Employee Life Cycle Surveys Explained

Your guide to understanding everything about employee life cycle surveys: what they are, how they work, and how you can use them to improve the Employee Experience and retention at your organization.

2 employees reviewing the employee life cycle

What is the Employee Life Cycle?

The employee life cycle occurs between the time an employee first notices your organization, then joins, and then exits. It also includes all events, interactions, moments, and experiences an employee encounters during their time with the organization.

What are Employee Life Cycle Surveys?

Employee Lifecycle Surveys are surveys designed to collect feedback at targeted moments during an employee’s tenure with an organization. The most common life cycle surveys in use today are onboarding and exit surveys. In recent years, some organizations have begun the practice of also deploying anniversary surveys and other scheduled check-ins. Life cycle surveys are used in concert with other employee listening methods as part of an organization’s continuous employee listening strategy.

Setting Listening Strategy

Every year, attracting and retaining top talent becomes more and more competitive. Listening to employees and responding to their feedback on a continual basis is an excellent way to understand and improve the employee experience in your organization.

In our DecisionWise Benchmark Database, only 58% of employees believe their organizations have effective methods to receive and respond to employee suggestions for change. Only 64% of employees believe their organizations value their opinions. These numbers mirror almost every measure of employee voice we have. Teh fact that employees believe that their organizations don’t listen to them contributes to a widely held sentiment among survey participants that senior leaders do not know what is going on in their organizations. An employee listening strategy will help organizations listen to and respond to employee feedback on a regular basis.

Continuous Listening

As organizations progress beyond basic annual employee engagement surveys, they look for more robust way to gather employee feedback. They begin to collect employee sentiment at more frequent intervals, and at targeted times during an employee’s tenure with the organization. It is important to note that effective employee listening strategies involve more than just surveys. Senior leaders should develop the skills to listen to employees at their respective levels, and managers should develop the skills to listen to and respond to suggestions from their direct reports. Surveys can be used to supplement employee listening campaigns, but they should not be used to supplant other valuable conversations, such as performance evaluations and regular one-on-ones.

Effective employee listening campaigns will use a mix of employee life cycle surveys and other, more general surveying methods. Additionally, life cycle surveys can be based around specific events during the employee experience, such reductions in force, new acquisitions, etc. The trick is to collect feedback from each employee at critical points in their experience and at other times throughout their life cycle without causing them to experience survey fatigue.

Building Listening Campaigns

Listening campaigns should be constructed around an annual engagement survey (an anchor survey). Engagement surveys are meant to be broad and to cover several themes. Organizations looking to focus on specific improvements, however, may also choose to add one or more pulse surveys to their listening campaign. Pulse surveys are used to target specific parts of the employee experience, and usually do not contain more than 10-15 questions.

Once your surveys are in place, you can look to augment your listening campaigns with more targeted assessments. For example, you may want to collect feedback on a group of leaders using a 360 Degree Feedback Assessment, you may want to collect feedback from people who have recently been promoted, or you may want to gather feedback about working with a specific department.

Adding Employee Life Cycle Surveys to Your Listening Strategy

The most common life cycle surveys currently used by organizations are the following:

  1. Exit Surveys
  2. New Hire Surveys
  3. Onboarding Surveys
  4. Anniversary Surveys

The first three life cycle surveys in this list measure critical moments in the employee experience, which most employees will only experience one time in their employment with the company. The feedback collected during these targeted assessments will be used to improve the experience for future employees. The anniversary survey is taken by each employee annually and can be used as a regular check of employee morale or sentiment.

Exit Surveys

The most commonly used life cycle surveys are exit surveys. Exit surveys were originally used to augment exit interviews. Exit interviews have historically been used to gather feedback about the organization or about employee experience at the organization from a person leaving the organization. Exiting employees will typically be more willing to voice their concerns than people staying in the organization. Unfortunately, there are some things people won’t say to another person in a one-on-one conversation no matter what. The exit survey gives a confidential space for exiting employees to be completely candid about their experience.

