From Who to How: How to Report & Present Employee Survey Results

You’ve deployed your employee survey and gotten the results back; now what? Let us simplify the process for you a bit.

Company-Wide & Departments

Survey Content

The content of the survey report is highly varied. At a minimum, you will want to provide the overall survey category scores for the individual manager (for example, average or percent favorable). It’s wise to provide leaders with this information for each survey item so that they can craft specific action plans. Many organizations also have nice charts and graphs included in the reports they provide. This decision is completely up to personal taste. Nice charts are nice — but there is no proof that they stimulate action from the survey any more than a black and white report with numbers only. Use a format that is familiar to employees and provides practical, easy-to-interpret results. The goal is for managers to spend more time taking action and less time reading reports and interpreting the results (that’s why we use our proprietary HeatMaps).


A vendor should present the material to the senior team and make presentations to larger departments or sites (depending on the size of the organization). The CEO should host a company-wide town hall meet­ing or webinar to review the results with the leaders in the organization. When rolling out the survey results, utilize all feasible media to communicate with employees, and let them know that you are taking action. Some effective com­munication methods are: intranet, email and newsletter.

Leaders’ Eyes Only

The Report

A key priority upon completion of any survey is to provide a report to all managers with the results about their specific perfor­mance on the survey. The caveat: organizations should adopt a “less than” rule to protect participant confidentiality. If a manager or workgroup has less than a pre-established number of employees who respond to the survey, then that manager or workgroup will not receive a breakout report of the results because individual responses could be identi­fied. We recommend four as your cut-off (but this number can be as high as 10 or as low as three). The number you select depends on your culture — if the culture has widespread trust issues, then use a higher number; if it is more collegial, then a lower number may be appropriate. The key is to gauge the comfort level of your employees before you set the number, to make sure you get it right.

Open-Ended Comments

The HR department or survey vendor should also summarize the open-ended comments collected in the survey. To effectively present this data to senior leaders, the comments should be summarized into categories, and the total percentage of comments within each category should be included. This approach is often referred to as a content analysis and involves identifying common themes across open-ended responses, categorizing comments within those themes, and calculating the percent of comments that fall within each theme. The figure below provides an example of themes from an open-ended question.

blog figure


Additionally, we recommend that only summaries of the open-ended comments be released to leaders. Leaders are much more excited to pour over the comments than over a lot of numbers. However, reading comments objectively is difficult, particularly if they are about your own department. For example, in a department comprised of 1,000 employees, one comment may point out that the department is not strategic. This is just one com­ment out of 1,000 — hardly an overwhelming majority. However, a leader may take this single comment as a call to action or a complete indictment of the department, even if the quantitative survey results do not support this response. Alternatively, if managers have preconceived notions about the department, they may look explicitly for open-ended comments that confirm these preconceived notions, thus making them a reality. The point is that the comments tend to carry a lot of weight — typi­cally more than the survey numbers — so they should be dealt with and distributed carefully. This possibility is why the preferred methodology is to have human resources or outside experts examine the data, summarize it, and make recom­mendations.

Competitive Comparisons – Normative/Benchmark Data

Meaningful Conclusions

Survey vendors may also provide “normative/benchmark data,” or normal/ average scores for a given survey item or category across similar organizations. Nor­mative data allows you to compare your organization’s level of performance with that of other organizations in your survey vendor’s database. Including normative/benchmark data is completely up to you. If your organization’s senior leaders have a high level of interest in them, then ask your survey vendor to provide the data. When selecting a survey vendor, make sure that their normative/benchmark database is large enough to draw meaningful conclusions and that it covers the industries with which you would like to be compared. Trade associations and the Society for Hu­man Resource Management also have databases of employee surveys you can leverage. In many industries, such as health care, having normative data is often extremely valuable. (Learn about the connections between the employee experience, turnover, and patient satisfaction.)

Benchmark Myopia

The upside to normative/benchmark data is that it gives you numbers to aim for and provides a great way to set goals. The downside is that if you are ahead of the normative data, it could cause complacency, or if you are too far behind, it could demoralize your leaders – and potentially lead to benchmark myopia. However, catching up to or being ahead of your competitors on survey performance likely has no bearing on how your business is performing. Of greater value is discovering the attitudes or survey items that have the most significant impact on your organization’s business outcomes — and focus on driving those.