When done well, employee surveys can gather important feedback and information quickly, efficiently, and anonymously.
Unfortunately, many organizations are conducting employee surveys that aren’t done well.
They’re asking questions that are irrelevant, misleading, or confusing. They’re designing surveys that are obviously slanted toward a particular outcome. They’re creating “anonymous” surveys that contain key identifying questions. And sometimes, they’re just asking way too much.
There is a right and a wrong way to conduct employee surveys. If you’re going to go through the trouble to do one, you’ll want to make sure your efforts are worthwhile.
Step One: Preparation
Slapping together a random survey will yield random responses and random results. To get the most out of your information gathering, design your research in a way that maximizes participation, honesty, and reliability.
Define your goals. What do you want to measure? What indictors will you use? How will the results be analyzed?
Check your toolbox. Have you conducted similar research before? Do you have benchmarking data? Can you pull questions from previous surveys?
Think logistics. Will the survey be conducted in-house or outsourced to a third party? Are you committed to keeping results anonymous? Is it strictly an online endeavor or does your staff require other options?
Helpful tip: Employee surveys should never be used merely as a vehicle to pat leadership on the back. If that’s your main purpose, stop right here and save yourself the time and money.
Step Two: Implementation
Create your questions
Will your questions be open ended, multiple choice, or a mix? No matter what format you choose, there are some basic rules you’ll want to follow:
Make sure each question serves a distinct purpose. Irrelevant questions will give you irrelevant data.
Arrange questions logically. Avoid jumping back and forth from topic to topic.
Keep it simple. Each question should addresses one thing only. Avoid multiple-part questions and complicated jargon. Make each question clear and concise. If you must use complicated terms or acronyms, include explanations for each one.
Keep it positive. Avoid negatively worded or biased questions.
Keep it neutral. Toss out any partisan language or leading questions.
Keep it short. No one wants to answer a 75 question survey. Or even a 25 question survey. Research has shown that the more questions you ask, the less time respondents will spend on each one. Strive for a 2 – 8 question range, or a completion time of 10 minutes or less.
Helpful tip: If you’re going anonymous, go all in. Avoid any personal and/or identifying questions, and use a system that doesn’t track response dates and times, or respondent email and IP addresses.
Run a test
Never send an employee survey without running it through a test group first. You’ll want to make sure there is consensus on what the questions mean, how to fill it out, and that it actually works. If there is any kind of problem with your survey, you’re going to create significant frustration and a flurry of questions and comments.
Helpful tip: Be sure to run your survey through a spelling and grammar check. These kinds of mistakes can not only cause confusion, they can also result in a loss of confidence and credibility.
Provide some background
Don’t just send your survey out cold. Communicate the purpose of the survey, why it’s important, and how the team will benefit.
Give specific details regarding:
- When it will arrive
- What it will look like
- How they should fill it out
- When it needs to be returned
- Who will be receiving the results
- How the information will be used
If you’re going incognito, explain that all results will be completely anonymous and confidential.
Helpful tip: Thank respondents in advance for their time and effort.
Send it out!
Because you’ve explained why the survey is being conducted, what it looks like, and how it should be filled out, this process should be smooth.
Remember to include all of this information again with the survey so respondents have all of the details in one place.
Then you wait. And collect. And send out multiple reminders. Once you have a good portion of the surveys back, you can begin to analyze the data and results.
There is one caveat here, and it goes back to the old saying, “Be careful what you ask for.”
If you don’t like the results you’re getting, you can’t just shove them in a drawer or delete them.
You did your homework, you set your goals, and you designed your survey questions carefully. You (and your employees!) committed to this process and you need to follow it through all the way to the end.
Staff will be expecting to see something from leadership about the survey responses and what changes they should anticipate as a result. Don’t let them down. Share what you learned and how you plan to incorporate that information into organizational processes moving forward. After all, wasn’t that the whole point?
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