Components of Exit Surveys

There are typically three basic components of exit surveys. Perhaps the most critical information to acquire in an exit survey is an employee’s reason for leaving the organization. Most employees leaving an organization will say they are leaving to pursue a growth opportunity elsewhere. This is the most common response in the DecisionWise benchmark database. It can be assumed most of the time that employees leaving an organization will be leaving to another job. Effective exit surveys will probe beyond that superficial response to understand a combination of circumstances and causes that led to individuals leaving the organization.

Exit surveys can also be used to gather additional general feedback about exiting employees’ experience with the organization. Including questions about managers, team relationships, day-to-day work, training, resources, communication, trust, and organizational alignment can help to paint a clear picture of the experience had by exiting employees.

Open ended questions can be useful to receive more specific feedback and to gage general sentiment of those leaving the organization. Org structure and demographic data can also be used to understand trends among different employee segments.

Regret/Non-Regret Attrition

While the feedback from all exiting employees is helpful information, organizations can benefit from keying in on the feedback from exiting employees they truly hoped to retain. Examining exit data through the lens of regret/non-regret can help clarify the specific reasons you are losing your most valued employees. Each exiting employee can be assigned either regret (we would liked to have retained this employee) or non-regret (we are okay with losing this employee) by either a manager or an HR business partner. Regret/Non-Regret can then be used as a demographic to understand the specific circumstances around the employees you most regret losing. Retention efforts of high-valued employees can be adapted based on what you learn. Several other demographics can be used to understand perceptions by job role, department, location, etc.

New Hire and Onboarding Surveys

New hire and onboarding surveys are often grouped together. Though both survey types are addressing newer members of the organization, the two surveys have different purposes. New hire surveys generally are administered 15-30 days after an employee joins the organization. Because the employee is very new, it is too early to ask questions that help us measure whether the onboarding process was effective. Most employees are still being onboarded within a couple of weeks of being hired. Onboarding surveys are issued after a new employee has been with the organization for at least 90 days and are used to ensure the onboarding process was effective.

New Hire Surveys

New hire surveys are a good way to check in with a new employee to make sure they have everything they need. They are typically designed to measure adherence to onboarding best practices. When new hires are onboarded, the organization wants to ensure that their early experiences are both positive and consistent. Within the first few weeks of them being with the company, certain things should happen.

A new hire survey is used to verify that no important first steps in the company are being neglected. For example: new hires should have had a chance to meet the members of their teams. They should have had time set aside to meet with their managers. They should have received job-related training. They should have been briefed on tools and resources related to their jobs. Perhaps in your organization, you want new employees exposed to company values, or introduced to a mentor, or to work on a career development plan. Whatever your onboarding best practices, a new hire survey is a great opportunity to check in with new employees to see whether these things are happening. It is too early to say for sure if these activities have been effective—that’s why we have onboarding surveys.

Onboarding Surveys​

Onboarding Surveys are designed to measure the outcomes of the onboarding process. They are typically sent out 90 days after the hire date of new employees. The onboarding survey seeks to understand how prepared new employees are to begin contributing to the organization. Rather than seeking specific feedback about the onboarding process, we are looking to understand whether employees who went through the process are ready and willing to do their jobs.

Components of Onboarding Surveys

There should be two primary objectives of any onboarding process.

  1. Enablement
  2. Engagement

During the onboarding process, new employees should be equipped with all the tools and resources they need to effectively do their jobs. They should receive adequate training to be productive and contribute to the success of the organization. They should develop working relationships with managers and team members. They should be empowered to make decisions related to their work. All these things help enable employees to do their jobs. Enablement in the onboarding context means employees feel ready by any reasonable measure to contribute in their new roles.

A second goal of the onboarding process should be the engagement of new employees. It is not enough for new employees to be able to do their jobs, they should want to do their jobs. Onboarding activities should be designed with these outcomes in mind. If the onboarding survey shows that either enablement or engagement is low, the onboarding process should be adjusted, and the cycle of improvement begins again.

