Publications and white papers on online surveys
Pratical Tips for a Good Employee Survey
1. Why conduct an employee survey?
The three main reasons to conduct an online employee survey are 1) to identify issues that can affect your employees quality of life at work; 2) identify ways in which productivity can be increased; and 3) identity issues that can affect client satisfaction.
An employee survey that is properly designed will yield results that will help you set priorities within the different actions you can take to resolve the issues identified.
When the survey targets the first factor identified above, the results will help you determine the key factors that will help with the retention of employees. This information is very valuable because the cost of replacing employees far exceeds the cost of their retention.
2. Focus on key aspects
When designing the survey, you should focus on one or two key aspects. Do not try to cover every conceivable topic. If you try to cover too many topics, you will not be able to ask detailed questions. By asking detailed questions on a few key topics you will get more accurate information then by trying to cover every topic.
Limiting the topics covered will also limit expectations. If you cover many topics, employees will expect that you will take action on all of them once the survey is concluded. If you fail do address all of them, the credibility of the exercise will be lessened and participation in future initiatives will be hurt.
For example, if you ask questions on the sufficiency of vacation time offered to employees. You must be certain that, if it is raised by many participants as a negative issue, you can address it. If you clearly cannot provide a solution once the survey is completed, it is preferable not to raise the issue.
It will also limit the number issues that need to be addressed if any are raised by the results. By having fewer issues, you can concentrate on them and more easily deliver effective action to correct them.
Another advantage of limiting the topics is that it keeps the survey shorter; that will increase participation. You can always conduct another employee survey to get information on other topics later. By successfully completing one survey and addressing the issues in a way that makes a difference, your credibility will be enhanced and employees will participate more willingly in future consultations.
3. Go beyond aggregate statistics
Aggregate statistics are generally not sufficient to understand the dynamics between individuals and groups, and organisational dynamics. Aggregate statistics may raise a doubt as to the existence of such problems, without, however, providing hints of the problem or of its solution(s).
When targeting a particular problem, you should always ask participants to identify the problem and to identify solutions.
However, you need to keep a balance between closed questions and open ended questions. The answers to open ended questions can be harder to analyse. It is important to focus the participants’ attention to specific issues and ensure they understand what is sought in an open ended question. A question that is poorly drafted and misunderstood will lead participants to answer all sorts of things and, as a result, it will be impossible to analyse.
4. Include demographics
A good employee survey will have a proper set of demographical questions. Employees should indicate their department and their age by range, i.e. less than 21, 21-30, 31-40, etc.
This information is crucial, different departments have different issues, so do people in different age brackets. The demographic information will let you focus the analysis on specific groups.
5. Limit expectations
As indicated above, it is important not to raise expectations too high. If you raise certain points, employees will expect you to act on them. If you fail to act, employees will think your organisation lacks consideration towards them. Furthermore, any future attempt to consult the employees will be met with cynicism.
6. Preserve the confidentiality of individual responses
Employees rarely feel comfortable criticizing their colleagues and employer. If you provide employees with the guaranty that their answers will remain confidential, it will increase their level of comfort and they will answer more truthfully. Obtaining complete and accurate information is paramount. If you get misleading information because the employees do not feel comfortable when answering the survey, you might take no corrective actions (no one complained), or take action on more benign issues because no one raised the more important and controversial issues.
Preserving confidentiality for employees is generally accomplished by mandating an independent third party to conduct the online survey and compile the results. You can draft your own questionnaire, and ask the third party to collect the data on your behalf.
7. Increase the response rate
For employee surveys, the key factor that will increase participation is your ability to communicate the importance of the survey to your employees. You have to let them know you are doing this to improve the quality of their work life.
Keeping the survey within a reasonable length will also help the participation rate. If the survey is too long, you run the risk that participants will abandon it mid-way through. Preferably, the online survey platform you use should offer the option of letting participants save their work and come back to it later.
Another way to boost the participant rate is to give incentives or prizes: diner for two, money, tickets, electronic equipment, etc.
8. Be transparent
Provide all the aggregate statistical results to employees. When providing samples of comments, do not only select the positive comments and leave negative ones out. The absence of negative comments reflects poorly on the credibility of the results.
If you gave prizes, makes sure you inform all participants of who won the prizes.
9. Follow up with an action plan
When inviting participants to complete the survey, set out a follow-up timeframe that includes when the results will be made available and when the action plan will be presented. If possible, the action plan should also include timelines. Remember that once you have raised issues, employees will expect concrete action within a reasonable timeframe. Failing to deliver can cause further distress.