What Is Employee Sentiment and How Do You Analyze It?

November 07, 2023

We’ve all dreaded returning to work after the weekend, but sometimes the issue is more than just the Monday blues.

Employee sentiment looks deeper to understand how your team feels. Even the ancient Greeks knew how important it is. As Aristotle said, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”

Do you know how happy your employees are at work? Do you consider their happiness to be vital to the success of your business? Believe it or not, employee sentiment has a profound impact on business performance.

As an HR pro, you should always keep tabs on the sentiment of your workforce. And beyond just measuring, you should act on your findings to increase their satisfaction.

Let’s break down how you can demystify employee sentiment at your organization.

Key takeaways

  • Employee sentiment refers to the overall feelings, attitudes, and opinions that employees hold toward their workplace, job, colleagues, and the organization as a whole.
  • Employee sentiment can impact productivity, retention, and the overall workplace environment.
  • Organizations can regularly examine their employee sentiment through strategies like pulse surveys, employee interviews, and social listening.

What Is Employee Sentiment?

Put simply, employee sentiment is how your workforce feels about their employee experience.

High employee sentiment (i.e. happy employees) provide a host of benefits: higher productivity, better retention, more creativity, and lower absenteeism to name a few.

This sentiment is influenced by factors in and outside an employer’s control. Internal factors include things like employee salaries and company culture. External factors, like customer behavior, can also play a role in how your employees feel about work.

It’s HR’s job to understand why employees are happy (or unhappy) and pull what levers they can to improve sentiment.

What’s the Difference Between Employee Sentiment and Employee Engagement?

Employee sentiment and employee engagement are two distinct, yet related, facets of the employee experience. Both play an important role in your overall HR strategy.

Employee sentiment is how your workforce feels about their role and your organization. It’s the emotions that permeate the office and company culture.

Employee engagement, on the other hand, is how committed your workers are to your organization and its mission. Engagement manifests in behaviors, like participation, level of effort, and proactiveness.

The two are linked in that sentiment usually fuels engagement. An employee with positive sentiment is more likely to be engaged, while negative sentiment generally leads to disengaged employees.

What is an Employee Sentiment Analysis?

Before you try to improve employee morale, you need to have a solid grasp on how your workforce currently feels. It’s time to take employee sentiment analysis out of your toolbox.

Employee sentiment analysis is simply collecting data on employees’ feelings and analyzing the “what” and “why” behind them. But this is easier said than done. The devil lies in the details.

You can conduct a manual and direct sentiment analysis through employee interviews. While labor-intensive, there's value in having one-on-one conversations. You can ask follow-up questions, and really drill down into why your employee feels a certain way. But, depending on the size of your workforce, this might not be realistic.

Thankfully, modern HR technology opens the door for more advanced sentiment analysis, which uses algorithms to produce a sophisticated data-driven review of employee sentiment. These types of sentiment analysis tools can interpret employee responses and output a sentiment score.

You’ll probably want to choose a combination of techniques, so let’s dive in. How do you conduct a sentiment analysis?

Tools for Conducting an Employee Sentiment Analysis

Whether your company does it in a technical or more traditional way, measuring employee sentiment should happen regularly. Frequent check-ins allow you to take steps to make improvements when needed.

Here are some example employee sentiment analysis techniques for keeping tabs on the mood within an organization.

Employee Sentiment Surveys

The classic approach to capturing employee satisfaction is through employee sentiment surveys. In fact, studies have shown around 74% of organizations conduct annual surveys to measure how their workforce feels.

On a semi-regular cadence, you can send out sentiment surveys and ask employees pointed questions about their experience at your organization.

These “pulse surveys” can include close-ended questions (i.e., “yes/no” or “agree/disagree” scales) and also a few open-ended questions that provide words and phrases to analyze.

Of course, you could tabulate and analyze the results by hand. But advanced sentiment analysis at scale requires software with natural language processing (NLP) capabilities. NLP enables algorithms to interpret the nuances of language effectively, which is particularly helpful for open-ended survey answers.

Survey tools that leverage NLP are more easily able to identify positive, neutral, and negative employee attitudes. These tools can then assign sentiment scores and provide summaries and visualizations for easy analysis.


Although interviews lack the anonymity of some surveys, they can offer deeper insights into any issues that exist. Conduct one-on-one interviews with your employees, asking them about how they feel about their role, team, and your organization.

But take care who conducts the interviews. Enlisting an immediate manager or supervisor may mean people are less likely to be open and honest, so use a neutral interviewer where possible.

As with your surveys, keep the interviews short so that they can focus on any specific issues that have arisen and are affecting sentiment.

In a larger organization, however, these manual interviews may take too much time. Instead, a focus group might be more practical.

Focus Groups

Focus groups can be useful when you have multiple teams or a larger workforce. Each team within your organization nominates a representative to sum up the team’s opinions and feelings. Again, the group facilitator should be as neutral as possible to encourage honesty and transparency.

If you do decide to use focus groups, ask specific and open-ended questions rather than closed ones. If you ask, “Are you happy working here?” you won’t gain actionable insights.

However, if you ask a question such as, “What improvements could management make to improve work life balance?” then you'll gain more specific and actionable answers.

