Using a Third Party for Employee Surveys: Understanding the Cost, Benefits, & Process

blog post: using a third-party for employee surveys

Considering using a third-party expert for your employee survey project? You have come to the right place.

This article offers a ton of insights and tips to help guide you down the path of pursuing an employee survey in-house versus using an outside firm. It includes all of the benefits and potential pitfalls of your choice.

The good news is you’re here!

This means you already find value in or understand the need to conduct employee survey research. 

Happy employees = happy customers 🎉

If you are new to market research, starting within and gathering feedback from your own staff is an excellent starting point. It allows you to prioritize areas to fix which set your business up for long-term success. This introspective is crucial to have and understand before marketing the values of your company.

Ready to receive a quote or proposal from our third-party market research company? No problem. Contact us here through this website page or email us at info@driveresearch.com with the details.


Interested in jumping to a specific section of this mega-post? 

We feel you. Choose from our topics below.

  1. Should you use a third-party for employee surveys?
  2. How does the employee survey process work?
  3. What are the pitfalls of running an employee survey in-house?
  4. What should you consider when choosing an employee survey company?
  5. What categories are addressed in an employee survey?
  6. How do we benchmark our employee survey results?
  7. What is the cost for an employee survey?
  8. How long does an employee survey take?
  9. Contact our third-party employee survey firm.

Ready to go end-to-end? Grab a coffee.

 

You’re back? Excellent. Let’s get this started.


Should you use a third-party for employee surveys?

An employee engagement survey is a form of quantitative research where your staff becomes the focal point of your research.

Partnering these efforts with an employee engagement survey company will help target what is most valuable to your staff and what improvements need to be made.

Here are 4 reasons you should work with a third-party for your employee survey.

1. Customized survey template 📄

When working with a third-party market research company, you will receive a custom employee survey questionnaire, designed specifically for your organization. 

An employee engagement company will use simple techniques to determine priority areas of improvement and priority areas of strength. 

From there, the market research company will create unique questions reflective of your employees' needs and wants. By partnering with a third party, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing you are asking the right questions. 

Another key benefit of using an employee survey company is the ability to benchmark results. These third-party companies have access to benchmark data to compare your employee survey results to peers in your industry. This may include geographical comparisons or industry comparisons.

2. Unbiased employee survey questions ❓❓

When employers design their own employee surveys, they unintentionally bias the questions.

survey question by employer vs. employee survey company

Here, you see how the survey question developed by an employee engagement company has been left open-ended. What does “better” mean to the staff member?

It doesn’t have to be pinpointed to an increase in revenue, as shown in the survey question by the employer.

A “better” company could mean a multitude of improvements – whether it be the organization’s culture, work/life balance, leadership team, etc.  

One of the benefits of using an employee survey company is having third-party ask questions in a strategic way to generate greater employee feedback. 

3. Open communication with staff 💬

Honesty among staff is a key factor for success within any organization. But how comfortable are employees with being completely transparent with their superiors? 

In a recent survey, 48% of workers felt their employee surveys did not provide an honest and accurate employee assessment.

Employees fear they will be penalized when providing their honest feedback to employers. This discrepancy can lead to misleading employee engagement survey results by not reflecting the real issues staff members are having at work. 

This is why employee research is essential to any organization. With survey results delivered from a third-party, employees are less concerned with being reprimanded. This privacy allows for genuine feedback and complete honesty.

4. Accurate survey feedback

Using a third-party expert is necessary for this type of market research to ensure the privacy and anonymity of the survey results. This is one of, if not the biggest, reason organizations use employee survey companies like Drive Research.

The third-party tie-in is essential to let your employees know their responses will be anonymous and confidential.

At the end of the employee survey process, a market research company will detail which factors have the greatest impact on overall employee loyalty and satisfaction. Techniques include regression and correlation analysis.

Ultimately, the results from your employee survey will allow you to address any changes you see fit. Understanding employee motivations leads to greater company success and culture. After all, happy employees make for happy customers. 

In fact, a 2016 study conducted by Gallup, found that organizations with highly engaged employees outperform other businesses in customer loyalty/engagement, profitability, and productivity. 


How does the employee survey process work?

