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Sample focus group questions for employee engagement

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 — September 14th, 2021

Sample focus group questions for employee engagement

In a recent blog focusing on the evolution of traditional company-employee relationships, my colleague Danielle Hegarty, wrote about the crucial importance for companies to really listen to their employees.

“In the same holistic vein of always looking at employees in the totality of their talents rather than the limitation of a specific skill set, there is no better way to gain this insight than to simply listen. Question and explore yes, but listen, listen, and listen again,” she wrote. Wise words, indeed. But, of course, while that’s all very fine in theory, too many companies and organizations struggle to put it into practice.

How many times have we heard people say management doesn't listen to them? How many times have we said it ourselves in our careers?

By now, it’s generally accepted that effective internal communication is key to employee engagement, and in turn, the ability to really listen is key to great communication. It’s something we take very seriously here at Poppulo, which this year resulted in our award from the Great Places To Work organization as the best company in Ireland for listening to its employees.

In recent years there has been something of a revolution in the ability of companies to listen to their workers, through a proliferation of apps, ESNs, video, etc. The annual behemoth that was the company employee survey no longer reigns supreme, though it can still play an important and useful role.

Innovative software such as Poppulo’s pulse surveys makes it possible to literally check the pulse of an organization by embedding surveys and quick polls in emails, quickly and easily encouraging two-way communication and giving employees a voice.

As internal communications measurement expert Sean Williams has stated, whereas previously surveys were a big and onerous undertaking, it’s now possible to conduct smaller ones more frequently, concentrating on specific areas of interest in the business or organization.

Whether it’s the big annual survey or the smaller more regular and frequent pulse surveys, they play a central role in another important means of really listening to what employees are thinking and feeling: focus groups. Just like surveys, they can have a tremendous influence on employee engagement - for better or worse. If the feedback people give in a survey is seen to be ignored, then it really shouldn’t be surprised if it leads, at the very least, to a lack of engagement.

It’s the same with focus groups. Focus groups can have advantages and disadvantages. Conducted well, they can play a very useful role in employee engagement, but if not they can backfire badly, creating negativity and even disillusionment. The key is knowing how to conduct them properly, who to involve, how to manage difficult personalities, what questions to ask, and what to avoid.

But no matter how well constructed, managed, and executed surveys or focus group sessions are, their success or damaging failure will be determined by the F-factors: follow-through and feedback. If you don’t do either properly be prepared for disenchanted employees.

On the other hand, implementing even some of the suggestions offered in focus groups leads to positive engagement because the message is clear: management is really listening to what we have to say, they care about what we think and how we feel.

So how should focus group questions be structured, and what are the pitfalls to be avoided?

  • Firstly, the focus group itself needs a focus if it is to be productive. The focus, the purpose, the objective of the session or sessions will determine the questions that will steer its direction. So it is imperative that the objective is clearly articulated to everybody from the outset - everybody must be clear about that. What a focus group most certainly shouldn’t be is a group chat without direction or it will quickly disintegrate into a pointless mess.
  • According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the key to question design is specificity: “Questions should be designed to solicit the views of participants regarding specific issues. General questions generate general thoughts. Specific questions generate specific thoughts and bring to light the detail necessary to define issues in such a way that effective action can be taken.
  • As an example, the SHRM points to the differences here:
  1. “What do you think about the new benefits plan?”
  2. “What are the two most important changes in the new benefits plan?”
  3. “What is the most positive aspect of the new benefits plan, and why?”

As the SHRM points out: “The first question will most likely generate little more than shrugs. The other two questions, however, ask participants to categorize their thoughts around specific aspects of the topic. Using more specific questions incites the type of discussion that yields meaningful, rather than vague and general, information.”

  • In her excellent Top Tips & Traps for conducting employee focus groups, which you can download here, Angela Sinickas recommends avoiding questions with yes/no or very short answers, as these are unlikely to lead to meaningful discussion. (She also advises not letting a focus group become a complaint session: “After identifying problems, have the group prioritize them and then spend most of the time brainstorming solutions to the top three problems.”
  • As a general rule of thumb, five or six questions is a suitable number for an average focus group session, and while they should be open-ended they should seek to elicit a specific response: “What do you think of our internal communications and what can we do to improve them?”
  • There should be a logical flow to the question structure, opening with something to set a relaxed tone to the proceedings, asking people to introduce themselves and what department they work in, for example. This can be followed by another general question, perhaps about their ideal view of what a company’s internal communications should look like.
  • Then you get into the business end of the session with very specific questions about what they think is wrong, what’s working, and what needs to be done to improve things.
  • Many focus group facilitators like to end sessions with a wrap-up question, such as “from everything we discussed here today if there was one thing you could change straight away about our communications, what would it be?” In addition to wrapping up the session in an inclusive manner involving all participants, a wrap question can also serve the purpose of highlighting issues that are considered most significant by the people who matter most.
  • If you want expert insight into using focus groups you might like to download a webinar for Poppulo by Cindy Crescenzo, President of Crescenzo Communications here

How to develop questions for an employee focus group?

