How to choose the right Employee Survey Questions

1/31/2019 Employee Engagement
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This article is part of a larger series on Employee Engagement. We're going to delve deeper into Employee Survey Questions: what to ask, why to ask and when to ask.


For those readers looking for the quick fix, you can get access to all the Roslin questions for free if you sign up here. Consider using Roslin for your survey or just use Google Forms.

Employee Survey Questions, where to begin?

We at Roslin recommend that you start with a broad set of questions to establish a baseline. This will prevent your own biases from blinding you from problems in your organization. This is simply because you don't know what you don't know.

Once your baseline is out and you have a broad view of what the status is of your Employee Engagement, you can then focus on specific areas that you'd like to improve.

How do you decide where to focus? You'll likely have a good idea when the data is in front of you. It's going to depend on what solutions you come up with to staff problems or what culture building exercises you'd like to perform. Not all Engagement Drivers are equal either, their importance differs based on your industry, preferred culture, stage of life and staff demographics.

What we can say is that Management Support and Trust in Senior Leadership are always going to be top concerns. These speak directly to your mission, vision, trust in the ability of your management team to execute your strategy and the quality of management that staff is receiving day-to-day. These are must-haves for ANY organization.

Guiding principles for Employee Survey Questions

Your staff is not here to take surveys. By sending out surveys you are introducing measurement overhead into your organization. Reducing their cost to your staff will minimize this overhead and increase participation rates. How? Keep the Cognitive Load low. This means keeping the surveys intuitive, easy to understand and accessible to everyone.

"It's very important to balance the cost of gathering data through surveys with the benefit gained from staff feedback."

Some guiding principles:

  • Encourage candidates to be candid: Be sure to set the tone at the beginning of the survey with an introduction stating the purpose of the survey. It must also stress the importance of candid feedback. Respondents typically have fears that their responses are being recorded and that being negative could impact their careers. You need to dispel those fears.
  • Survey responses should be exhaustive: Every staff member should be able to answer every question. If staff members hit questions not relevant to them without something to click on then you risk them dropping off.
  • Responses should be mutually exclusive: In multiple choice questions, options should be clear-cut. E.g. 2pm-3pm and 2:30pm to 4:30pm are overlapping.
  • Allow people to be subjective: Asking for hard data during a survey is asking for a lot of mental work. Instead, use words and phrases like “roughly,” “in your opinion,” “generally,” to give your staff some lee-way.
  • Limit open-ended questions: People get tired at the sight of text boxes as they require much more mental effort than multiple choice. Rather leave them for the end of the survey or make it clear that they are optional.
  • Make the concept of your question clear: Typically, you will have had more management training and experience than the subordinates who will be taking the survey. Bear this in mind when wording questions related to complex management concepts or structures.
  • Don't address more than 1 concept: If you ask someone to agree or disagree whether their experience was “quick and easy,” and their experience was extremely quick but not at all easy, how should they answer? Further, you've just blurred your data. Each question should deal with one and only one concept.
  • Don't ask leading questions: "How amazing was this survey?" Is going to cause a positive bias with your candidate. You need candid feedback.
  • Phrase your questions for excellence: You need to set the bar high. Don't ask if something was good, ask if it was excellent or top in its category. You need to force respondents to discriminate against mediocrity and express their view of what excellence looks like and where they see it in your organization.

What to do on follow up

We've covered some general principles on defining your employee survey questions. To follow up on your general survey, if you found some serious issues in one aspect of your organization or wanted to focus on one element of your culture, you could define more detailed questions for that aspect. For example, where you used to have 2 questions for each engagement driver you could now have 6 for the 2 or 3 engagement drivers that you're focusing on. This will give you more refined data to make better decisions.

Simply keep up the focus until you've reached the milestone you wanted to achieve. I.e. the particular component of your culture has been instilled or you feel that the problem has been solved. Then take a step back with another general survey, plan what you want to focus on for the coming months and focus again.

Conclusion

So in summary, you want to be very deliberate when choosing your employee survey questions. Decide what you want to ask and when to ask it. Start broad and then zero in on what you want or need to work on. Then go broad, reassess and start again.


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WRITTEN BY
JP Olivier
Chartered Accountant, self-taught coder, entrepreneur, investor. Co-Founder of www.roslinlab.com and CFO at www.sonictelecoms.co.za.