The two most common options used by our employee survey firm are:

  1. Online surveys delivered through email
  2. Paper surveys delivered through the mail or by a handout

Online surveys are cost-effective, offer a quick turn-around, are measurable, and gather quality feedback from staff. The combination of these 4 benefits creates a strong ROI. If you have access to employee emails, we highly recommend this approach to your organization.

In this section, we’ll break down the process for each of these two commonly used approaches. 

Phone surveys are rarely used. However, phone call reminders are often a nice supplement to email or mail surveys to remind non-responders to participate as a final nudge.

Drive Research follows a systematic in-house approach our team has built for employee survey projects.

Our method uses a step-by-step and task-oriented approach to project management from kickoff through completion. Each of these steps is detailed below for the (1) online/email surveys and (2) the paper/mail surveys.

The process outlined below is very similar to an email and paper survey.  We’ve noted differences in the mail survey using the 📭 symbol.

1. Contact a third-party vendor 🤝

First, you have to contact an employee survey company like Drive Research. The best will respond back within a few hours with some additional information to get the process started!

2. Discovery call or email exchange ☎️

In cases where your employee survey is more complex or you need some advice to walk through your options, the market research team will schedule a short 30-minute discovery call with your team. 

During this call, they’ll talk about your objectives, what you want to accomplish, the size of your employee base, options for methodologies, and other key criteria that go into a proposal.

3. Proposal 💍

The quote, estimate, or proposal for your employee survey is the next step of the process.

The firm takes all of the feedback from your request and discovery call and builds out a custom proposal to address your needs. This document walks you through your unique project from A to Z.

It includes an all-inclusive fee, timeline, and deliverables.

4. Kickoff meeting 🏈

If you deem our employee survey firm to be the best fit for your team, the next step is to schedule a 30-to-60 minute kickoff meeting

The team sends an agenda before the meeting to guide the discussion as much of the conversation centers around the survey topics.

It includes listening to your custom needs as well as our team recommending specific questions for your organization or industry.

For the kickoff, plan on inviting a small team of key stakeholders (2 to 3). We often find the discussion more fruitful with a smaller, more focused team.

5. Workplan ⚒️

The workplan is exchanged within 24-hours at the end of the kickoff meeting. This document highlights key tasks, deliverables, and dates.

It ensures the project stays on-track and both teams understand what deadlines are approaching.

6. Survey draft 📝

The core deliverable. This document makes or breaks the project. 

It is essential to draft a strong survey draft with the right questions to address the objectives. The outcomes, analysis, and report you read after fieldwork closes will be reflective of the questions you ask your employees through this document. 

Garbage in. Garbage out. 

This is the most important piece of the employee survey process and is the critical reason to use a third-party market research company. 

Writing a survey is an art and a science. It takes many years to perfect the survey writing process and there are always things to learn.

While writing a survey, a third-party market research company thinks about an order, flow, wording, bias, types of questions, potential results, skip patterns, masking, and many other criteria.

This document is developed in Word to allow for comments, edits, and feedback from your team.

7. Exchange of employee database 🗄️

As we prepare to take the next steps with the survey, now is the time to exchange your employee database. In nearly all cases, this is delivered as an Excel file or CSV.

🔑 Tip: If you have other fields available in your database, think about adding those categories to your file.

These fields can be embedded in the survey for additional analysis. If you want to break down results by age and tenure, and you have DOB and date of hire in your database, include them.

These fields can be added to the survey file and save them from asking additional questions you already have the answers to. Other ideas include department, supervisor, gender, etc.

📭 The database exchange is similar to the mail survey.

However, in this case, your team would include the physical mailing address for where the survey must be sent.

8. Survey programming

Once the survey draft is finalized, the document is programmed as an online survey. The team ensures the layout is correctly formatted for mobile, tablet, or laptop/desktop.

Interested in learning more about programming a survey? Watch our short video.

📭 How does this work for a mail survey?

Rather than programming online, the mail or paper version of the survey is formatted into an easy to follow layout on a formal Word document or booklet. This is often printed front and back, or part of a 4-page booklet. 

Once the survey is formatted correctly, these can either be printed and handed out to staff with an option to return or the surveys can be mailed directly to households.

