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11 Survey Questions to Improve Employee Retention

Looking to improve employee retention? Here are 11 science-backed question to improve employee retention.

Your organization is grappling with a lot of change, and retaining employees is priority number one.

You don’t want to lose key members of your workforce as you respond to changes in your industry or global events.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t know their employees are unhappy until they walk out the door.

As your organization grows, introduces new products, and expands into new markets, retaining talented people is important.

At the same time, the world of work has changed.

Employees no longer stay with companies long term. Decades of layoffs and restructurings have undermined loyalty to any one company.

Plus, switching jobs every 3 to 5 years has become a popular strategy for getting a raise or a higher title.

To address this, companies need to be proactive. They need to be curious and want to learn how their employees experience work.

But the larger your organization is, the harder it is to figure out where to start or do a deep dive.

Focus in the wrong area, and you’ll plug all your money into something that has minimal impact on your employee turnover rate.

This is a common problem in companies: embarking on initiatives without a clear understanding of what employees want or how they’re feeling.

How can you combat this?

By surveying your employees and gathering high level data that can inform your follow-up studies and future initiatives.

Here are the best employee retention survey questions to consider.

Commitment Questions

Professional Development Questions

Accomplishment Questions

Management Questions

Compensation Questions

Commitment Questions

These statements gauge your employees’ overall sense of attachment and loyalty to their company.

Don’t underestimate the power of this sentiment.

Believe it or not, some employees will hold off on looking for a job with a better salary or better title if they’re genuinely happy where they work, get along with their colleagues, and feel respected by management.

This is especially true for knowledge workers who already command a high salary and value job satisfaction and happiness more than a marginal increase in pay.

I would recommend this organization to friends or peers as a great place to work.

Negative responses to this question are a sign of potential turnover.

This also signals threats to your recruitment strategy.

Your best employees are likely connected to other great professionals. If they wouldn’t recommend your company, your employer brand is taking a hit during these offline conversations.

People turn to their friends and colleagues when making career decisions. If competitive talent pools are hearing negative things about your company, your ability to recruit great candidates will take a hit.

If I were offered the same job at another organization, I would likely stay at this company.

How happy are employees at your current company? A great way to gauge this is whether they’d leave for the exact same role and the exact same pay.

If that’s the case, there’s an issue with your overall company culture.

Culture issues are important to fix, but hard to spot.

While employees may ask for a raise or a promotion, they’re less likely to highlight their dissatisfaction with the company’s culture.

They’re more likely to accept that things won’t change and find opportunities elsewhere.

Use follow-up pulse surveys to pinpoint workplace culture issues.

Signs of a poor workplace culture include:

  • Lack of accountability
  • Lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Poor behaviour modelled by the leadership team
  • Unsustainable pressure
  • Low or unclear ethical standards

Professional Development Questions

Employees want to grow in their jobs.

With technology rapidly transforming the economy, top performers don’t want to sit in roles where their skills will stagnate.

Over a third of office workers are worried about job security, and skills stagnation makes them less competitive in the job market.

They want to work at companies where they have a chance to learn, contribute to interesting projects, and bolster their resumes.

I feel that I'm growing professionally.

Professional growth refers to several things:

  • Promotions
  • Salary increases
  • Increased responsibility
  • Learning and training opportunities

If your employees feel like they aren’t growing professionally, they will look for those opportunities elsewhere.

You want to retain employees who are interested in professional development. Rapid technological change means that companies have to be agile and adaptive in order to survive.

This means that their workforce must be willing to learn new skills and adjust their job roles accordingly.

Receiving low scores on this question impacts your organization in two ways.

In the short term, it causes disruption and additional recruitment costs.

Over the long term, your company loses its curious, adaptive employees to its competitors, impacting its ability to thrive in times of change.

I see a path for me to advance my career at this company.

If your company ranks poorly on this question, it’s time to evaluate the career progression plans within your organization.

