Best Practices for How Often Should You Conduct an Employee Survey

Annually Provides Better Results

Organizations that measure employee engagement annually see stronger improvements to engagement than those that survey less frequently. Among 105 organizations in a Quantum Workplace study, 64 percent that surveyed every year witnessed improvement to engagement scores, compared to 56 percent of organizations that surveyed every other year, or biennially.

The good news is that the majority of both groups saw improvement in employee engagement. However, as you can see below, the degree to which both groups’ scores improved was drastically different. Organizations that surveyed employees annually saw a five times higher increase in their overall composite score than those that didn’t.

Another research observation worth noting is the variation that existed between the two groups. Organizations that surveyed every other year had a higher standard deviation between survey results than those that surveyed annually. In other words, the survey results of every-other-year organizations were less predictable. In contrast, a 2.4 standard deviation amongst every-year organizations meant more consistency of positive results.

Employee research is different than traditional market research

Remember that the purpose of measuring employee engagement is to increase employee engagement. Therefore, gathering employee feedback on an annual basis is the first step in nurturing the overall engagement of your organization. For this reason, I recommend census sampling over random sampling. An employee survey is like an election. A representative sample can predict how the entire electorate will vote. But the more voters who participate in the process, the more invested they are in the outcome.
Too Little
If the cost or complexity of surveying every employee annually is prohibitive, consider splitting your organization into two survey administrations (by divisions or departments).

Then, alternate each group every other year. That way you’re sure to gather feedback from each employee every two years. It’s true that random sampling will allow you to calculate an engagement score with fewer surveys collected—but engagement is about more than just the score. True random sampling risks excluding employees from an entire survey cycle. Don’t take the risk.
Too Much
Several organizations will want to survey more frequently than once per year. At Quantum Workplace, we usually caution against doing so. If we’re measuring “engagement”—or employees’ discretionary effort, advocacy, and intent to stay—we aren’t likely to see the kind of volatility that makes frequent surveys valuable. Satisfaction or morale can be more sensitive to short term volatility, but engagement generally builds or deteriorates more slowly over time. Therefore, effort between annual data collection periods is best spent on the action that follows the survey.

More frequent pulse surveys can be valuable if they’re short and designed to react to findings from the annual survey. For instance, an organization that commits to improving manager-employee communication may poll for progress six months after the initial survey.
Just Right
Employee engagement represents a deep commitment held by employees—leaders and individual contributors alike. It should be measured and molded consistently. There is an optimal frequency for administering engagement surveys, and our study suggests that once per year provides the surest path to improvement in engagement scores.