So, you’ve been tasked with designing an employee survey. Or, maybe you need a full HR strategy, and asking people what’s going well (and not so well) seems like a good place to start.

Similar to how customer feedback informs a product’s roadmap and vision, your employees are also a kind of (internal) customer, and their feedback can help people feel heard, inform you of any areas that need fixing, and overall help you craft a prioritized roadmap of “people” projects. At Bright + Early, our own Half-Time Head of HR program always starts with an in-depth employee survey. This, amongst other tools, helps us decide what new policies, processes and quick wins are going to make the biggest impact in creating an amazing work culture.

Beyond informing your HR roadmap, a good survey will help you track improvements over time, find out which teams are more or less engaged, and even build trust as employees see meaningful change happen based on the feedback they give. 

On the flipside, a poorly designed survey can cause damage. Things like not respecting anonymity (especially when privacy was promised), or repeatedly asking for input that results in no change will quickly lower trust. 

Ready to dive in and do it right? Here are our top do’s and don’ts for building team engagement surveys. For good measure, we asked our expert network* to weigh in too. 

DO: Keep it anonymous

We know, it’s tempting. You want to know who said what. Not because you’re some kind of tyrant, but so you can have open, transparent conversations and address feedback. Isn’t transparency what modern HR is all about? Sure, but the reality is that power structures exist in just about every workplace, and ensuring anonymity is going to guarantee higher quality, real-talk feedback. Whatever tool you use, ensure access is on a need-to-know basis (really, only the core administrator should be in there) and keep the CEO out. If you’re a CEO without an administrator to run the survey, consider working with a third-party (👋) or software that has built-in anonymity tools. When launching the survey, share transparently with your team who has access to what.

DON’T: Be afraid of feedback

Humans tend to avoid seeking feedback. We stick our heads in the sand, hoping that if we can’t hear it, a problem doesn’t exist. While it’s true that you may not get a “perfect” score, and that you won’t be able to fix every issue an employee survey raises, it’s better to know how people feel. Some executives fear that asking about aspects of the employee experience (like compensation) will stir up discontent, imagining that their team has never considered the subjects until the survey was presented. Chances are, you’ve hired smart people who think proactively about their career whether prompted or not, and chances are they will appreciate being asked for their thoughts. You might even uncover some positive surprises!

“Staff thought we provided too much vacation time! Turns out they wanted wellness days instead.” - Anonymous

“ The team (gave us feedback) to stop giving them gifts as recognition/rewards. It felt so strange but digging into it further, it turns out it’s because they felt the taxes (given all gifts have to be declared), weren’t worth the reward. Sometimes, these gifts would even send them into a higher pay bracket, so something meant to recognize great work was actually penalizing them. It was a really impactful result of the survey and has always stuck with me.” - Anonymous

That said, don’t expect bombshell after bombshell. In most surveys we run, about 80% of constructive feedback is about known issues, or even things that HR or management is already in the process of building or improving. If not, the data can give you the push you need to convince decision makers that a program or policy is necessary.

DO: Pick your tools wisely

First, see what you already have available. Your general HR software might already have surveying tech built in. At Bright + Early, we use HiBob, which has a perfectly usable survey function with built-in anonymity and segmentation (more on that later). 

If you’re growing and looking for something more heavily focused on survey analytics, platforms like LatticeChartHop and CultureAmp are options to look into.

If you’re working on a budget, you can use your existing tech stack. Products like Typeform, Google Forms, Sheets and Excel can be used to survey and crunch the data. Just be aware of access and anonymity, and plan out a bit more time for the manual work.

DO: Segment (but not too early)

Keeping things anonymous also means limiting the amount of identifiers in your survey, especially if you’re a small team. As a general rule, companies under 25 should avoid asking employees to sort themselves into certain buckets (like which team they’re on or who they report to) for data’s sake. 

As you grow, however, segment away! Segmentation is a fantastic way for larger organizations to get more granular, so once you reach a team size of 50+, consider analyzing results by team, by manager, by location, tenure, department, or membership in equity-deserving groups. A good rule of thumb is ensuring each category listed contains at least 5-10 members. Most quality surveying software will allow you to incorporate and analyze different built-in or custom segments based on your needs. 

DO: Think about benchmarking

As the designated survey runner, we can all but guarantee you’ll be asked two questions: “How do our results compare to the last survey?” and “How do we compare to our competitors?”