A postage-paid return envelope is often included in the mailing to make it easy for the employee to return back. A unique number or code is added to the bottom of the survey to have the option to trace the employee back to the database to sync fields. Or you can choose to make them completely anonymous.

Oftentimes, a link to take the survey online is included in the paper version as well for those who prefer utilizing technology. Typically only 15% or less end up taking the survey online when the paper questionnaire is mailed.

9. Pre-notice 📧

If the email survey route is chosen, Drive Research recommends the sponsoring organization sends a pre-email notice to all employees.

This announcement helps introduces the upcoming employee survey and other important details such as:

  1. When employees can expect an invite
  2. Why a response is important
  3. Confirms the credibility and third-party aspect of using a separate market research company

Ultimately, it sets a good tone.

📭 If the survey is mailed, the same effect can be accomplished through a cover letter.

Template language would be provided by the market research company to explain similar key points. This is included as part of the mailing and is signed by a stakeholder from your organization.

10. Testing 🧪

Test. Test. And test some more.

The survey runs through our entire team of assistants and analysts who test it for:

  • Grammar
  • Context
  • Comprehension
  • Skip patterns
  • Logic
  • All other issues

The test link will also be sent to the client for review so the team can view the survey as if they were an employee participating.

Your job is to break our survey – or at least attempt to!

11. Invitations and reminders 📨

Once the survey has been thoroughly tested, it is ready for launch. The initial email invitation is sent followed by one or two reminders depending on the response rate. Additional reminders may be emailed at no cost.

📭 For a mail survey, we do not recommend sending a second mailing to the same employees if response rates fall below expectations.

The minimal return from a follow-up mailing often does not match the costs to print, assemble, add postage, and manage data entry. If the response rate is low on a mail survey, email reminders and/or phone call reminders are often more viable.

📊 Feature: As part of the base employee package with Drive Research, your team is provided an online dashboard of the results using real-time charts and graphs.

This passcode-protected portal allows you to log in and see a sneak peek of the results before the fieldwork is closed. These reports can be exported in Excel, PDF, PowerPoint, or Word.

A client dashboard, looks something like this 👇👇

client portal from drive research

12. Close fieldwork 🔒

Once responses have been exhausted or you have reached your response goal for the employee survey, fieldwork is closed. The survey company closes the online survey and posts a message for anyone who visits the link that the survey is closed.

📭 This is a little trickier for a mail survey because a date must be indicated in the survey itself or a cover letter.

Although fieldwork closes on a specific date, surveys inevitably roll back to the employee survey company after the deadline.

These are often saved cases and additional surveys shared with the organization, but do not make their way into the report.

13. Analysis 💯

Now the real fun begins where the employee survey company digs into the data to summarize key insights, feedback, and recommendations from the data.

This includes basic and advanced analysis such as correlation and regression.

14. Reporting 📈

Several different levels of reporting options are available for your organization. 

These include 3 typical levels of packages:

  • Bronze: Online portal with exportable charts and graphs
  • Silver: Topline summary of the results with key insights (bullet points of 2 to 4 pages)
  • Gold: Comprehensive report with a summary, recommendations, and full crosstabulations

📊 Feature: The client will receive a full Excel CSV file of all survey responses.

The interpretation of data and results is a true differentiator for Drive Research. Receiving the feedback is only the beginning of the process for us.

We provide you with a comprehensive yet digestible employee survey report

The report has several pieces that can be shared specific to separate locations or management teams.

Since the reports are created in PowerPoint they are easily shared and can be used as part of presentation decks internally for our clients.

15. Debrief 🗣️

After the report is delivered, the employee survey firm will schedule a 30-to-90 minute follow-up conversation with your team.

The presentation will walk you through the background and methodology, key findings, recommendations, action items, next steps, and showcase the layout of the deliverables to help you navigate through the feedback as part of your strategy.

16. Follow-up ⏭️

Although the report and debrief is the final step of the market research process with our team, we’ll check-in after the project concludes. As you dive deeper into the results, questions often come up and our team is happy to respond.

