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Why are Staff Surveys on Motivation Useful?

Staff surveys are usually very helpful in establishing whether staff in your company are motivated and therefore performing to best effect. Aside from the information that questionnaires reveal, the process of involving and consulting with staff is hugely beneficial and motivational in its own right (see the 'Hawthorne Effect'). 

Whilst your survey will be unique to your company, your staff issues, your industry and culture, some useful general guidelines apply to most situations. Although not exhaustive, the following ten points may help you cover the relevant subject areas and help towards establishing facts rather than making assumptions about motivation when designing your own questionnaires on employee motivation.

Ten Tips for Questionnaires on Employee Motivation

1. What is the 'primary aim' of your company?

Your employees may be more motivated if they understand the primary aim of your business. Ask questions to establish how clear they are about your company's principles, priorities and mission.

2. What obstacles stop employees performing to best effect?

Questionnaires on employee motivation should include questions about what employees are tolerating in their work and home lives. The company can eliminate practices that demotivate.

3. What really motivates your staff?

It is often assumed that all people are motivated by the same things. Actually, there are a whole range of factors. Include questions to elicit what really motivates employees, including learning about their values. Are they motivated by financial rewards, status, praise and acknowledgement, competition, job security, public recognition, fear, perfectionism, results, knowledge etc.?

4. Do employees feel empowered?

Do your employees feel they have job descriptions that give them some autonomy and allow them to find their own solutions or are they given a list of tasks to perform and simply told what to do?

5. Are there any recent changes in the company that might have affected motivation?

If your company has made redundancies, imposed a recruitment freeze or lost a number of key people this will have an effect on motivation. Collect information from employees about their fears, thoughts and concerns relating to these events. Even if they are unfounded, treat them with respect and honesty.

6. What are the patterns of motivation in your company?

Who is most motivated and why? What lessons can you learn from patches of high and low motivation in your company?

7. Are employee goals and company goals aligned?

First, the company needs to establish how it wants individuals to spend their time based on what is most valuable. Secondly, this needs to be compared with how individuals actually spend their time. You may find employees are highly motivated but about the "wrong" priorities.

8. How do employees feel about the company?

Do they feel safe, loyal, valued and taken care of? Or do they feel taken advantage of, dispensable and invisible? Ask them what would improve their loyalty and commitment.

9. How involved are employees in company development?

Do they feel listened to and heard? Are they consulted? And, if they are consulted, are their opinions taken seriously? Are there regular opportunities for them to give feedback?

10. Is the company's internal image consistent with its external one?

Your company may present itself to the world as the 'caring airline', 'the forward-thinking technology company' or the 'family hotel chain'. Your employees would have been influenced, and their expectations set, to this image when they joined your company. If you do not mirror this image within your company in the way you treat employees you may notice motivation problems. Find out what the disparity is between the employees' image of the company from the outside and from the inside.

© Blaire Palmer 2004-12.

Tips on Structure, Format and Style of Employee Questionnaires

Use the questionnaire guidelines above when creating content and subject matter for your employee motivation and satisfaction questionnaires and surveys. 

Here are some additional tips about questionnaires and surveys structure, format and style:

  • Create a clear, readable 'inviting' structure.

Use 'white-out' boxes for answers, scores, and for check-boxes, which clearly show the parts which need completing. Use a clear 11 or 12 point (font) typeface. 10 point is difficult to read for some people. Avoid italics and fancy graphics - they just make the document more difficult and more time-consuming to read. Look at the writing tips and techniques for other useful pointers in creating good printed communications. Apply the same principles if your survey questionnaire form is online (ie., screen-based).

  • Combine specific questions with multiple-choice answers.

Rather than general 'open-ended' questions. Specific questions improve clarity and consistency of understanding among respondents, and a multiple-choice format enables the answers to be converted into scores which can be loaded into a spreadsheet and very easily analysed. General or vague questions, on the other hand, tend to lead to varying interpretation (or confusion) among respondents; also, by inviting an open-ended answer you will generate lots of narrative-based and subjective opinions, which might be very interesting, but will be very time-consuming to read, and even more time-consuming to analyse, especially if you are surveying a large group of employees.

Examples of Question Structures

  • Open-ended question: What do you think of the Performance Appraisal System? (This will produce varied narrative responses = difficult to analyse.)
  • Multiple-choice question: Rate the effectiveness of the Performance Appraisal System in providing you with clear and agreed training and development: Good/Okay/Not Good/Poor 
    • By asking respondents to check boxes or delete as necessary the multiple-choice answers will produce extremely clear answers to a specific question that can be converted into scores and very easily analysed
  • Use four options in multiple-choice questions rather than three or five. Three and five options typically offer a middle 'don't know' or 'average' selection. Using four, with no middle cop-out will ensure that everybody decides one way or the other: satisfactory or not, which is what you need to know. Mid-way 'average' non-committal answers are not helpful, so avoid giving respondents that option. If you go to the trouble of creating, managing and analysing a huge staff survey surely it's a good idea to produce as much meaningful data as possible.
    • Certain questions are suitable for numerical or percentage scoring by respondents, in which case use such a system (again ensure you avoid offering scores which equate to 'average' or 'don't know'). For example:
  • Score-based question: Score the extent to which you enjoy your work: 1-5 = don't enjoy, 6-10 = enjoy. 
    • By providing a clear differentiation between do and don't, this 1-10 scoring system gives a wide range of choices, and at the same time a clear result.
  • Check understanding with a sample of respondents on the draft questions before you print and issue the questionnaire to all six hundred or however many staff. Designing questionnaires and communications in isolation can produce abnormal results.
    • Make sure you explain to all staff beforehand that you'll be publishing the survey findings, and then afterwards ensure you do so. And then act on the findings.
  • Allow people to complete the survey questionnaires anonymously. If helpful to you and you have a purpose for doing so, you can ask people to identify which department/region/office they belong to, assuming such information is genuinely useful to you and you can handle the analysis.