Social Media and Online Listening

While other methods focus more on internal sources, it can also be helpful to check what past and current employees are saying about you outside the company.

If any of your employees are unhappy about something, they may discuss the reasons for it on social media platforms.

But the most useful external resources for measuring employee sentiment are review sites such as Glassdoor or Jobcase. Current and previous employees will often review their experience working for your organization, highlighting the good and the bad. These reviews can be a great place to mine feedback. These sites are often the first place potential new hires look when considering applying for a job with your company.

Social Collaboration Platforms

If you want to take a slightly more indirect approach, you’ll need some all-in-one HR technology.

Look for an HR solution that has a social collaboration platform for employees to engage with each other and the organization in a public forum, similar to a social network. Beyond just sentiment analysis, these platforms are a great way for workers and employers to communicate.

HR professionals can use these organic interactions to better understand their workforce. Over time, you can uncover sentiment trends based on the comments and interactions of your workforce.

Similar to employee survey software, HCM technology with sentiment analysis algorithms will do the number crunching for you and display results in an easy-to-read dashboard.

How Employee Sentiment Analysis Software Can Help You Interpret Employee Responses

Once you’ve captured your employees’ responses, the next step is to analyze them. The right kind of software can make this part a whole lot easier than trawling through each response yourself. So how does it do this?

  • Natural Language Processing (NLP): Yes, we’ve talked about NLP a lot in this article, but it's such a key component of sentiment analysis software. It uses algorithms and linguistic analysis to understand the context, tone, and emotions expressed by your employees in the collected survey data.
  • Sentiment Scoring: Employee sentiment software assigns scores to each piece of text, indicating the overall sentiment expressed. Common sentiment categories include positive, negative, neutral, or a scale of sentiment intensity.
  • Aggregate Data: The software aggregates sentiment scores from individual data points to provide an overall sentiment score for specific topics, departments, or the entire organization. This helps identify trends and patterns.
  • Visual Reporting: Most software offers user-friendly dashboards and reports to present sentiment data visually. Graphs, charts, and heatmaps help HR professionals and management easily interpret the findings.

How to Create an Effective Employee Sentiment Survey: Best Practices

So, let’s assume you have decided that surveys are going to be the best way to gauge employee sentiment across your workforce. Where do you start? What questions should you be asking, and how often should you conduct the surveys to ensure you gain actionable insights?

Here a few best practices to set you on the right path:

  • Have a clear goal. Why do you want to measure sentiment? You should clearly define both your goals and the scope of any survey. You may just want to gauge overall employee sentiment or you may want to focus on a particular area of your organization that's been experiencing problems.
  • Anonymity. If you make your survey(s) anonymous and confidential, then it’s more likely that the information you garner will be 100% honest and give you real insights into how employees feel and think.
  • Recognize change. Circumstances can change regularly, so surveys should recognize that. Conducting regular surveys means you can measure whether any changes you have implemented as the result of a previous one have worked.
  • Choose the right kind of survey. Different surveys warrant different questions and can help understand sentiment at different stages of the employee lifecycle. You might assign an onboarding survey to understand sentiment during the orientation period, or an exit survey for employees at the end of their journey with your organization.
  • Clarity. Ambiguity is of no use to anyone. Your survey questions should be a mix of open-ended and closed questions and be clearly understandable. This can provide you with a spread of quantitative and qualitative data that can be more useful.
  • Identify the right cadence. There's no ideal frequency for sentiment surveys. However, you want to avoid survey fatigue among your employees. Short ones could be carried out monthly, while more in-depth ones could be every six months or even annually. There are also lifecycle surveys that collect employee feedback at key milestones, like after Onboarding or 90 days or a change in role.
  • Communication and action. It’s essential that you not only communicate why you are conducting the survey but also that you communicate its results — and what action you’re taking in response.

Now that we’ve established some clear best practices, let’s make sure you’re asking the right questions.

What Types of Questions Are You Going to Ask?

The types of engagement survey questions you'll ask vary according to the goals of the survey and even according to business type. However, there are several common questions you can consider as a template.

You need to consider what exactly you’re measuring, such as employee satisfaction, engagement, growth, or company culture.

  • Do you feel valued at work?
  • Do you feel managers listen to your ideas and suggestions?
  • Do you get satisfaction from your job/role?
  • Would you recommend the company to others?
  • Are the company’s mission and values ones you agree with?
  • Are there changes you can think of that would improve the company's culture?
  • Do you think there are ample opportunities for training and/or career progression?
  • Do you feel that management communicates information efficiently?

Of course, these are all close-ended questions. It’s wise to make them more open-ended to get more useful responses that NLP can interpret, i.e. “Can you explain why you feel/don’t feel valued at work? Can you give an example?”

Effective Survey Tools for Employee Sentiment Analysis

Employee sentiment analysis can be the key to unlocking a happy and productive workforce.

By using available software, such as Employee Voice, the employee survey tool, offered by Paylocity, you can create customizable surveys that cover every base. These surveys can help identify reasons for high staff turnover rates or get feedback from employees at crucial milestone points.

You’ll gain valuable and actionable insights from which you can create achievable goals, such as achieving a certain level of employee sentiment or identifying work conditions to improve.

With Paylocity’s software, your company can work towards building a positive environment in which your employees will thrive. Request a demo to learn more!


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