17. Thank you note or email 🙏

After the project is completed Drive Research recommends sending a short thank you email to all employee contacts (both those who responded and those who did not). This email language template can be developed by Drive Research and sent to the client. 

The email should feature 2 or 3 highlights from the feedback and expected changes that are being reviewed as a result of the employee feedback.

This final email ensures employees their feedback is being acted upon and you listened to their needs. 

🔑 Tip: It also helps with the response rate to future employee engagement.


What are the pitfalls of running an employee survey in-house?

Why don't employee satisfaction surveys work?

They DO if administered through a third-party employee survey company. 👍

They DON'T if administered in-house through a company's human resources department or management. 👎

There are many best practices when it comes to market research, particularly with employee satisfaction surveys.

A few red flags that come to mind with employee satisfaction surveys include:

  • Employers who are too afraid to collect feedback so they never ask
  • Employers who think they have a good understanding of employee satisfaction (spoiler alert, this isn't always the case)
  • Employers who do not follow the rules when it comes to employee confidentiality

The truth is employee surveys work great when executed properly. The results can help organization leaders increase revenue, satisfaction, reduce turnover, increase productivity, increase communication, reduce safety accidents, and more.

Gallup conducts many employee benchmark research and engagement studies so check out their latest data for recent metrics.

Here are 4 reasons employee surveys fail when administered in-house instead of using a third-party employee survey company firm.

1. The right questions are not asked 🙅‍♂️

Survey design is an art form. When the right questions are asked in an employee satisfaction survey, market research analysts can pinpoint priority areas to maintain and improve.

There are a ton of potential questions that could be included in an employee satisfaction survey.

Oftentimes, an employee satisfaction survey is created based on industry benchmarking questions. The results for a particular organization can then be compared to the results of the industry as a whole. 

Through this, organization leaders get a better understanding of areas of success and weakness as it compares to the industry as a whole. This can identify how similar employers match up in regards to the employee experience. This includes overall satisfaction as well as other factors like pay and benefits.

2. Employees are too scared to provide honest feedback 😨

Using a third-party for an employee satisfaction survey company is crucial.

Again, in case you missed it, using a third-party employee satisfaction survey company is crucial.

If organizations conduct employee surveys in-house there is a ton of risk for bias. Bias means the data collected is tainted and is not reliable. In addition to bias, using a third-party for employee research opens lines of communication and gathers more reliable feedback.

If an employee survey is administered through a member from a leadership team or human resources, employees are less likely to offer their honest feedback about the company.

Employees fear their job is on the line if they provide anything but stellar reviews.

In the long run, this type of feedback is not helpful for HR or employees because no real change will be made.

There really would be no point in administering an employee survey in the first back, if it is not going to allow for a real difference to be made.

3. Results are not properly analyzed 📊

Suppose an organization crafted a great employee survey and conducted the research with the help of a third-party market research company to ensure employee confidentiality.

Even if great data is collected, experienced analysts need to be able to report on the data, uncover key findings, and recommend the next steps. 

To give you an inside look, a prior employee satisfaction survey answered the following questions:

  • How satisfied are employees?
  • What are employees most satisfied with?
  • What are employees least satisfied with?
  • What drives satisfaction?
  • What is most important to employees?
  • How do employees describe the manufacturing company?
  • How can the manufacturing company improve?

Check out the complete overview of an employee engagement project.

4. Nothing is done with the results 😶

Even with a perfect employee satisfaction survey and the third-party company conducting the research and report, the project truly becomes successful when the next steps are taken with the results.

After employees take the time to share their thoughts they want to be heard. Use the results to drive and implement change. Once this final piece is complete, the true value of employee satisfaction surveys can be realized.

Want more? Check out these 5 employee surveys benefits.


What should you consider when choosing an employee survey company?

Strong employee engagement is key to creating a workplace culture that facilitates high productivity and quality services or products. However, because employee engagement or satisfaction is often difficult to measure, this makes employee surveys particularly of value, but only when administered correctly.

It is crucial to look for key characteristics when choosing an employee survey vendor. You'll want a firm that helps with survey development, administration, analysis, recommendations, and more.

Here's a closer look at the four key things to look for when choosing an employee survey company.

More Than a Self-Service Platform.

