There's a very serious form of employee research called the engagement survey, in which you ask people their honest opinions of what it's like to work at your company. Also known as an "employee attitude survey," this research covers such meaningful topics as pay, work-life balance, trust in leaders, and culture.

But what if you could ask for employee opinions and perspectives in a simpler, friendlier way? Well, you can...through quick polls. If the engagement survey is dinner, the poll is an amuse-bouche--a tiny taste meant to get the communication party started. And while the engagement survey requires a significant commitment of time, budget, and a willingness to accept tough feedback and act on it, all you need for a poll is a good question--and occasionally a sense of humor.

What makes polls so appealing? They're an easy way to involve employees; after all, everyone has an opinion. And, as long as you keep them simple, polls can be engaging, reduce stress, and, best of all, boost a sense of teamwork. (Employees wonder, "How does my perspective compare to that of my colleagues?")

And polls are a morale booster because employees feel that you value their points of view because...well, you asked. The best polls should have an element of instant gratification: You ask employees a question, share the feedback right away, and demonstrate how the results were used to take action.

Polls don't have to be managed by a communicator or HR person; with the right platform, you can use other functions to create polls that everyone else can take.

Here are three ways to use polls to increase employee participation and improve morale:

1. On internal communication channels, such as an intranet site, to ask for employee opinions on key issues. For example, if your company is exploring how to improve customer service, you can ask employees to weigh in with a one question, multiple-choice poll: What are our biggest obstacles to delivering great service to our customers? (List four or five answers to choose from, with the last being "other," inviting open-ended responses). Run the poll for a week, then share the responses the following week.

2. During a town hall or all-hands meeting. There are a variety of polling tools available; I often use Poll Everywhere, which allows employees to participate via text message or online response. You can ask about a variety of topics, or use the poll to take a deep dive on a key issue leaders are discussing at the meeting. For example, when a new CEO joined a telecommunications company, at his initial town hall meetings, he asked employees to vote on the company's most pressing issues, then discussed how he planned to address those issues.

And even if you don't have access to technology, you can still ask employees to share their viewpoints. The simplest approach? Call for a show of hands. A more fun and energetic way is "voting with your feet." Instruct employees to move to the part of the room that represents their opinion, then ask the leader to comment on how employees are voting.

3. To inject fun into the work day. Although, as I've demonstrated, you can use polling for serious topics, the advantage of polls is that they can also be just for fun. For instance, a client just opened a meeting--which took place in the suburbs of Philadelphia--with a poll asking participants to predict which team would win the Super Bowl. I often use a lighthearted poll to test a polling application or as a meeting icebreaker. You can ask about virtually any topic. For example:

  • What's your favorite Disney World (Orlando, Florida) park? (The choices: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom)
  • What's your favorite woodland creature? (Bear, fox, chipmunk, deer, wolf, moose, hobo, other)
  • What's your favorite ice cream flavor? (Mint chocolate chip, Neapolitan, cantaloupe, rainbow sherbet, I don't like ice cream, other)
  • What's your favorite deadly sin? (Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony)

Is there a downside to employee polls? I suppose they take time, but not enough to worry about. And the benefits--a lift to morale, comradery, and culture--make polls a small activity with a big impact.

So I'll conclude with a question for you:  Employee polls are A) fun; B) stress-reducing; C) engaging; D) all of the above.