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

December 6, 2017 in
By Jessica Dzieweczynski, Hanna Pillion


What do the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) have in common?

Although these agencies differ in mission, budget, and size, they are consistently ranked as organizations with high levels of employee engagement as measured by an annual employee survey, the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).  Specifically, each of these agencies scores over 70% positive on the FEVS Employee Engagement Index, which assesses work conditions that facilitate engagement including leadership, supervision and intrinsic work experiences.[1] Many organizations in the private and non-profit sector are implementing engagement surveys of their own; however, the federal government is ahead of many organizations in making this standard practice.

Does your organization have a strategy to address employee engagement survey results? Over the next several months, we will provide a series of blog posts on understanding your engagement survey results, and translating insights gained from the survey into meaningful actions that will help improve employee engagement. In this first post, we will discuss the benefits of engagement surveys and the steps you should take when you initially receive your employee survey results. In our second article in this series, we will discuss approaches for diving deeper into your survey results to identify actionable solutions using methods such as focus groups and pulse surveys. Our third article will address action planning, a structured approach to using your survey results to improving employee engagement. We will end the series with preparation for your next engagement survey.

Before we begin this series, let’s start with a shared definition of what employee engagement is. Employee engagement is the level of vigor, dedication, and absorption employees feel on the job (Schaufeli et al., 2002). Countless 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

1. Identify your Organization’s Strengths and Challenges. There are two primary methods for identifying potential strengths and challenges in you survey data. The first is to use a pre-determined threshold or other external criteria to determine strengths and challenge. 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.

2. 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?

3. 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.

In the meantime, we invite you to view our video on employee engagement which provides an overview of steps for analyzing, communicating, and addressing employee engagement results.

[1] OPM Fedview 2016 FEVS Report (

To learn more about FMP’s employee engagement capabilities, visit our website or email

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