Anniversary Surveys

Anniversary surveys add a continuous listening element to your listening strategy. Work anniversaries are often a time when employees reflect on their time with the company. The anniversary survey gives the organization a chance to congratulate employees on the milestone they just achieved and to ask them for feedback. The biggest benefit of using anniversary date as a trigger to survey employees is that anniversary dates are typically spread throughout the year. During a given month, any number of employees may reach an anniversary. They could be spread across many departments, they could be at different levels throughout the organization. They would likely be a fairly representative cross-section of race, gender, tenure, age, etc. By simply surveying those who have had an anniversary during the month, the organization is collecting what would resemble a random sample of the organization. Each month’s sample can be a strong barometer for overall morale in the organization.

Anniversary Survey Best Practices

Anniversary surveys should be kept simple. Before designing an anniversary survey, the organization should ask “what sort of data would I want to collect on a monthly basis?” For most organizations, the best practice is to limit the anniversary to a few questions. The standard DecisionWise anniversary survey contains two items: An employee net promoter score question and an open-ended comment question.

Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS)

Anniversary surveys are best used as monthly indicators of overall company morale. As such, they are not used to dive too deeply into the minutiae of the employee experience. DecisionWise research has shown that eNPS can serve as a rough, but reliable indicator of general employee morale. A typical eNPS question is: “I would recommend this organization as a great place to work.”  eNPS correlates well with both measurements of engagement and intent to stay.

Open-Ended Text Questions and Natural Language Processing

Open-ended questions are a positive inclusion in any survey instrument. DecisionWise typically includes open-ended questions in all its life cycle surveys, but they can be particularly useful in a short assessment like an anniversary survey. The most effective questions will be neutrally worded and will encourage the survey taker to be as detailed as possible. A neutrally worded question will have neither a positive nor a negative slant to it. Historically surveys have asked “what did you like about your experience?” or “What did you not like about your experience?” A neutrally worded question gives the survey taker the ability to express their own sentiments in the response. For example: “Please describe your overall experience working here.” Using natural language processing, we can determine whether the response was positive or negative, and we can determine, categorize, and sub-categorize the topics covered in each open-ended response. Sentiment and comment topics can be aggregated by month, quarter, or year. The result is a very rich source of information for how to improve the employee experience in your organization.

Other Anniversary Survey Questions

They typical anniversary survey uses just two questions: eNPS and an open-ended question. Some organizations choose to use the anniversary survey as an ongoing pulse. If, for example, the organization is trying to improve cross-functional collaboration, it may ask a few questions on that topic in its anniversary survey. These questions are typically taken word for word from the annual engagement survey, so they can be measured against external benchmarks and past organizational data.

Avoiding Survey Fatigue

Survey fatigue occurs when survey participants either become overwhelmed by the volume of survey requests or the number of survey questions, or they become bored or disinterested by the content of the survey.

To avoid survey fatigue, survey takers must see some benefit to taking surveys. Surveys should cover actionable parts of the employee experience that matter to employees. Employees will be far more likely to see the benefits of taking a given survey if they have seen the organization respond to feedback given in past surveys. If you are trying to determine how far to expand your listening campaign, you might start by considering the capacity your organization has shown to take meaningful action on surveys in the past. If the organization shows considerable interest in employee feedback, survey fatigue will not likely happen.

The biggest sign that your employees might be experiencing survey fatigue is declining participation rates.

How to Get Started with Employee Life Cycle Surveys

The best employee survey partner will be able to match your current level of organizational readiness with the right listening strategy. The best listening strategies are built layer by layer. Your organization may be well practiced in receiving and responding to employee feedback. If you are already in the habit of administering annual engagement surveys, you are likely ready to expand your listening campaign to include life cycle surveys. If your organization is more novice, you might consider starting by collecting manageable amounts of data for your managers. Begin by launching an employee engagement survey to the entire organization. After the organization has had a chance to process and respond to that, consider layering in exit surveys. As you look to collect data more frequently, you can layer in onboarding and anniversary surveys.

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At DecisionWise, we care about improving your understanding of the employee life cycle within your organization. Our experts can design a custom listening strategy for you with our award-winning employee survey technology, guide you to fully understand your data insights, and help you get the results you want.

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