Don’t forget to ask your employees what they think

By Linda Kuster | Guest Column

The customer experience has been a popular business topic for some time now, and rightly so. After all, without customers, you don’t have a business.

The same can also be said for employees. They are a main driver for your brand, revenue and profitability. Yet, many organizations fail to monitor or evaluate their employee experience as carefully as they track their customers.

If you own or manage a small business, you can talk to your employees one-on-one to gauge their perceptions of their role, the workplace and your company’s operational structure. Once you pass around 50 employees, however, you should consider conducting more formal employee research.

Common research methods

Many companies use employee surveys to understand engagement and satisfaction within their workforce. Surveys provide several advantages, including:

  • Easily analyzed data
  • Results that can be trended year over year
  • A private way for employees to share feedback
  • Quick and efficient administration


It is important, however, to consider which method is best for your organization at your particular point in time. It may be that focus group discussions will reveal more insights or help you better understand an employee-related challenge or opportunity. My firm has conducted numerous employee focus groups, and it is often surprising what emerges in those discussions – including topics that would have been missed in the development of survey questions. Individual interviews can also be helpful, especially with those in management positions who may be reluctant to share their viewpoints in the presence of others.

A more robust, mixed-methods approach can provide key data and rich insights, and may be especially suitable if it’s been a long time (if at all) since employee research was last conducted, or if there are important, specific workplace challenges you are trying to understand.

If your organization has questions about your benefit packages or is considering making changes to those, analytical tools such as a MaxDiff (also known as “best-worst scaling”) analysis or conjoint analysis can help you determine which combination and level of benefits is most appealing to your employees. For example, you may want to know if increasing the 401k company contribution is of more value than reducing the monthly premium on the health insurance plan. These tools can help.

What to measure

There are many factors that influence an employee’s ability to perform, their commitment to the organization and their satisfaction at the end of the day. From our experience, the following are important areas that should be explored in your employee research:

  • Communication between departments, supervisors, C-suite, etc.
  • Tools and knowledge needed to execute the job
  • Respect, trust, fairness and honesty within an organization
  • Understanding and support for organizational vision, values and goals
  • Likelihood of recommending the company to others seeking job opportunities
  • Reasons for staying with the organization
  • Perception of performance of colleagues, supervisor, departments and company as a whole


No matter which research tools you use, include an opportunity for employees to bring up their own ideas or issues. These open-ended comments often contain valuable insights or suggestions.

Best practices

Gaining the most value from your research depends on strong participation and buy-in from your employees. There are several things you can do to increase the thoughtful participation by your employees in any internal research effort. These include:

  • Communicating the value of the research to the whole organization and that honest employee feedback is key to growth and success for all
  • Sharing top-line results after the research is completed with all employees
  • Having a plan ready for how management and representative groups of employees will dive into the results and develop action plans based on it
  • Communicating progress or changes made as a result of the research
  • Providing time during the workday for employees to participate in the research
  • Considering a third-party to administer your employee research – we always see this increase participation levels because employees feel confident that their personal feedback is not accessible to others in the organization.


Every organization or company is unique. Don’t rely on cookie-cutter approaches to your employee research. Take time to consider what is best for your organization and customize a program that will be embraced by employees and deliver actionable findings.

Linda Kuster is president at Vernon Research Group, based in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at (319) 364-7278, ext. 7104 or