Employee engagement surveys: there is a better way

Since the link between employee engagement and profitability has been made, employee engagement surveys have become popular in large organisations. The time and money invested can be enormous, but all too often that investment is wasted on surveys that are too long, too infrequent and that fail to deliver quick feedback to the people who need it the most.

River is doing things differently, taking a fresh approach that uses mobile technology and makes the engagement survey personal, meaningful and regular. It delivers instant, actionable feedback and is a more dynamic way of discovering how employees genuinely feel about the company they work for, as well as encouraging colleagues to take responsibility for owning their personal engagement score.


River’s purpose is to make great days at work for our clients’ people, to create an emotional commitment between employees and their organisation, resulting in higher levels of discretionary effort. Since 2003, we’ve been designing, building and managing bespoke employee engagement solutions – recognition programmes, internal communication initiatives, private social networks and incentives – for clients such as Asda, Clarks, BP and Jaguar Land Rover.

We make the engagement survey personal and regular, delivering instant and actionable feedback – it’s a more dynamic way of discovering how employees really feel

Bespoke solutions like these, for companies with many thousands of employees, come with a cost and companies naturally want to measure the initiatives’ success. Levels of programme participation and participant feedback help to do this, as does the impact on an employee engagement survey or score, so over the years we’ve got to know the engagement survey industry very well.

By seeing how surveys operate first hand, we’ve identified how they can have a far greater impact. This message is resonating with companies who are looking to move away from the formal, protracted survey to something more transparent, nimble, regular, informal and immediately actionable – to help their people have the best days at work they possibly can.



1. Make it little and often

By keeping the number of survey questions low (no more than ten) and by asking the right questions at regular intervals, we discover how employees consistently feel. Our survey questions only take a few minutes to answer – using a slider on a scale of one to five – and as it’s quick, the survey can be deployed as often as required to provide a more honest reflection of how engaged people are right now. Employees can add verbatim comments, but the number of characters is deliberately limited to encourage further discussion with their manager.

2. Make it bespoke

We make sure engagement questions reflect the unique nature of each company – its purpose, values and personality. Benchmarking and historical scores are fine, but if core key performance indicators, such as staff turnover, productivity, customer loyalty, less waste, fewer safety incidents and efficiency, are unaffected, finding out why should be the priority, instead of asking the same old questions year on year.

3. Make it immediate

After taking the short survey, a personal engagement score is instantly available to every employee. Context about what that score means is also provided, along with comparisons with the employee’s previous scores, how their score compares to their team average score, their department average score and the company-wide score. We also give people hints and tips, helping them to think about why they feel the way they do; if positive, how they can feel more of that and if negative, how talking the reasons through with their manager can help. This approach empowers employees to own their own engagement score and take action themselves, to make sure they have more great days at work. Line Managers also have access to live, graphical online reporting, which is updated as surveys are completed. This makes traditional engagement survey reports that take weeks or sometimes months to compile, with further delays as they are cascaded down through layers of senior management, departmental leaders and team leaders, a thing of the past.

4. Make it accessible

In the modern world, there’s no reason for people to be sitting in a static location taking an age to complete an annual engagement survey. Our native app means employees can take our survey on their smartphones, on the go. The survey can also be accessed as an optimised website, screen-ready for mobiles, tablets and PCs.

5. Make it open and transparent

The look, feel and tone of a survey make a huge difference to the response of the person taking it. We make sure our survey looks informal and playful, to encourage honesty. Unless a colleague ticks anonymous, their manager will see their individual scores for each question. A significant contribution to feeling engaged is that employees feel safe enough to be open and honest, and we’re working with our clients to help create this within their organisations.

6. Make it results driven

We make sure survey results are immediately available to employees and line managers, so that the two people who matter most when it comes to engagement – the employee and their manager – can have immediate discussions about how they feel and about how engagement can be improved.

This new approach to engagement surveys will see an aggregation of thousands of small improvements happening quickly across our clients’ businesses, resulting in an overall improvement in engagement. We’re excited to see the results of the client pilots and programmes we’re currently running.

Fitness bands originally inspired our approach. The regular, simple feedback they give the wearer enables small changes to be made to personal health and wellbeing on a daily basis. Why can’t people make small changes to their emotional engagement more regularly too? We think they can and if you’d like to talk to us about achieving this with your own engagement survey, or about how we can help you achieve higher levels of employee engagement in general, we’d love to hear from you.

Contact River chief executive Phil Dunk to talk about this exciting new approach
E-mail phil.dunk@riveragency.com or call 01865 893400