Employee Focus Groups

Employee Focus Groups

Employee Focus Groups, informal crowd of employees

The what’s and why’s of organising and running successful employee focus groups

Employee focus groups offer businesses, opinion and behavioural based insights into how the company operates, roles offered and current performance levels.  They give opportunity, for the employee’s voice to be heard, acknowledged and integrated into subsequent actions which can then boost and increase overall, employee engagement.  This article offers the what’s and why’s of focus groups; highlighting what they really entail and what to look out for when conducting one or several.  Valuable insights into qualitative sessions!

What: An employee focus group is a gathering of employees who are assembled to participate in an assisted discussion about a subject or to provide constructive feedback to the host.  Focus groups are typically formulated after the results of an employee survey has been submitted, analysing feedback, probing discussions and generating suggestions for improvements. However sometimes they can occur as part of the initial employee engagement assessment phase to get feedback around what is good and not so good in the way the company operates and perhaps supports its staff as well as customers.


Why:  Employee focus groups provide a quick, relevant and reliable source to provide long term indicators for solutions for systemic problems in the workplace.  They help to generate actions plans that will improve the workplace and give opportunity for the employee’s voice to be heard as part of that process thereby helping with change agents and champions when the change inevitably happens. Change can be good or bad, depending on what the change is and how you are impacted by it.


Who:  The most effective focus groups are those with small numbers.  You can generate constructive feedback and offer actions for improvement in a group size of 10-15 employees.  Ideally these need to be devised per department to encourage a sustainable engagement plan but be wary of only inviting senior management to represent the whole company as this can weaken engagement rather than strengthen it. A representative cross section of employees at different levels of responsibility and job function (from multiple locations if the business is present in more than one location) should always form the focus group demographic wherever possible.


How:  The most effective employee focus group leader is one who is subjective to the topic, preferably an outsider as opinions of staff are neutral and the more important, often emotive topics for discussion, are more often unveiled.  Trust and transparency are more easily transferred to an outsider as employees feel that they can speak more freely to those who do not work for the organisation themselves.

For example, in one organisation we personally know of, employees were not forthcoming in putting anything in the company suggestion box as it was located at the entrance of the building and where the CCTV camera pointed, for the staff safety and security. So, you can imagine how a face to face interaction for that organisation may have erred on the side of caution. It also infers, that perhaps, the suggestions may have been overly critical in nature which is why they weren’t forthcoming. Or was it just a lack of communication, understanding or trust? Employee focus groups would have definitely been of help in this organisation and scenario.


When: Your employee focus group needs to tie in with your annual or end of year survey, ideally within a month of the result submissions.  This gives a chance for data to be analysed and fed back internally, offering the opportunity for constructive feedback within a short time frame.  Avoid busy periods to meet up as this can affect the outcome of the focus group meeting but ensure that you give 2-3 hours for discussion as you do not want to cut off productive steps for moving the business forward.


The key to all successful employee focus groups is the consistency and dedication in delivering regular updates on the devised action plan to employees – strengthening the overall engagement strategy.  Focus groups can have an enormous impact on your overall employee engagement positioning.  Listening, evaluating and putting into action, employee feedback gives staff an employer brand they can trust, want to work with and most importantly want to be a part of.

As Paul Polman, Global Chief Executive of Unilever so eloquently states:

Values build trust…you have to enable people to make decisions at the lowest possible level inside the company. I believe the busy way to galvanise success…is to be sure that decisions are being taken at the level where the knowledge is. (Murray K: The Language of Leaders 2013:63)

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Engage & Prosper is a UK based privately owned Employee Engagement Consultancy and Social Enterprise, on a mission to help organisations develop a highly productive and fulfilling workplace culture, with their people, through enhanced employee engagement strategies, fabulous and effective internal communications platforms and tailored reward and recognition programmes.

For more information on Engage & Prosper or to discover how we can help you achieve your organisational and people goals please call +44 (0) 330 223 0464 or find out more at www.engageandprosper.com