 While every organization is unique, we recommend choosing a couple commonly used benchmarks to check in with how you compare externally. Many measure eNPS or Employee Net Promoter Score, whose core question is “How likely would you be to recommend our organization as a place to work?” The benefit of using the oft-tread eNPS question is that there’s plenty of research on what a “good” score looks like, and where the average employer lands. If comparing yourself to other organizations is really important, you can also use a surveying product with built-in questions that provides benchmarking against its other clients or industry data. A good consultant can also help you interpret your scores.

In the end, you’ll want to focus on the areas that are most important to your organizational strategy and culture. Some organizations are interested in benchmarking happiness at work, or comparing the happiness of remote workers to those in person after a return to office shift. Others might want to gauge their turnover risk after an acquisition. Once you know the big things you want to measure, you can design survey questions to evaluate them. 

DO: Ask for feedback on employee experience

In addition to telling you how people are feeling, surveys are a great place to gather feedback on how the entire employee experience is landing. Not sure how your new onboarding program is landing? Have a hunch that compensation is becoming an issue? Surveying your team here will enable you to a) See how the people systems you’ve already built are working and b) make and prioritize your HR roadmap going forward. We recommend asking staff about:

  • Their recruiting experience 
  • Their onboarding experience 
  • The support they receive from their manager
  • Their total compensation. Do they feel their base salary (and any bonuses) are comparably fair? Do your benefits (and other perks) cover their needs?
  • Their career growth, development and feedback. Do they feel like they have a clear path and plan ahead of them?
  • Whether they understand the company’s HR policies, where to access them, and feel sufficiently covered by them

These scores should help you prioritize where to invest your time and budget, and give you valuable data to back it up. 

DON’T: Avoid tough questions 

It’s tempting to skip questions you know you won’t ace. Asking about compensation (when you know you have zero budget for increases) or workload (when you know you’re in the middle of a rare crunch time) might feel pointless, but it will help you understand just how much of an impact it’s having. Plus, think of how great it will feel to see those scores climb when you are able to meaningfully address them later on. 

“My organization asked about employee benefits when we didn't have any. The feedback we received helped us identify the right benefits package, costs etc. and keep employees informed and engaged along the way. We co-designed the benefits plan and allowed employees to be part of difficult discussions about what we could and couldn't do within our means.” - Amanda DiFalco, Senior Director Strategy and People, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness

DON’T: Forget to leave open space

We recommend having a few open-ended questions to capture things in the employee’s own words and cover things you may have missed. Some of our favourites include:

“What are 5 words you would use to describe our culture?” (We love organizing these words into a visual “word map” so teams can see the overall pulse).

“What would make you want to build a career here long-term?” (This helps us understand top drivers for retention)

What does our company do well in terms of the employee experience?

“What are the things we could most improve on?”

While these are more challenging to analyze than rating questions, they can be grouped into themes. Be careful about presenting open-ended answers without summarizing or otherwise anonymizing them.

 “I often find comment sections in surveys are the most articulate forms of feedback but I have learned that they can’t be overly free-form. In small companies, leadership knows the writing style or voice of some employees.” - Erin Ashton, Director People and Culture, Resolver

DO: Stick to a cadence

Don’t make it a one time thing! We find that running surveys twice a year gives teams enough time to act on the feedback and measure if any resulting changes impacted the scores. 

If you run surveys less than twice a year, you may want to think about what other avenues you are using to gather and implement continuous feedback from the team. On the flipside, if you choose to do them quarterly or even more frequently, you may want to ensure you have enough time to take action on the feedback. 

Whatever you decide, we recommend picking a cadence that is feasible for your organization. Not sending surveys out when you said you would, or sending frequent surveys without reporting back can both decrease team trust in the process. 

DO: Roll out your survey thoughtfully

Launching your survey process takes more than dropping a link in #general on Slack. If this is your first survey, we recommend sharing why you’re collecting the data, what you’re doing with it, when team members can expect to hear about the results, and how anonymity will be handled.

If you’ve run a similar survey before, talk about the results and impact openly. When launching repeat surveys with Bright + Early clients, sharing with staff that previous results led to the roll out of new career programs, compensation frameworks, performance development programs, and other positive changes has increased both the participation rates and the quality of the feedback we get.