When looking for an employee survey company, oftentimes organizations are presented with self-service survey platforms. You are only provided with...

  1. A bank of survey questions to choose from
  2. Ability to upload an email list of employees
  3. Send the survey invitations yourself
  4. Interpret the data on your own

A national employee survey vendor acts as an extension of your team.

It works one-on-one with leadership teams or human resource departments to provide end-to-end project management.

This includes writing the survey based on questions specific to your research objectives, sending confidential survey invites, and analyzing team feedback in a way that is concise and actionable.

An employee survey company also provides recommendations and department-specific insights.

Your team will not be responsible for sifting through the data alone but can rely on an unbiased third-party to create employee initiatives that work.

Interpret Data and Create Solutions.

You can have the best research partner in the world to help you create and deploy employee surveys. This company can use the survey results to create beautiful charts and infographics, too. But collecting and showcasing the data isn't the goal (or it at least shouldn't be).

The goal is to see where you need to improve employee engagement and then to actually make the improvement.

To do this, you need an employee survey vendor that helps create and deploy the surveys as well as offers recommendations and next steps, such as employee programs that your company can start. 

For example, after reading the results of an employee survey, a third-party vendor concludes there are two major issues among employees that are hindering better engagement: 

  1. Employees want more time with their families
  2. Employees dislike the unpredictable on-call schedule

You now know the primary sources of low employee engagement levels in your workplace, but how do you address them?

With the right employee survey company, you won’t only be told what areas your organization can improve, but how to improve them.

Sending Third-Party Invites.

To get the most honest answers from your staff, it's imperative that the survey is sent from a third-party. This means the survey vendor must support the ability to send employee survey invitations through a private platform.

The more honest your employees are in answering the survey, the more reliable the data will be, thus making it easier to pinpoint and create employee programs that provide a strong return on investment. 

When employees see the survey is sent from a third-party research firm, and not their boss or HR department, they are most likely to be 100% honest with their feedback. This extra level of security assures their responses are completely anonymous.

Sending third-party invites is also of benefit because it gives you more time to make use of the survey results.

If employees know the survey comes straight from your HR office, they will assume some kind of immediate response.

With a third-party invite to the survey, such an immediate or direct response isn't typically assumed.

With this extra time, you and your choice of survey company can make better use of the survey results by developing deeper insights than the insights you can acquire with less time.

Ask Custom Questions.

To create a survey that helps you achieve one or more specific goals, the questions themselves must be customized, meaning you must first assess your goals.

If the goal is to create a more unified culture, then the survey questions should focus solely on aspects of the existing workplace culture as well as characteristics of the future workplace culture that the employees would like to see.

A quality vendor will help you perform an assessment that not only identifies your goals but ranks them according to priority too.

It is also helpful if the employee survey vendor has worked with similar organizations in your industry. This will allow for more accurate recommendations for what type of questions should be asked in the survey.

Since no two workplaces are exactly the same, even among companies with multiple locations, this makes it all the more imperative to choose an employee survey vendor that custom tailors survey questions based on each client's goal.


What categories are addressed in an employee survey?

Most employee survey companies have a bank of questions that can be benchmarked to nationwide averages and industry averages. This is in addition to creating custom questions based on specific needs. 

The optimal length for the employee survey is 40 to 50 questions (including those listed in a grid series) which take approximately 5 to 7 minutes. This should include 2 to 3 open-ends.

Open-ended questions are free-text responses with no button selections for respondents.

These open-ended questions are proofed, categorized, and coded in the final report and take considerable time to read through and analyze.

They are absolutely crucial to give employees an opportunity to add context and detail.

We hate, hate, hate seeing employee surveys without a single open-ended comment box. 

Blasphemy!

Potential survey category questions may include topics like:

  • Mission and purpose
  • Teamwork
  • Quality and customer focus
  • Compensation
  • Feedback
  • Workplace and resources
  • Communication
  • Opportunities for growth
  • Work-Life balance
  • Fairness
  • Respect for management
  • Respect for employees
  • Performance and accountability
  • Personal expression and diversity
  • Satisfaction and engagement
  • Career development
  • Work engagement
  • Compensation
  • Relationship management
  • Benefits
  • Work environment
  • Demographics

How do we benchmark our employee survey results?