Your best employees will also be your most ambitious employees, and they want to know that their hard work will lead to advancement.

They are not satisfied doing the bare minimum, so if they feel their high discretionary effort is going unnoticed, they’ll look for another employer that rewards it.

Employees assess a company’s advancement opportunities in a number of ways, including:

  • Goal setting and rewarding: Do your managers provide clear goals and objectives to their employees? Are there specific rewards (e.g. raises, promotions) tied to meeting these objectives?
  • Keeping promises: When employees meet specific goals and objectives, are they rewarded as promised, or are they strung along? (e.g. “Wait another 6 to 8 months…”)
  • Career progression plans: Is there a clear career progression plan within your organization? Is it clear that someone who works as a specialist for 2 to 3 years and meets specific goals and objectives is then promoted to manager and then director and then VP?
  • Results-based advancement: Are people promoted based on connections, or is it clear that the people who get promotions get them because of their performance?

Employees use their answers to these questions to evaluate whether there are viable advancement opportunities for them at your organization.

My job enables me to learn and develop new skills.

Technology’s role in the future of work will be streamlining manual tasks and using data to help people make better decisions and focus on more strategic, creative problems.

Your most ambitious employees have an eye on the future, and they are routinely assessing whether their current work sets them up for future success.

If you score poorly on this section, it’s time to start thinking about introducing learning and development opportunities.

Start by evaluating which skills will be important for your industry over the next decade. Are there specific digital skills that will be essential to compete?

Identify them and then create opportunities for your employees to develop them.

Once you’ve identified skills that are valuable for your organization, creating learning pathways for your employees. You can either do this by:

  • Developing in-house training programs: If you have a learning and development team, you can develop in-class or online training.
  • Offering a learning and development stipend: If you do not have an in-house learning and development team, you can offer a yearly stipend that employees can use to cover professional development courses or work towards a certification or designation in the field.

Accomplishment Questions

Do your employees feel a sense of accomplishment at work?

Feelings of accomplishment lead to higher employee engagement levels and higher retention since employees genuinely enjoy coming into work, collaborating with their colleagues, and working towards a shared goal.

Here are a few questions about accomplishment to include in your next employee retention survey.

The work I do is meaningful to me.

Employees who feel like their work is meaningful are more likely to deliver high discretionary effort.

They go above and beyond. Consider a doctor and their patient or a company that offers microloans to marginalized people who want to start a business. There’s a clear sense of purpose that fuels teams to work hard.

If you receive low scores on this question, it’s tempting to overlook this issue.

After all, not every job will be personally fulfilling.

But this is a limiting way to think about accomplishment.

Instead, consider how your employees’ roles, whether as a product manager or a customer success associate, makes the end user or customer’s life better.

  • Your robo advising app is making investment opportunities more accessible to people across demographics
  • Your project management tool is making it easier for teams and individual creators to complete projects while staying within deadlines and budgets
  • Your 3D visualization tool makes it easier for workers in dangerous roles to safely train

I have the opportunity to do challenging things at work.

90% of employees say that their day is taken up by manual, repetitive tasks.

This kind of work doesn’t make use of an employee’s creativity and skill set, draining them of their motivation and prompting them to look for jobs with challenging, impactful work.

You can’t get rid of every tedious task, but it is useful to find out what employees spend most of their day doing.

If they’re spending ample time going through a process that could be completed in two steps instead of six, it may be time to re-work it so they can focus on value-generating tasks.

If there are high performers who’ve been working on the same projects for a while, it’s worth asking whether they’re interested in trying something new.

Management Questions

As the old adage goes, “People leave managers, not companies”.

So don’t forget to ask your employees questions about one of their most important workplace relationships.

Do employees feel like their manager communicates with them?

Do they feel like they have a clear understanding of the team’s goals and objectives and how their individual work helps accomplish them?

Do they have opportunities for one-on-one conversations with their managers?

