Is Your Employee Survey Worthless?

Every year, human resource professionals in companies everywhere conduct an employee satisfaction survey. Oftentimes, it’s the same questionnaire they emailed the year before. But HR workers should scrutinize their surveys, improving questions to make the ordeal worth everyone’s while.

Usually, employees worry that their tell-all responses will be read by the boss, so they share a sanitized version of the truth. Even if they do divulge their real feelings, workers are then dismayed when no real change happens after the survey — it feels like their detailed concerns weren’t even heard.Frauke Kreuter

There is a better way. Social scientists study how to make the most scientifically accurate surveys, and HR professionals can put their findings to good use. I spoke with Frauke Kreuter, a sociologist and statistician at the University of Maryland, to learn what HR professionals can do to improve their surveys.

1) Take your time

We ask questions on a daily basis, and as a result, some HR workers think surveys are easier to write than they truly are, Kreuter says.

“It took scientists 300 years to measure longitude; it does take time to develop a good measurement instrument,” she says. “

To measure satisfaction or any other concept in HR, thinking that you can do this in an afternoon is a misconception of how difficult measurement can be.Click To Tweet

Instead, slow down and do pre-testing before you distribute your survey. Gather a small focus group of workers to test questions in person. When you ask them, “Do you feel engaged at work?” you’ll notice that each person has a different definition of engagement, including time spent at work and job satisfaction. Once you gather sample responses, you’ll be able to refine your questions to get more specific responses that will be useful in the workplace.

“Taking that time with focus groups, qualitative interviews and cognitive pre-testing to see if people understand the questions, that doesn’t often happen,” Kreuter says.

2. Be transparent

“On the web, with all the tracking possibilities, people might not always feel as safe as with a paper questionnaire,” Kreuter says.

Instead of letting employees’ worry about who might read their qualitative responses, spell out what will happen with their answers and why you’re conducting the survey. Simply sharing who will be handling the data and how they will do it will lead to more honest answers.

3. Be mindful of your audience

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To keep your survey unbiased, tailor your questions to the diversity of your audience. Kreuter has noticed that university-wide surveys often don’t have responses that suit the different departments. After all, questions appropriate for the science department might not apply to the art faculty. Make sure you have questions and answers available for each type of worker. Then, make sure you poll them all.

“If you have a hypothesis on what types of people are more likely to differ in their answers, you want to make sure you represent all of these different types in the survey,” she says. “If you only get the dissatisfied employees, that causes biases. If you only have those with secure employment and not those on contracts, that causes a problem. Think about your composition of your sample, it’s key.”

4. Ask behavioral questions instead of emotional ones

The biggest challenge of survey writing comes as a surprise: “You will always get an answer,” says Kreuter. “By age three, you learned that you have to give answers. Only small children can ignore a question. As adults, we give answers even if we don’t have one. It’s a mistake on the part of survey issuers [to assume] that just because they got answers, the survey results are meaningful.”

To ensure that your survey responses are significant, ask specific, behavioral questions. “With those questions, you might be more likely to get actionable items,” says Kreuter.

Instead of asking how to improve office morale, give your employees a multiple-choice question about how they would distribute a budget of $10,000 across departments. These answers will be more concrete and actionable.

Take the time to improve your surveys, and the results might not be such a hassle to sift through. A well-designed employee satisfaction could even end up boosting office morale itself.

This article originally appeared on ReWork, a publication exploring the future of work.

Rebecca Huval writes about design and the many ways it intersects with our world, from tech to urban planning to food. As a journalist, her bylines have appeared in publications such as the Awl, Mother Jones and Communication Arts, where she served as managing editor.


3 Comments on “Is Your Employee Survey Worthless?

  1. I agree that havin the same questionnaire from one year to another years is counerproductive. It’s necessary to work on it and implement new ideas and questions depending on the recent tendencies. According to the Recruiters Sentiment Study 2016 by MRI Network, 86% of recruiters and 62% of employers believe that the labor market is candidate-driven. In other words, both HR forces and executives know that in order to get the best industry experts on board, organizations have to meet the highest standards of their future hires. The primary challenge isn’t even in actually satisfying employees’ needs and living up to their expectations, but, first and foremost, in learning and understanding what these needs and expectations are. That is exactly what workplace surveys are held for. In the article “Mobile feedback for HRM: The bright sides that annual satisfaction surveys don’t have” my colleague has unveiled the difficulties that HR departments experience with workplace surveys, and explained how dedicated mobile applications can provide it keen competition. To read the article, follow the link:

  2. The surveys among employees are an important process to build strong relationships inside the team. You can get the information about what each of your employees expects to get from the current project and to know more the workflow atmosphere of the team. You can read the article written on Itransition blog for more information about effective communication in teams: .
    Any successful product starts from the cooper-ation and relationship between team members.
    So questionnaires must be done to build strong relations between employees so human resource man-agers must improve them to make them more effective.

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