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Culture

What You Can't Uncover From Employee Engagement Surveys and How to Supplement Them

July 20, 2022
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11 minutes

This step-by-step breakdown shows you how to calculate your employee engagement score and understand what it means for your business.

Lawrence Barker
This step-by-step breakdown shows you how to calculate your employee engagement score and understand what it means for your business.

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Many businesses rely on employee engagement surveys far too much.

Let’s be clear: I’m in favor of employee engagement surveys. 

The leaders at these businesses know that making employees feel heard leads to higher engagement, so they run regular engagement surveys to gather feedback. Because nothing says, “I value your opinion” more than a quarterly survey, right?

But while engagement surveys can be a good tool, they are far from perfect. It’s easy to over-rely on engagement surveys. To assume they can do more than they’re capable of. To put all of your hope in them.

If you’re considering a quarterly or biannual engagement survey to be your single most valuable indicator of employee wellbeing, you may be in trouble.

What’s the problem with employee engagement surveys?


While they can be a great source of employee feedback, there are specific problems that employee engagement surveys can’t solve. There are four primary reasons employee engagement surveys need to be supplemented with other tools and efforts. 

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1. You may not be getting honest answers


So many people have been burned by bad bosses and toxic work environments. While those two factors hopefully don’t describe your workplace, your employees present actions are shaped by their past experiences.

For an engagement survey to work, your employees need to believe you have their best in mind. They need to trust that no matter what feedback they share, you’ll listen with an open mind and that there won’t be any retribution.

This kind of trust is hard to build and even harder to maintain. You have to put in consistent effort to show your employees you care. You have to do the hard work of creating a psychologically safe workplace. For an employer or manager, building trust requires a concerted investment in time and resources before you see the dividends.

Some of your employees may have also had negative past experiences specifically with engagement surveys. Few things are more frustrating than honestly sharing your feedback with your employer, seeing it get acknowledged, then seeing nothing happen.

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If you haven’t built a safe company culture and aren’t showing your employees you’re serious about their engagement, your team is unlikely to be honest with their feedback.

Too many companies are all talk and no action when it comes to engagement. 

2. You catch problems too late

Another challenge with engagement surveys is that they’re reactive and infrequent.

As an example, consider the Great Resignation. Pew Research’s data shows that the three big reasons why employees have been quitting their jobs en masse in 2021 are low pay, no opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected. 

All three of those reasons are pretty standard sections on engagement surveys.

The COVID pandemic accelerated change in many different areas—like remote work—and many companies struggled to deal with the pace of change. Engagement surveys are usually done quarterly (if not biannually or annually), and when life feels like it’s moving a million miles per hour, that’s simply not frequent enough. 

Only checking on employee engagement and wellbeing a few times per year puts your company in a reactive position. Your people operations team and managers might have the best intentions, but when you’re months behind the curve you simply can’t keep up. 

3. You don’t ask the right questions

How certain are you that you’re asking the right questions in your engagement survey? 

If you’re only relying on stock questions from your employee feedback tool, then you may be in trouble. Granted, you probably need to use some standardized questions to allow for benchmarking against your past results and against others in your industry.

Creating an effective employee engagement survey is part science and part art. You should listen to best practices from data experts, but you also need to know the things that matter most to your employees. 

The wrong questions won’t help. They’ll confirm your preconceived biases, confuse your employees, or result in vague answers that paint an incomplete or inaccurate picture of your employee experience. 

It’s impossible to understand how your employees are feeling if you don’t ask the right employee engagement questions

4. Your surveys are too long

Survey fatigue is real. The line between asking enough questions to generate meaningful insights and overwhelming your employees is hard to find.

If your survey is too long, you run the risk of lower completion rates and inaccurate data. Employees will get distracted and won’t finish the survey. If you badger them to complete the survey, they’ll be more likely to quickly click through without giving honest or meaningful feedback.

When you only run engagement surveys every quarter or two, there’s a temptation to ask as many questions as possible. They're infrequent, so you’re pressured into gathering data on everything that could possibly be important.

As you can see, many of these problems with employee engagement surveys overlap and reinforce each other.

How to supplement your employee engagement surveys

The goal of your employee engagement survey should be to provide you with meaningful and honest employee feedback that you can use to improve engagement and wellbeing. That’s a worthy goal, but the way employee engagement surveys are designed makes it difficult to translate this goal into reality.