Answering these questions will help you identify whether you have a management problem that’s impacting your teams.

I would recommend my direct manager to others.

Employees rarely report an issue with their direct manager. They don’t want to risk their paycheck or a future reference.

Instead, they’ll put up with it while secretly interviewing elsewhere and attribute their departure to looking for new opportunities.

As a result, your company keeps losing employees and the issue is never addressed.

My direct manager provides me with the support I need to complete my work.

Vagueness leads to errors and re-work, which is frustrating for employees.

Part of being a good manager is providing clear, actionable feedback that employees can use.

Employees also need the resources to complete their work whether it’s in the form of:

  • access (e.g. timely approvals)
  • people (e.g. assigning another member of the team to help with a project)
  • introductions (e.g. connecting the team to another team and ensuring the manager of that team is aware of the need)

Compensation Questions

I can have well-informed and constructive conversations about pay.

Do your employees feel comfortable discussing their pay and the potential for raises?

When employees feel uncomfortable discussing compensation, they gather information from colleagues, through online salary benchmarking websites, and eventually, decide to find a new job.

36% of employees don’t believe their employer is paying them fairly.

Meanwhile, 58% of employees would consider switching jobs for better pay.

If employees feel comfortable discussing money and their managers are transparent with them, they are more likely to seek a higher salary by pursuing it within their company rather than going elsewhere.

If your company scores poorly on this question, there is an opportunity to give your managers more information about compensation.

Why?

When managers avoid compensation discussions, it’s usually because they don’t have access to the information they need to make promises or set expectations with direct reports.

I am fairly rewarded (e.g. pay, promotion, training) for my contributions to this company.

Have you conducted a salary benchmarking exercise?

It’s important to know whether your employees are being fairly compensated.

In the past, employees spent decades at the same company.

Nowadays, employees are advised to switch jobs every 3 to 5 years in order to secure higher salaries.

You do not want your best employees to view leaving as their best option for advancement.

You also want to ensure that employees are rewarded for doing a good job.

In some organizations, high performing employees are rewarded by being given more work.

This leads to resentment and stress, and these employees become convinced that their extra effort is not worth it – they receive extra responsibility with no extra compensation.

You also want to reward employees with opportunities to advance themselves, either by giving them access or funding for exclusive training opportunities or by giving them an opportunity to attend exclusive industry conferences.

What else should business leaders keep in mind when using surveys to improve employee retention?

Conduct surveys monthly to identify employee segments at risk of turnover

Employee retention strategy is something you should think about more than once a year.

You may have specific employee segments that are at a higher risk of turnover at different points of the year.

Consider distributing monthly pulse surveys to gauge how your employees are feeling.

These pulse surveys can identify potential issues before they turn into mass turnover events, such as a new manager not meshing well with the team or a new application rollout that’s causing excessive stress.

A departed employee’s past survey responses offer better data than exit interviews

When an employee resigns, it’s standard operating procedure to conduct an exit interview.

But exit interviews aren’t always the best way to collect reliable information about an employee’s experience or why they left.

In fact, employees often sugarcoat the truth in order to avoid burning bridges or losing a future reference. This creates a pile of useless data for HR departments.

Instead, an employee surveys offer a better hint into what factors informed their eventual departure.

Since your employee surveys are anonymous, you’ll need to conduct a team-level analysis.

Take a look at questions where the team provided a low response, and look at how their responses have changed over time.

If there’s a three-month trend of declining satisfaction with the level of managerial support available, then you’ve likely identified your source of employee turnover.

This also lets you know if your other employees are at risk of jumping ship as well.

Use an employee engagement software to keep employee engagement and retention rates high

Sparkbay’s employee engagement software makes it easy for employers to identify the top causes of turnover.

Your leadership team can easily distribute surveys to employees’ computers or mobile devices, so they can easily answer questions through a user-friendly interface.

Business leaders can redistribute these questions periodically and then compare responses over time to identify areas for improvement.

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