How to do employee satisfaction research

How to do employee satisfaction research

Why employee satisfaction research matters

How to do employee satisfaction research

Best practices for employee satisfaction research



Why employee satisfaction research matters

A company is only as good as its people. However, for many companies, retaining top talent is harder than ever.

In 2021, the Great Resignation saw US workers quit their jobs in record numbers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly 48m left their roles – that’s close to 4m each month. The previous highest average was 3.5m a month in 2019 – compare that with the lowest on record, a decade prior in 2009, when only 1.75m quit each month.

Finding new, high-quality recruits takes a lot of time and money. It’s much more efficient to retain staff. 

One of the best ways to do this is to keep them satisfied. And arguably, that’s even more important in B2B than in B2C. Why? 

Providing account management for end clients is more common in B2B than in B2C. And therefore, success in B2B is more dependent on strong account management relationships.

Clients tend to have more interaction with providers’ staff in B2B. And satisfied staff will deliver a better service to those clients. The likely result is that they’ll earn their business more money in the process. 

Research studies show that satisfied members of staff are up to 20% more productive and a happy sales team can improve sales by up to 37%. Staff in non-client facing roles play their part too, by supporting those who are – and they’ll do that better the more satisfied they are.

The solution isn’t necessarily to increase salaries either. Psychologist Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, IES’ The Drivers of Employee Engagement, and others based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs agree on that. These portray pay as a hygiene factor – while motivators include criteria such as respect, recognition, and responsibility.

Therefore, improving staff satisfaction isn’t straightforward. That’s why employee satisfaction research matters. 

It reveals to what extent your business is succeeding or failing to keep staff engaged. Well-run, consultative research goes further by telling you how to make improvements.

The benefits of running employee satisfaction research, then taking action to address the results, can include:

  • Identifying causes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction
  • Boosting retention rates
  • Saving time and money on recruitment
  • Raising employee engagement and productivity
  • Increasing client satisfaction
  • Improving sales

How to do employee satisfaction research

Before starting any employee satisfaction research, make sure you have a plan in place for benchmarking the final results.

When the time comes to repeat your employee satisfaction research, you’ll want the results of this second wave to be comparable to the first wave’s results to measure progress. 

Keep that in mind when designing the research program – whether it will be quantitative, qualitative, or a mix. The bulk of the question wording and answer options included should be evergreen, rather than time-sensitive. 

Even if you’re researching employee satisfaction after a one-off event, there are some core questions you can include, using consistent language. 

Then, if in the future you want to get feedback on a second event, you’ll be able to reuse some of the questions from the first one and also benchmark the results.

There are several ways to approach employee satisfaction research:

  • Annual surveys
  • Shorter, more frequent surveys
  • Ad hoc surveys (after a one-off event)
  • Diversity and inclusion (D&I) survey

A D&I survey is much broader in scope than just looking at employee satisfaction, but it is linked. For example, poor results in a D&I survey could help explain low satisfaction scores.

Looking at the different methods in detail here’s how to do employee satisfaction research:

#1 Annual surveys

An annual survey should be comprehensive, giving you the insights you need for a holistic view of employee satisfaction.

Topics to cover include satisfaction with the role itself, satisfaction within a department, company culture, relationship with management, compensation, and career progression.

It’s important to seek participation company-wide in a large annual survey – so that all voices are heard, the feedback is truly representative and results can be filtered by department too.

While these surveys are the most informative, a challenge to overcome is their length. 

It’s common to ask paid research panel participants to complete a 10-15 minute survey, but busy members of staff at your company may deprioritize it if they feel it’s taking their time away from clients, or their main role and responsibilities. 

Ways to overcome this include setting aside a block of time company-wide for staff to fill in the survey, or offering employees an extension on other deadlines so they can free up time.

#2 Shorter, more frequent surveys

A lot can happen in a year – for some businesses, or at certain times, an annual survey isn’t frequent enough.

In a fast-changing business environment, a more frequent but shorter survey gives you an early warning of any developing issues, such as low morale.

This type of survey is appropriate for businesses with high turnover, or during a major change in circumstances – a change in ownership, or a restructure, for example.

Running a shorter employee satisfaction survey twice a year, or potentially quarterly if kept very short, lets you track any significant changes in results quickly so you can take action.

#3 Ad hoc surveys (after a one-off event)

This is for post-event feedback on either:

  1. Something that’s finished – e.g. training, onboarding, hosting a conference or workshop, exit interviews
  2. One-off changes with an ongoing impact – e.g. a change in policy, or a new employee initiative

The first one lets you gather feedback to see how satisfied staff were with the event. If there’s any fallout, you can then take steps to address it. If you’re thinking about repeating the project or event in the future, it will inform how it’s run next time.

The second one gives you a read on how a specific change has been received. If it has negatively impacted satisfaction, you can tackle it before it escalates any further.

#4 Diversity and inclusion (D&I) survey

According to recent research from McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for diversity outperform others on profitability. In terms of gender diversity, they are 25% more likely to have above-average profitability. For ethnic and cultural diversity, it’s 36%.

