Survey Saturation: When Is Too Much Of A Good Thing Too Much?

Pulse surveys, engagement surveys, 360 surveys, attitude surveys, organizational assessment surveys, safety surveys, entry and exit surveys – the possibilities are endless. And online survey tools make it easy. At a recent HR chapter meeting, a question was raised about survey saturation. When does asking for employee input become one survey too many?

It really depends on the type of survey your organization wants to run and the reasons for doing so.

The Board and senior management of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, for example, started out thinking a full employee engagement survey every year was a great idea. As their survey partner, TalentMap recommended they pause on that and consider a pulse survey instead.

“It was an excellent recommendation,” says Sue Ward, Human Resources Manager for the Foundation. “We weren’t quite at the point where we were doing enough actions around survey results. Employees were going to say, ‘what are you doing with our feedback?’ The pulse survey took a quick look at whether employees recognized what we were doing, which gave us further guidance about what we needed to do next. We appreciated that recommendation. It worked out really, really well.”

There’s no arguing that the number one secret to avoid survey saturation is to pace the number of surveys you conduct with your organization’s ability to act on findings. Without demonstrable actions, employees are less likely to fill out a second or third or fourth survey. And when response rates drop, so does the quality of your data.

When significant numbers of employees opt not to respond to a survey it’s possible they share common viewpoints that aren’t being voiced. What you end up getting is unrepresentative feedback from a skewed sample, some of whom may be overly optimistic and others disgruntled pessimists

Employee survey fatigue sets in, and response rates fall for lots of other good reasons.

  • Survey length – too long and respondents may lose interest, not answer as fully as they could, skip open-ended questions and possibly even drop-off midway through the questionnaire. Keep questions simple, clear and easy to answer.
  • Relevance – whether customizing a survey or not, put yourself in the shoes of your workforce. Are questions applicable to office workers relevant to front-line staff or plant workers?  Use survey tools that skip questions or sections of a survey based on a respondent’s earlier answers.
  • Asking the same question in different ways – redundancy is simply that: repetitive, superfluous, tiring and not all that useful.
  • Timing and raison d’être – will either exasperate or conciliate. Ask for input at the right time, for example when change management is taking place, and at key times in an employee’s work cycle (newly hired, newly promoted, voluntarily leaving). Plan strategically. Define exactly what it is your organization needs to know and when. Keep questions focused. Use pulse surveys to fill in data gaps between full-blown engagement surveys to gauge what you’re doing well, and where your organization can do better.

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