The key to developing effective employee focus group questions starts with probe questions. This style of question uses terms such as ‘how, does, and why.’ The key objective here is to obtain a more nuanced and thoughtful response from employees. Examples of probe questions include…

  • How did you feel when…
  • Do you agree...
  • What do you think...
  • Is it a problem when...
  • What challenges do you believe…
  • How did you manage...

Probe questions easily lead to follow-up questions that serve in obtaining further insight into how participants feel on a certain issue or topic. Follow-up questions in turn lead to exit questions.

Exit questions ensure that nothing has been missed and that a thorough job was carried out in allowing participants to have their say. This is why dichotomous questions are best avoided as they allow for responses that are much too simplified and kill the opportunity for the topics up for discussion to be expanded upon.

Survey Questions for Employee Experience

The employee experience as a whole incorporates all that an employee has encountered, observed, and felt over the course of their employment at an organization. This experience can be measured by asking employees to answer questions such as...

  • Do I enjoy my company’s culture?
  • Do I feel connected to my coworkers?
  • How open to change is my organization?
  • Do my managers value my feedback?
  • Do I feel valued for my contributions?
  • Do my superiors communicate company news effectively and in a timely manner?
  • Does management seem invested in the success of my team?
  • How transparent do I feel the management is?
  • Do I think that work is distributed evenly across my team?
  • Do I find my work meaningful?
  • Does my company offer adequate opportunities for promotions and career development?
  • Does my company give me the tools and technologies I need to do my job well?
  • Do I feel as though my job responsibilities are clearly defined?
  • Do I feel like my job utilizes my skills and abilities as much as it could?
  • How happy am I at work?


Survey Questions to determine Employee Satisfaction With Managers

How an employee feels about their superiors has a significant impact on how much effort they put into their work. This is why it's important that managers treat employees in a fair manner and with the respect they deserve. To find out if managers and leaders within the organization are doing their part in making the employee experience a positive one ask questions such as...
Does my manager treat employees with respect?

  • Do I trust my manager?
  • How well does my manager keep commitments?
  • Does my manager care about me as a person?
  • How has my manager helped me unlock my potential at work?
  • Does my manager clearly communicate performance expectations?
  • Does my manager give me regular feedback on my performance?
  • Does my manager value my knowledge and contribution to the business?
  • When in my workgroup, are people held accountable for results?
  • When I do a good job, are my accomplishments recognized?


Survey Questions relating to Organizational Change Management

Organizational change can be hard for employees to adjust to and it’s important for employers to engage and include them in the process. This change management question set will allow businesses the opportunity to understand the needs, concerns, and ideas of employees, all of which will make the entire change process as smooth as possible. The questions to ask include...

  • Was I informed about the change before this survey?
  • Do I think this change is necessary for our organization?
  • Do I think I can contribute to this change?
  • Do I believe that I can adapt to the change quickly?
  • Do I think the change is compatible with my further career aspirations?
  • Do I feel the change will risk my current position in the organization?
  • Do I feel sure that I can learn new skills with this change?
  • Will the change result in a better work environment?


What are good employee engagement questions?

A Gallup survey revealed that as many as 87 percent of employees worldwide aren't engaged with their work. This statistic is worrying as employee engagement represents the levels of enthusiasm and connection employees have with their organization and their work. Without engaged employees, it is challenging for a company to be successful. To determine levels of employee engagement, ask questions like...
Do I receive opportunities for professional growth in your current role?

  • Does my company invest sufficiently in education and training?
  • Do I feel the company is dedicated to my professional development?
  • Do I understand the organization's strategic goals?
  • Do I see a link between the work I do and the company's objectives?
  • Am I proud to work for this company?
  • Do I feel that excellent performance on the job is recognized and rewarded by management?
  • Do I feel my remuneration package is competitive with the market?

Key Takeaway

Every company strives to engage and retain its employees for as long as possible. One of the best employee engagement methods that can be utilized by organizations is focus groups. To ensure that the discussion yields reliable data that can serve the company, it’s important that the right questions are asked. Employee focus groups combined with employee surveys provide reliable data for more informed decision-making by allowing organizations to understand employees’ standpoints, feedback, and advice.


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