As mentioned earlier, there’s also a clear link between a company’s employee satisfaction and financial results. Understanding to what extent your employees feel included and treated fairly at work is a key part of improving employee satisfaction and engagement.

Businesses usually run a D&I survey once a year. Key topics to include are equality, representation, decision-making, hiring, promotions, and leadership.

As with all the survey types listed above, but in particular, for a D&I survey, it’s crucial to be prepared to take action based on the findings – here are our best practices:

Best practices for employee satisfaction research

#1 Guarantee anonymity

Guaranteeing anonymity means you’ll receive more honest feedback from employees.

Many employees prefer to avoid confrontation and some will keep their true thoughts about their dissatisfaction to themselves if asked face-to-face.

Others will fear that their career at the company could be negatively affected if they share criticism in a non-anonymous employee satisfaction survey.

Anonymity is particularly important when running a D&I survey. According to Glassdoor, 71% of staff are more likely to give feedback related to D&I at their business as long as they can do it anonymously.

An independent research partner can provide support, to keep feedback anonymous.

#2 Take steps to maximize the response rate

Outline upfront to staff why the survey matters. Explain the purpose, how you intend to use the feedback, what the benefits will be, and how long it will take.

Be realistic about the time needed to complete the survey, to set your employees’ expectations. Otherwise, if the survey takes longer than they’re anticipating, many will abandon it halfway through.

As mentioned earlier, other ways to improve the response rate include: 

  • Setting aside a block of time company-wide for staff to fill in the survey
  • Offering employees an extension on other deadlines so they can free up time

Another tactic to raise the survey’s profile is to seek support from senior management. For example, a note of encouragement from the CEO will go a long way to improve the response rate.

#3 Use qualitative research to learn the reasons behind satisfaction scores

Typically, employee satisfaction is measured through a quantitative online survey, to produce statistics. Statistics from employee satisfaction research will only be impactful if you know why they’re high or low. 

If using quantitative research, include a few open-end text boxes and ask employees to give reasons for their answers to key questions. Again, don’t overuse these text boxes though, or you’ll reduce the response rate.

Moreover, an additional phase of qualitative research with key employees has benefits before or after a survey:

  • Before: To identify themes that are important to explore in more detail, informing the question design stage
  • After: To understand the reasons behind the research results, discovering the reasons behind high or low satisfaction scores

There are times when qualitative research is a better option than quantitative research to explore satisfaction  – for example when seeking feedback from a senior member of staff.

#4 Consider interviewing a few B2B clients if appropriate

There’s another lens you can add to researching and understanding employee satisfaction in B2B. 

By interviewing a select few clients, you’ll better understand their perceptions of how members of staff are performing.

Essentially, this exercise doubles up as a mini B2B CSAT study. However, the aim isn’t to gather evidence to critique staff performance, it’s to support the employee satisfaction research process. 

The specific aim is to find more insights around aspects contributing to your employees’ satisfaction or dissatisfaction. For example, from client feedback, you could uncover gaps in employee training. Addressing these, in turn, could improve staff satisfaction.

#5 Use statistical techniques to understand subconscious satisfaction drivers

If the initial data analysis doesn’t produce clear drivers of staff satisfaction or dissatisfaction at your business, that may mean employees are struggling to articulate their thinking. 

They may not be certain how they feel, or they may be overstating the importance of some aspects and underplaying others. To resolve this, go a step further by running regression analysis.

Statistical techniques like this explore beyond what employees claim to be important. They can identify the factors which truly influence their satisfaction levels.

Regression should show the relationship between the dependent variable – for example, overall satisfaction – and independent ones, to work out the derived importance of certain criteria.

That will reveal the most important factors for you to focus on, in order to improve employee satisfaction.

#6 Act on the results and communicate the next steps

Nothing saps staff enthusiasm for filling in satisfaction surveys more than feeling that management is overlooking their feedback.

Employees need to see that the time taken to complete the survey has been worth it, otherwise, the response rate will drop for future waves.

Analyze the results – then make a plan to preserve the criteria causing high satisfaction and address the aspects behind low satisfaction. Use staff recommendations where possible.

Be transparent – share the results with employees, then outline your action plan. Share a timeline for the next steps and communicate with staff once each milestone is complete.


Why employee satisfaction research matters

When running – and acting on – employee satisfaction research, these are some of the benefits: identifying causes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction; boosting retention rates; saving time and money on recruitment; raising employee engagement and productivity; increasing client satisfaction; improving sales.

How to do employee satisfaction research

There are several different types of employee satisfaction research: annual surveys; shorter, more frequent surveys; ad hoc surveys (after a one-off event); diversity and inclusion (D&I) surveys.

Best practices for employee satisfaction research

When using employee satisfaction research, we recommend that you: guarantee anonymity; take steps to maximize the response rate; use qualitative research to learn the reasons behind satisfaction scores; consider interviewing a few B2B clients if appropriate; use statistical techniques to understand subconscious satisfaction drivers; act on the results and communicate the next steps.

Chris Wells

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