How Organizations are Using Employee Sentiment to Drive Change

How Organizations are Using Employee Sentiment to Drive Change

Table of Contents

Employee sentiment is an expression of employee voice that has gained prominence in recent years.  

For context, employee voice consists of all opinions, thoughts, ideas, and concerns of employees on any topic relating to their work or the organization. Providing different avenues to capture this feedback is what is known as an employee voice strategy. 

Sentiment plays a major role in understanding employee voice. We have covered what goes into planning for an employee voice strategy before. 

In this article, we take a closer look at employee sentiment. 

What is Employee Sentiment?

Employee sentiment is a measure of how an organization’s employees are feeling about their work and their organization. Are employees feeling supported by their direct managers? Is the organization a good place for them to develop their career? Do they have confidence in the organization’s future? 

Such data on feelings towards the organizations can be collected via quantitative questions with a rating scale as well as open-ended survey questions that invite comments. When done systematically, employee sentiment can be tracked over time to notice trends.

Relation to Employee Voice Strategy

At first glance, employee sentiment seems to be synonymous with employee voice. But employee voice is a broad concept in which sentiment analysis plays a part. In Gartner’s view, it’s one of the four parts of a holistic Voice of Employee strategy. 

As mentioned in the intro of this article an employee voice strategy encompasses all opportunities employees have to communicate their views. It involves the proactive measures an organization takes to collect employee sentiment on a wide number of themes. 

The give and take of employee sentiment is part of an overall grander employee voice strategy. 

But it’s a very important one, as employee sentiment can be a root indicator of opportunities for improvement and growth at managerial levels and organization-wide.

How Are Organizations Measuring Employee Sentiment?

Using Natural Language Processing and Artificial Intelligence

Organizations use natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret and analyze qualitative employee feedback. 

NLP and AI mine open-ended employee responses provided in text format to detect the emotional tone contained within it. Emotions are categorized as positive, neutral, or negative. Similar and frequently used words or phrases are flagged as common themes. 

Using Employee Sentiment Indexes

More traditional quantitative survey research is also used to measure constructs that make up the employee sentiment index.  

An index is an overall measure of a concept made up of two or more individual measures.   

The answers to all such questions will then inform the overall employee sentiment score of that organization.  

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Asking Employee Sentiment Questions on Other Surveys 

Common employee sentiment questions ask the employee about their intentions to stay with their current employer and how likely they are to recommend their employer to others. These are direct questions that ask employees about their feelings toward their employer. 

But the word sentiment can apply to other major survey types as well, where employees have a chance to offer their feedback on certain themes. 

All these surveys can have a subset of questions that probe into the emotions of the employees on certain subject matters relating to that theme. 

Common Survey Types and Example Questions on Sentiment:

Engagement Survey – Feeling happy about the frequency of meetings? 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Survey – Feeling respected in daily interactions? 

Return to Work and Hybrid Workplace surveys – Feeling optimistic about continuing to work from home? 

It’s also possible to take a person-based survey approach, instead of a theme-based approach. The employee in this case is surveyed throughout their entire lifecycle beginning from onboarding to the latest pulse check. 

WorkTango’s survey platform facilitates targeted and timely surveys for any initiative across the entire employee lifecycle.

What Can Organizations Do to Drive Change?

What does dealing with employee sentiments look like? We refer to three case studies. 

Strathcona County

Strathcona County in Alberta did not like the drop-off in numbers on its engagement survey that it conducted every two years. Its 2019 results raised concerns in a multitude of areas, such as leadership, career growth and recognition.  

A few factors causing such a decline in positive sentiment were workload and uncertainty from corporate initiatives. The mayor proposed an annual survey with follow-up surveys that covered one topic at a time. There were talks in place of creating more leadership training or building leadership capacity.  

Having an established engagement survey in place helped Strathcona County to trend its results over time. Each theme was specific enough to ask questions that were related to employee sentiment.  They touched on areas such as comfortability with workload and hope for the future.  

By having such a system in place, the mayor and the respective committee tasked with reversing the drop-off in numbers were able to propose solutions. 

The Nottingham Health Trust 

The Nottingham Health Trust (NHT) in the UK found it difficult to attain high engagement scores for employees in surveys. Its challenges included high turnover and low staff satisfaction scores.  

Their compulsory surveys produced great data but also resulted in survey fatigue. This feeling was worsened when employees saw no actions being taken on the account of previous surveys.  

In order to improve this experience, the NHT is currently exploring using sentiment analysis this year to gain a better understanding of the greatest pain points for employees, so the right actions can be taken. There is a particular focus on wellbeing regarding employee stress and burnout.   

This was a case of being prepared, but not revising the survey strategy in time to reflect what was being answered. NHT changed its tune from just collecting data on the problem, to start asking questions on the solution. Employee sentiment questions are a great way to do that, as it allows employees to express more creative ideas.  


During the COVID-19 pandemic, PepsiCo was tasked with understanding employee sentiment and needs to support evidence-based decision-making.  

They found that those entering the pandemic in the preparation or prevention stages reported higher levels of sentiment versus those who were already in confinement. Also, groups adjusting to remote work or with increased demands, reported lower levels of sentiment.   

An agile pulse survey approach benefitted the senior leadership in quickly understanding the needs of the employees and how sentiment varied across the globe with the different stages of the pandemic. 

PepsiCo is a massive global corporation. In order to deal with the scale of incoming changes that were about to take place due to COVID-19, the added sentiment item in their survey helped them gauge how their employees really felt about things.  

It worked out very well for them, because taking such an approach also made it easier for employees to suggest how they needed to be supported during this time. 

Employee Sentiment Case Study Takeaways

The case studies offer some valuable takeaways. 

  1. It’s always good to reflect if genuine issues are being surveyed. Questionnaire design, be it open-ended or close-ended questions, is absolutely crucial in eliciting the right information. 
  2. It’s good to cover multiple themes when asking questions related to sentiment. Detecting emotions such as sadness or excitement is not enough. If the drivers of such emotions can be identified, the information becomes more actionable.  
  3. Following the concept of active listening, it’s good to share results and show how employee concerns will be addressed. 

Building a culture of regular employee sentiment pulse surveys can be challenging. Anonymity might not be enough to guarantee honest responses, but it’s a great start to building trust 

In order to drive awareness and participation, different channels may need to be used to build authenticity and engage in two-way conversations. It goes back to having a full-fledged employee voice strategy.