We are often asked to explain the difference between a culture survey and an employee engagement survey. While these two instruments measure some of the same phenomena that occur inside organizations, their purposes and questions are different. This article will explore some of these key differences so HR professionals and business leaders can decide which approach is best for their organization.

Some Definitions to Get Started

In a business or organizational context, culture refers to the shared values, beliefs, and practices that characterize an organization. It is the collective mindset and attitude of the employees, shaping how they interact with each other, approach their work, and perceive the company. Culture is often intangible, yet it significantly influences the organization’s functioning, productivity, and overall success.

Employee engagement, on the other hand, is the emotional commitment and involvement an employee has towards their organization and its goals. At DecisionWise, we specifically define employee engagement as:

An emotional state where employees feel passionate, energetic, and committed to their work; it is when employees invest their best selves — their hearts, spirits, minds, and hands — in the work they do.

Engaged employees go the extra mile because they genuinely care about their organization’s success. Employee engagement is a key indicator of employee satisfaction, productivity, and loyalty.

Employee experience is the journey an employee takes inside the organization. It encompasses every interaction an employee has with this larger group, from the recruitment process to departure. It includes their experiences with the company’s culture, work environment, leadership, learning opportunities, and more. A positive culture can enhance the employee experience, and a good employee experience can boost engagement. Briefly stated, the employee experience is an organization’s culture through the eyes of its employees.

Key Differences Between Culture and Employee Engagement

While both culture and employee engagement are crucial aspects of an organization’s effectiveness, they are different. Culture is about the environment and ethos of the workplace, shaped by values, leadership style, policies, and practices. It is more about the “how” of things – how employees interact, how decisions are made, how success is celebrated.

Employee engagement, however, is about the employees’ emotional connection and commitment to the organization. It is about the “why” – why employees feel motivated to work, why they choose to stay with the organization, why they advocate for their company.

Despite their differences, culture and employee engagement are interconnected. A positive, inclusive, and supportive culture can foster high employee engagement. Both are crucial for organizational success and are influenced by leadership. They both contribute to employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention.

Difference between a Culture Survey and an Employee Engagement Survey

A culture survey focuses on understanding the organization’s values, beliefs, and practices. It assesses the alignment between the company’s stated culture and the culture employees experience. A culture survey might include questions like:

  • How would you describe your organization’s values?
  • How do leaders demonstrate these values?
  • How does our company recognize and celebrate success?

Often, a culture survey will help classify an organization into one of several archetypes. Here are a few common categories:

  • Visionary organizations that value synchronicity, serendipity, creativity, and a mind-over-matter focus.
  • Organizations that focus on service and care.
  • Companies that value courage, determination, and competence.
  • Organizations that value freedom, adventure, and discovery.
  • Companies that value innovation, disruption, and paradigm shifts.

There are likely many more archetypes to consider, but these offer a flavor of how archetypes are used. Archetypes can help build consensus in a team or organization, acting as blueprints for the right words, imagery, and strategies used for marketing and customer service.

An employee engagement survey, however, measures the level of employee commitment, motivation, and satisfaction. It might ask questions like:

  • I feel like I belong here.
  • I see a clear link between my work and the organization’s goals.
  • I would recommend this organization as a great place to work.

While both surveys provide valuable insights, they serve different purposes. A culture survey helps identify the strengths and weaknesses of the organization’s culture, while an employee engagement survey reveals how emotionally invested employees are in their work and the company. Therefore, organizations should consider conducting both surveys to get a comprehensive understanding of their workplace dynamics.


In conclusion, understanding the difference between a culture survey and an employee engagement survey is crucial for organizations to effectively assess and improve their workplace environment and employee satisfaction. By distinguishing between the two and then using both surveys in the right way and in the right context, organizations can better identify areas of improvement and implement strategies that enhance both their culture and employee engagement.