Make sure you also set expectations about how long the survey will take, and if possible, allow working time to complete it. If you have employees who work on hourly schedules, they should be allowed to track (and be paid for) the time they take to complete it. 

“I’d prepare survey takers if the survey is going to be a bit more in-depth/longer form than they may be used to. I used to just send surveys out without this information and the survey would either be abandoned after it was started or folks would be not too pleased that something they thought would take a certain amount of time, was taking longer than they could commit to.” - Anonymous

DO: Have a full download and strategy session with leadership

Once you have your high level results, meet with your senior team. You’ll want to bring:

  • High level data from any ranked questions 
  • High level themes from open questions and comments. Avoid bringing direct quotes; again, these are often easy to decipher and/or get stuck on. 

In this meeting, you’ll discuss the results of the survey and together, come up with a list of feasible commitments. This may have to be broken down into both short and long term goals; for example, maybe we can design a new onboarding program this quarter, but another, larger initiative will have to wait. 

Don’t forget to have a few opinions and recommendations of your own at the ready:

“My biggest learning was how I present data and being able to answer the “so what?” question. I used to present big beautiful reports with the data nicely laid out and struggled with buy-in. (When) I started presenting data to teams using problem statements that were concise, and 2 initiatives that could improve the problem statement, the responses from leadership instantly shifted.“ - Samantha Stilwell, Founder, CultureDynamiq

Sometimes, a big change isn’t even necessary:

“Our surveys would sometimes highlight that the team didn’t know what was available to them. We’d get feedback on wanting certain benefits and programs that we already offered. This let us know that we needed to improve communication or host a refresher session” - Anonymous

One more tip? If you’ve got survey data that is particularly tough on one department or leader, consider giving them a heads-up before presenting the full form data to their peers (and boss), and helping them come up with some solutions to include. 

DO: Take the quick wins

Beyond adding or refining bigger programs, we recommend looking for quick wins that can be implemented quickly. This helps build momentum and shows the team that you’re listening to their feedback. Some quick wins that we’ve seen teams rave about after an engagement survey: 

  • Adding recognition rituals such as shout-outs in monthly town hall meetings, “kudos” channels in Slack, and celebration of employees’ work anniversaries to address a team’s feedback about recognition
  • Adding new rituals to recurring team meetings to promote psychological safety, such as this “Out of 10’s” exercise 
  • Implementing a core hours policy to align a team on different work schedules and reduce communication gaps
  • Updating vacation and sick day policies to add more time and flexibility to address concerns around work life balance

DO: Share high level results (and commitments) with your team

Time to call an all-hands meeting and share your results! We recommend putting together a deck or short summary of the average scores for your top metrics, like the overall satisfaction score and the scores for each section of your survey. You can also share high level themes from the open answer sections.

There’s no need to share every granular detail (this should be a much shorter information download than the leadership meeting), but don’t sugar coat or hide any low scores, either. This is a perfect opportunity to have an open conversation and address any concerns out loud. 

“We knew we’d score lower on satisfaction with compensation, since we didn’t have any budgets for increases last year. However, presenting that result transparently gave us the opportunity to discuss and explain what goals we are collectively aiming for that would allow us to make those increases soon. That way, people better understood the business constraints and what we needed to do to grow together.” - Anonymous

“A mistake I once made was presenting all the raw data (anonymized). People got bored and stopped listening.” - Yolanda Ho, Director People Ops, SeamlessMD

This is where you’ll also share the commitments you’ve aligned on with the team. If you’re ready, this is a good time to launch your overall HR roadmap and share how the survey (and their feedback!) informed that roadmap. 

DO: Report back

Just as you would with any company goals, we recommend providing regular updates to the team on your progress against those commitments. When those changes launch, be sure to celebrate them and tie them back to the team’s valuable feedback. When they see the impact it has, they’re even more likely to give you more of it. 

Need help with your survey (or, like, this whole HR thing)? Get team Bright + Early on your side! We offer full fractional support, where we kick off with a full survey, 1:1 staff interviews, and a good look under the proverbial HR hood before diving into action. Just looking for some help designing an amazing survey? We can do that too! Give us a shout at to get started.

*Do you want to be a part of our expert network? If you’re a founder, ops person or HR pro, we’d love to know how you’re doing all things HR at your own organization. We’ll send you creative questions every few weeks and link you if we end up using your quote. Sign up here