That means your survey efforts need to be supplemented with something. But with what?

The answer is in daily check-ins with Kona. 

Daily check-ins with Kona address all four shortcomings of employee engagement surveys:

The below bullets could get designed into a table if you prefer, showing a comparison of the issue with surveys and how Kona solves them.

  1. Getting honest feedback. Kona check-ins encourage honesty because you’re fostering trust with your team consistently over a long period of time. 
  2. Discovering problems too late. Kona check-ins are daily, enabling you to uncover and resolve issues before they have a chance to fester.
  3. Asking the wrong questions. Kona check-ins ask an open-ended question: “Right now, I feel…” Your employees respond with a combination of emojis and as much detail as they’re comfortable sharing. As you build trust, you’ll see more transparent feedback getting shared every day. 
  4. Lengthy surveys. Kona daily check-ins consist of one question. That’s it. Just one. They’re quick and easy, which is part of why they’re incredibly valuable. 


Don’t stop doing your engagement surveys. Just add Kona to your Slack workspace—for free—and watch these problems disappear. 


How do daily check-ins with Kona work?


Kona is a Slack app that can be added to team channels. It starts every morning with a simple question: How are you feeling? The question is automated, making it easy for you and for your team to participate. 

From there you and your employees can pick how they’re feeling from three choices represented by different colored heart emojis. Your team selects green if they’re doing great, yellow if they’re just ok, and red if they’re feeling terrible. They can then add a custom emoji to expand on their emotional state (hello, dumpster fire) and add a line of context.

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Kona saves the responses from daily check-ins as data points and can send you trends before your one-on-ones with your team, making it easy to continue conversations where needed. 

Why are daily check-ins the best alternative for employee engagement surveys?


Daily check-ins are an incredible way to keep employees engaged. They fill in the gaps and show you’re listening during those long stretches between engagement surveys. 

Daily check-ins bring two massive benefits.

First, you get a pulse on how your team is feeling every day. This enables you to see how your team is doing everyday, even if you don’t have any scheduled meetings with them. For a remote manager, that’s basically a super power. 

Second, you can make changes in the moment—before it’s too late. Use daily check-ins to celebrate wins and remove roadblocks as they happen, rather than needing to react to them after the fact. Daily check-ins supercharge your reflexes as a manager (and an organization), enabling you to react quickly and keep things moving forward.

Imagine this:

Your employee checks in and says they’re feeling yellow and overwhelmed. Kona prompts you (as their manager) to check in with them. Minutes after they express their overwhelm, you reach out and take something off their plate. At the same moment, another team member starts a Slack thread asking how they can help them this week so they aren’t so overwhelmed.

As a result of that one check-in, your overwhelmed employee now feels supported by their manager and their team. Your second employee gets a growth opportunity by taking a task off the overwhelmed team member’s plate. And everyone on your team sees that in your company, vulnerability is met with empathy, not discouragement.

How do I know employees are honest in daily check-ins?


One of the key problems with employee engagement surveys is that employees may not answer honestly. So how do you know that employees will be honest during daily check-ins?

It all starts at the top. The best way to encourage honesty from your employees is to model it yourself. If you’re being transparent about your emotional state in your check-ins—including sharing yellows and reds—then the rest of your team willI feel more comfortable doing the same/

The other way to foster honesty is related to how you respond to your team when their check-ins are yellow or red. Since Kona check-ins aren’t anonymous, your whole team is watching for your response. If your employee is trending yellow but you’re supportive and encouraging, your team will recognize this and respond in kind (just like in the hypothetical example above).

What companies leverage daily check-ins?

People-first tech companies like Oyster, Masterclass, Canva, Happy Monday, and Greenhouse rely on Kona for their daily check-ins. To see how they use Kona and the impact it’s having, check out our case studies.  

Employee engagement surveys are a great way to gather feedback from your employees. But they aren’t perfect, and that’s why we recommend combining them with daily check-ins. 

A great approach to creating a people-first company culture is to use quarterly employee engagement surveys for an overall engagement picture, along with daily check-ins to assess how every team is feeling in the moment.

Meet the Author

Lawrence Barker

Lawrence uses his decade of customer experience leadership to create content for B2B SaaS companies that love their customers. He writes on a broad range of topics, all with the aim of helping human-centered companies attract the right customers and empower them to be successful.

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