How to win friends with surveys!

Whenever a workplace issue emerges (such as bullying, harassment, toxic leadership, just to name a few), Heather* in HR says ‘let’s do a survey, that will give us all the answers to our problems and how we can fix these problems’. But will it, really?

Some things Heather and her team need to consider when thinking about surveying their organisation:

  • What are they looking for?

  • How is the data going to be collected; face to face, telephone, email?

  • Anonymous vs Confidential?

  • How are the results going to be distributed; newsletter or annual reporting?

  • Is action going to be taken? How will this be funded?

  • Have the staff been over surveyed?

What are you looking for?

Surveys are a great tool for obtaining data relatively quickly. Examples include staff engagement/satisfaction surveys, exit surveys, pulse surveys. And, if asked – and analysed - correctly they can provide quite a lot of insight into an organisation.

When designing a questionnaire tool, you need to have an idea as to what information you want to collect and why you are collecting it. A potentially ‘interesting’ answer is probably not going to cut it as rationale for including it in your design. If you are not going to address it, definitely do not ask it.

So, HR have decided to conduct a survey, and everyone wants to include questions – if they are going to have the attention of staff for a designated amount of time they want to ask as many questions as possible. Sorry Heather, do not include the question on preferred coffee brand, we all know that International Roast is not the ‘coffee of choice’ but as there is no chance of changing it do not ask the question.

The key here is to focus on questions that address the issue or issues in focus. If you include all questions that senior management, for example, want answers to it could take up to an hour to complete – very few staff members are going to complete a survey that is going to take more than 15 to 20 minutes of their time, even if it is in work time.

Method of Collection

How do you want to collect the data? face to face, telephone, email? Face-to-face data collection often elicits a better response rate but is not the most efficient use of time and resources. Telephone is more cost efficient but relies heavily on resources for data collection. The most cost-efficient method of data collection for organisations is to email the survey (or link to the survey) out to staff. There are a few drawbacks in that the email may go to ‘junk mail’, it may remain unopened in someone’s in box, but it is the quickest way to reach a large group of people simultaneously. Getting staff to respond is another issue, but if they know that management has bought into the process and are keen to embrace change they may also consider completing the survey.

Anonymous vs Confidential

Which is it to be? For those collecting the data, confidentiality is often the preferred way to go. Results presented to the organisation will only be reported in aggregate so that individuals will not be identified.

Following up (chasing!) those respondents who haven’t participated is easier with confidential data collection, especially those responding to weblinks provided by the data collectors, hence a better response rate. It is imperative to stress that just because collectors have your details your answers will remain private and confidential.

No Heather you cannot report that Research and Development think that management could be better as there is only one employee in this division and they will definitely be identified!

Anonymous data collection can be quite tricky, especially if collecting data from your organisation. Answering demographic questions can potentially identify an individual and not asking any demographic questions is rarely beneficial to organisations.

How will you show your results?

As management have agreed to address employee concerns it is important to be transparent with results, and report findings back to staff. Don’t just sit on the data collected.

Yes, Heather you need to report that 75% of staff are not happy with the staff meeting time being held at 8:45 am, especially as core business hours are cited as 9:00am to 4:45 pm in the staff handbook (some of which you wrote).

Staff will feel less inclined to answer questions if they know that management have their feedback but are reluctant to address it. Results need to be disseminated and discussed with staff in a timely manner. Staff will soon become ‘survey fatigued’ if they are surveyed regularly but do not see any evidence of change within the organisation.

Surveys can win friends with a little forethought.

*name changed to protect their identity.

Rapid Context is a research consultancy firm that specialises in organisational change. If you would like to learn more about surveys in the workplace. Please contact us.

Lindy Fritsche is a Senior Consultant at Rapid Context. Her expertise is in quantitative research, implementation and analysis of data. She specialises in survey methodology and design.

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