare, and you miss out on valuable insights. It's all about finding that sweet spot.


  • Anonymity is key: Want the real tea? Ensure anonymity. Employees need to know that their feedback won't come back to bite them. It's the golden rule of effective surveys: what happens in the survey stays in the survey. Trust us; it's a game-changer. When employees feel confident that their responses are anonymous, they're more likely to provide honest feedback, leading to more accurate insights and actionable improvements.


  • Action, Action, Action!: What’s the point in having all this data and no direction? Simply, it’s a waste of time, and it leaves employees feel unmotivated to give feedback again, because what’s the point? Once you've gathered insights, it's time to roll up your sleeves and get down to business. Analyse, strategise, and take decisive action.


  • Embrace continuous improvement: Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is employee engagement. Treat surveys as a journey, not a destination. Learn, adapt, and evolve. Rinse and repeat.


The Neuroscience Connection

Now, let's geek out for a moment and talk about the brain. Yep, you read right – the brain. Turns out, employee engagement isn't just a fuzzy concept; it's deeply rooted in neuroscience. Engaged employees aren't just happier; their brains are better wired for success and experience positive affect because of it.


Dopamine, often dubbed the "reward molecule," surges when employees experience feelings of accomplishment or recognition, driving them to seek out similar experiences. Employee engagement surveys can tap into this aspect by assessing how recognised and appreciated employees feel within their roles.

Serotonin, the "feel-good neurotransmitter," promotes feelings of wellbeing and contentment, creating a positive outlook on work and life. Employees who experience high levels of serotonin are more likely to feel fulfilled in their roles, leading to increased engagement and productivity, which can be measured using employee engagement surveys.


Oxytocin, known as the "love hormone," enhances social connections and trust within the workplace, creating a supportive and cohesive team environment. Employee engagement thrives in environments where trust and social connections are strong, Oxytocin can play a crucial role in promoting these connections. Employee engagement surveys can assess the presence of oxytocin-related factors such as trust and camaraderie within the workplace, offering organisations insights into the strength of their team dynamics and employee engagement levels.


It's in the science – engagement is hardwired into our very DNA. Understanding the intricate workings of the brain sheds light on why promoting employee engagement isn't just beneficial; it's essential for unlocking the full potential of individuals and organisations alike.


In Closing


So, there you have it – the science behind effective employee engagement surveys laid bare. It's not just about ticking boxes or crunching numbers; it's about understanding the heartbeat of your organisation, aka the people, and to nurture them to greatness. So, it’s clear, it’s time to use science-backed employee engagement surveys to transform your workplace into a hub of engagement and productivity.


At Anova, we're committed to providing a science-backed employee engagement and wellbeing survey platform that empowers organisations to thrive through methods in this article.


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