Employee surveys are used to help manage the employee relationship. The questions in the employee survey are used to elicit employee responses that will be used to better understand how to improve that relationship. I crafted a new employee survey question that combines the best of both structured and unstructured measurement approaches. This approach provides both qualitative and quantitative information.

Here is the new question: What one word best describes as an employer?

I have one client (startup B2B technology company) who conducts an annual employee survey. Last year, a total of 157 employees completed the survey (response rate of 61%). In addition to the one-answer, open-ended question above, the employee survey included other traditional survey questions, including employee loyalty questions (likelihood to stay, likelihood to recommend) and employee experience questions (26 different questions across variety of areas – supervisor, pay, benefits, work group, promotions, training).

The one word answer can be used in a few ways to provide employee insight. First, you can examine the content of the words to understand your company’s strengths and weaknesses. Second, the employee responses can help you determine the level of sentiment employees have toward the company. Finally, you can use your current employees’ words (e.g., branding purposes) throughout your employment and recruitment collateral to attract prospects.

1. Identify Company Strengths and Weaknesses

Figure 1. Examine the content of words that your employees use to describe you to understand your strengths and weaknesses.

The most frequently used words by the employees are presented in Figure 1. Some words used by many employees included general adjectives such as “Awesome,” “Exciting,” “Great” and “Good.” While these words tell you that employees are generally happy, they are less useful in pinpointing the reasons why they are happy. There were, however, a few words that reflected specific adjectives that provide some insight about the work environment (e.g., “Flexible / Flexibility,” “Teamwork,” “Innovative,” “Agile” and “Hectic”). Taken as a whole, these diverse adjectives paint a generally positive picture of a work environment that is innovative, flexible, hectic and one that supports teamwork.

2. Use Employee Sentiment as a KPI

Figure 2. The Employee Sentiment Index (ESI) is predictive of important organizational variables like employees’ intentions to stay with the employer and recommend the employer as a place to work.

Calculating a sentiment score is an exercise of mapping each word into a numeric value of sentiment. I used an existing sentiment lexicon that is based on prior research in the area of sentiment measurement (see here, here and here). Each word that the employees use is assigned a value (based on the lexicon) on a scale from 0 (negative sentiment) to 10 (positive sentiment). This value represents the Employee Sentiment Index (ESI).

The average ESI value across the entire set of employee responses was 7.2, reflecting that, on the average, the employees generally have a positive attitude about their employer.

To understand the usefulness of the ESI, I correlated it with the other employee loyalty measures. As you can see in Figure 2, the Employee Sentiment Index is positively related to employees’ intentions to stay with the employer and intentions to recommend the employer as a place to work. Employees reporting positive sentiment about the company are more likely to recommend the company to a friend as a place to work and more likely to stay with the company compared to employees reporting less positive sentiment about the company.

The ESI could be used as a key performance index for use in employee analytics efforts that identify the causes of employee sentiment. Furthermore, the ESI could be included in executive dashboards as a good overall metric of the health of the employee-employer relationship.

3. Improve Company Branding

Figure 3. Use employee responses for communication and branding purposes.

The list of words that employees use to describe you paints a general picture of your company. You can create a word cloud to help you communicate the survey results to the company. Additionally, you can use the word cloud as part of your recruitment efforts to attract new employees. My client used their word cloud as part of their employee on-boarding process (see an initial mock up of their word cloud in Figure 3).


I presented a measurement approach to help businesses manage the health of the employee relationship. The proposed method reflects an intentional measurement approach using unstructured data. The measurement approach offers a variety of benefits:

  1. Identify company strengths/weaknesses. The content of the words that the employees use can be examined to to understand common themes.
  2. Use employee sentiment as a KPI. The ESI measures the extent to which employees hold positive sentiment toward their employer. This metric can be used to track progress over time. The ESI is predictive of other important organizational measures including turnover intentions and likelihood to recommend the employer.
  3. Improve company branding. Depending on the results, you can use word clouds for employment collateral to support recruitment and employee orientation activities.

Results of the analyses show that the proposed measurement method provides useful information about your company culture and your employees. This measurement approach allows you to categorize the words that employees use (unstructured data) into different levels of employee sentiment (structured data). The results of this case study show that employers can obtain useful information from a single question to help them understand how to better manage employee relationships.

Read more: Establishing a Great Company Culture