Making the Most of Your Employee Engagement Survey: Navigating Employee Survey Results

April 12, 2018 in
By Jessica Dzieweczynski, Will Haller

This month we’re focusing on resiliency and engagement, two characteristics that are critical to organizational and individual well-being and performance and which share interesting connections. Over the last two posts we explored the concept of resiliency and provided tips for kicking off an engagement survey in your organization. Our next three posts will focus on the subsequent steps in the engagement survey process: 1) identifying key themes in your survey data, 2) working with employees to define meaningful solutions to challenges, and 3) developing and implementing an action plan to enhance engagement. Finally, we’ll come back to resiliency, and how growing a more resilient workforce can impact your organization’s engagement.

Employee engagement is the level of vigor, dedication, and absorption employees feel on the job (Schaufeli et al., 2002)[1]. Similar to the concept of resiliency, numerous studies have found that employee engagement is linked with positive outcomes for both employees and their employers. Engaged employees are more committed, put in more discretionary effort, and are more satisfied at work. That in turn transfers to increased productivity and improved organizational performance.

So, we know that employee engagement is important, but what can you do to increase it at your organization? The first step is to understand what your organization’s strengths and challenges are. Below are a few tips for extracting key findings from your survey data.

Reviewing Results to Extract Key Findings

Identify your Organization’s Strengths and Challenges. There are two primary methods for identifying potential strengths and challenges in your survey data. The first is to use a pre-determined threshold or other external criteria to determine strengths and challenges. A second method is to use internal comparisons to identify areas that are relatively strong or weak within your own organization.

In terms of external criteria, the Office of Personnel Management provides the following rules of thumb for identifying strengths and challenges in survey data:

  • Strength: an item with a score of 65 percent positive or higher.
  • Challenge: an item with a score of 35 percent negative or higher.
  • Opportunity for communication: item with a score of 30 percent neutral or higher, as this indicates uncertainty among employees.

If your organization is well above these external thresholds or your organization uses a customized survey, it is good practice to identify areas that are relatively strong or weak within your organization. To do so, identify the ten items that scored the highest percent positive (“Top 10”), and the ten items that scored the highest percent negative (“Bottom 10”). As you review, look for emerging themes across items. For example, perhaps you will notice that several items in your “Top 10” and/or >65% positive categories all relate to supervision, indicating that supervisory relationships are a strength that can be leveraged for your organization. Or, maybe you will see that several items in the Bottom 10 and/or <35% negative categories relate to developmental opportunities and having necessary skills, which could indicate that training and development is a gap for your organization. Note potential themes that can inform the action planning phase.

Examine Trends over Time. If you have access to previous year’s data, look for increases and decreases in scores over time. As a rough guide, decreases of five or more points are particularly notable, but you can also analyze the results based on the largest increases and decreases. As you review, keep in mind external factors that could have impacted these items, and that most organizational changes are incremental and take time to impact the workforce and associated survey results. Are any of the identified trends surprising? Are these trends in areas previously targeted by action plans?

Explore Differences across Business Units/Groups.If you have access to data for different organizational groups (e.g., office/business units, tenure groups, supervisory status), it can be useful to explore differences across these groups. Identify offices/groups that have consistently higher scores; these groups can be followed-up with to pinpoint promising practices that may be able to be applied more broadly across your organization. On the flip side, offices or groups that have consistently lower scores may require more focused attention and resources as you move into the action planning phase.

Communicating Results and Next Steps

The importance of communicating the results back to your workforce is undoubtedly the most essential step. In fact, the simple act of communicating the survey results can have a positive influence on employee engagement! Sharing the strengths and acknowledging challenges signals to your employees that management is listening and takes employees’ feedback seriously. Communicating results is also the key to building credibility and securing buy-in for future employee engagement initiatives.

Once you have finished analyzing the results, remember to thank employees for taking the time to share their perspective, and relay the timeline for reporting the results. Then, leverage a range of communication methods – such as newsletter or email summaries, interactive town hall meetings, and team-specific meetings – to inform employees of what their collective input says and share your plan for acting on the results. Be sure to take employee confidentiality into account as you communicate your survey results to the workforce. You can do this by setting a threshold below which you will not share group results – for example, no group with fewer than five respondents will be reported on separately.

Remember, understanding your survey results is just the beginning of the process! Now that you are equipped with some ideas for reviewing and communicating your employee engagement survey results, we invite you to follow us throughout the next steps of the employee engagement lifecycle where we will discuss methods for translating the data into actionable solutions to enhance employee engagement and improve your organization.

Want to learn more about FMP’s employee engagement capabilities? Find our IO psychologists next week at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) Conference in Chicago, Illinois. Blog author, Jessica Dzieweczynski, and many other FMPers will be there! In the meantime, visit our website or email 

About the Author: At work, Jess enjoys geeking out over topics like survey design and analysis, employee engagement, and program evaluation. Outside of work she loves traveling, trying new food and restaurants, hiking, biking, and going on road trips with her husband and three pups – especially to the beach!

Photo of author and FMP employee Jess Dzieweczynski


[1]  Schaufeli, W.B., Salanova, M., Gonzalez-Roma, V. and Bakker, A.B. (2002), “The measurement of engagement and burnout: a two sample confirmatory factor analytic approach,” Journal of Happiness Studies, Vol. 3, pp. 71-92.