How many employee surveys are too many?
Est. Read Time: 3 min.
You’ve probably heard (or used) this phrase before: survey fatigue. Before surveys became as common as they are today, if your company conducted an annual employee engagement survey, it was considered progressive.
Those were different times.
As the competition for talent has intensified and unemployment rates have declined, our need to retain employees has led to more frequent surveys. In addition to an annual survey, you may conduct shorter “pulse” surveys throughout the year. We use them to get feedback about training and benefits programs. Many organizations also participate in best places to work surveys.
This can all add up to a bunch of surveys. Since not everyone loves to complete them, it’s reasonable to worry that they may have a detrimental effect on employees. Hence the idea of survey fatigue. This leads us to the million-dollar question: How many surveys are too many for employees?
When employees are suffering from survey fatigue, bad things happen.
- They are less thoughtful in their responses leading to less accurate data
- They stop responding altogether
- Worst of all, just being asked to complete a survey becomes disengaging
All of these are counterproductive to why you conduct a survey in the first place: to improve the work experience for employees to drive retention and performance. What to do?
The problem with current advice on survey fatigue
If you search for advice on how to combat survey fatigue, most of what you’ll find is aimed at the design of the survey itself: reduce the number of questions, ensure you only ask about what matters, and make sure your questions are well-constructed. This is all good advice for any survey. But it alone won’t prevent survey fatigue.
It’s not the surveys we grow tired of; it’s filling out surveys that don’t result in any follow-up or change. A survey is a request for feedback. The implication is that this feedback will be used in some positive way to make improvements. In other words, employees aren’t fatigued from surveys. They're fatigued from being asked for their feedback over and over without seeing any meaningful change.
If you had a friend who repeatedly asked for your feedback but never did anything with it, you’d stop offering it. Moreso, every time you were asked, you’d probably be a little annoyed. Why ask for feedback if you're just going to ignore it?
How to eliminate survey fatigue for your employees
By following some simple rules of thumb, you can ensure that your employees aren’t getting burned out and worn down by too many surveys.
1. Don’t send a survey unless it really matters.
A common mistake made with surveys is to deploy them simply because you can. Employee surveys are a tool for diagnosing and assessing the employee’s experience of work. The data collected should help inform and guide the actions taken to solve problems and make improvements.
If you don’t intend to take action or you aren’t sure if the problem is worth solving, then don’t do a survey.
2. Ensure it’s not a bad survey.
If you decide a survey is worth doing, then do it right. Bad survey design and poorly written questions lead to useless results. If you're using a quality platform to send surveys, you should have access to a library of validated questions from which to choose. If you feel the need to create your own questions, consult with an I/O psychologist for help.
Resist the urge to write your own questions because nothing is more counterproductive than fielding an employee survey that has zero chance of yielding accurate results.
3. Close every feedback loop.
This is crucial: You must follow up on every survey. Sending out an employee survey of any kind is opening a feedback loop with every employee who takes it. Whether it’s a three-question pulse, an annual engagement, or best-place-to-work survey, you must close the feedback loop.
You can accomplish this by acknowledging what you heard from the feedback and declaring what you intend to do about it. On the most basic level, this requires sharing some results and communicating about what happens next as a result of the survey.
When you don’t close the feedback loop, you lose both confidence and trust.
Employee survey fatigue: The bottom line
The number of surveys you do isn’t the primary cause of survey fatigue. It’s what you do as a result of the survey that really matters. Good surveys that lead to fairly immediate positive progress will rarely cause you problems. Employees love seeing their feedback acted upon.
If you focus on only using well-designed surveys that matter and closing every feedback loop, your employees will be energized rather than fatigued by them.
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About Jason Lauritsen
Jason Lauritsen is a keynote speaker, author, and consultant. He is an employee engagement and workplace culture expert who will challenge you to think differently. A former corporate Human Resources executive, Jason has dedicated his career to helping leaders build organizations that are good for both people and profits. Most recently, he led the research team for Quantum Workplace’s Best Places to Work program where he has studied the employee experience at thousands of companies to understand what the best workplaces in the world do differently than the rest. Jason is the co-author of the book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, and author of his new book, Unlocking High Performance, to be published by Kogan Page in October 2018.