If you plan to conduct an employee survey, make sure you add context. 

If results come back and say 80% of your employees are satisfied with your company will you know if that is good or bad? Will you know how that compares to your industry peers? Will you know how that compares to best-in-class organizations?

Likely you will not, so this is why benchmarking data is so crucial to adding insight and understanding of the process. Employee surveys are a tool to understand a variety of factors about working at your organization.

The school of research teaches us happy employees equal happy customers. So in order for this to happen, you must first address employee engagement and satisfaction.

Employee surveys are an excellent way to benchmark your organizational culture and performance to key industry peers.

What are benchmarks? 🤔

Benchmarks are measurements or data in which you can compare your own scores to understand the context. This includes benchmarks for net promoter score (NPS), customer satisfaction (CSAT), and employee satisfaction (ESAT).

Benchmarks may be listed as mean scores, top 2 boxes, or even quartiles to help with analysis and interpretation.

Why should you use the employee survey benchmarks? 🔑

Although employee engagement surveys offer a lot of value, benchmarking your data can take your insights to the next level. A statistic alone is just a statistic unless you know how it compares.

At Drive Research we always talk about 4 benchmarks:

  1. Best-in-class
  2. Industry peers
  3. Competitors
  4. Yourself

We discuss theses four benchmarks in greater detail in this short video.

What are some category options for benchmarks? 🏢

At Drive Research we offer several different benchmarking capabilities for our employee surveys. These include industry benchmarks, organizational size benchmarks, and regional benchmarks.

1. Industry

Several industry benchmarks exist to compare your employee engagement scores to your peers. These include:

  • All technology
  • Consumer goods and services
  • Government
  • Healthcare
  • Healthcare providers
  • Industrial
  • Manufacturing
  • Non-profits
  • Professional services
  • Small professional services firms

2. Organization Size

Four industry size options exist for employee engagement benchmarks including:

  • Large enterprises (250 employees or more)
  • Medium-sized enterprises (50 to 249 employees)
  • Small enterprises (10 to 49 employees)
  • Micro-enterprises (5 to 9 employees)

3. Region

Current regions for benchmarking include:

  1. Australia
  2. Canada
  3. The United States

What is the cost for an employee survey?

Although the cost for an employee survey varies greatly based on the size, scope, and needs of the market research, most employee surveys conducted through email or online fall in the range of $3,000 to $15,000.

This includes end-to-end management from your third-party employee survey company.

Items that impact the scope and cost include the following:

  • Number of employees
  • Number of questions
  • Mail components (printing, assembly, postage)
  • Phone call reminders
  • Level of reporting
  • Benchmarks requested

The addition or subtraction of these components will increase or decrease the cost of your study.


How long does an employee survey take?

The typical email employee survey project takes 4 to 5 weeks. Once the agreement page is signed and returned, Drive Research can send a standard NDA to the client or sign an NDA the client uses as part of its operations.

The kickoff and survey set up takes approximately 1-week to complete, fieldwork lasts approximately 2 to 3 weeks, and reporting is completed in 1 week after fieldwork is closed. 

This timeline can be accelerated if feedback and sign-off are received quickly or if a lower level of deliverable is needed (such as a topline summary report).

Online or email employee survey

  • Best case: 1 to 2 weeks
  • Typical: 4 to 5 weeks

Paper or mail employee survey

  • Best case: 4 to 6 weeks
  • Typical: 8 to 10 weeks

The mail or paper employee survey does add to the timeline. The additional time is baked into the printing, assembly, and mailings.

This includes both time to mail to the participant, time in transit back to the market research firm, and time for data entry.


Contact Our Third-Party Employee Survey Firm

Interested in getting a proposal or quote from our company? Contact us one of four ways below and share your objectives. We’ll create a customized scope of work for your project with the step-by-step details.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at info@driveresearch.com
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

emily carroll about the author

Emily Carroll

A SUNY Cortland graduate, Emily has taken her passion for social and content marketing to Drive Research as the Marketing Coordinator. She has earned certificates for both Google Analytics and Google AdWords.

Learn more about Emily, here.

 


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