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8 Considerations When Determining Questionnaire Length

One of the most common questions we hear at WorkTango is “how long should we make our survey?”   

Well, it depends.  

It depends on your intention or purpose. How often you deploy surveys. How quickly feedback is shared. (You do share findings with your entire employee population, right?) It depends on a lot of variables. Here are EIGHT key considerations to take into account when determining the length of your survey: 

1. Firstly, there’s no such thing as “Survey Fatigue”… only lack of action fatigue 

An online search for “survey fatigue” nets page upon page defining and recommending how to avoid or minimize exhausting employees with requests for feedback. But survey fatigue is a misnomer. There’s no such thing when your strategy is well planned, your surveys are intentional and properly designed, and you can ACT on feedback (the sooner the better).  

Download our guide on how to act on employee survey insights to help your employee survey initiatives.

Without any concrete evidence to demonstrate that concerns are being heard, that credible suggestions are being taken into account, and that the time and effort put into answering a survey is making a difference, wouldn’t you ask yourself “what’s the point?” Doesn’t it follow that you’d be less inclined to respond next time? Why would anyone else think any differently? Hence why inaction is the chief reason behind declining or low response rates.  

Poor respondent engagement is a symptom of poor survey methodology, not an indication that people are tired of expressing their opinions. 

Tips

  • Be careful not to include survey items with factors where action may be difficult to roll out, especially in unionized environments. 
  • Be wary of automated survey tools where you do not select the survey items. It’s hard to act when you can’t anticipate what you may need to act on. Similarly, be cautious of vendors that don’t allow you to customize your survey items, or make it difficult to customize with excessive survey design costs. 
  • Perform short, targeted diagnostic follow-up surveys to determine if your actions are moving the needle. We call it Active Listening. Actions that are not moving the needle are just as bad as no action at all. Be agile. Iterate. And communicate your efforts.  

2. Watch the clock 

It didn’t take much for marketing minds consumed with mining the psyches of consumers and business customers to realize that time is precious and deserves respect. The same applies to internal stakeholders. 

From a pragmatic position, any survey requiring more than 15 or 20 minutes to complete may be a few items too many. And long surveys typically equate to fewer responses. A sophisticated technology firm experienced this outcome first-hand. The company deploys a massive employee survey every six months and has watched response rates drop from a high of 71% for the first survey to 49% for the latest. With substantially less representation across the entire company, data validity has become a legitimate concern.  

If a survey takes up too much of a person’s time they may lose interest, answer hurriedly rather than accurately, ignore open-ended questions or quit the survey well before finishing.  A valid suggestion is to show a progress bar. Impatient respondents may want to know how much longer the survey will take, especially when the survey is presented in various separate online pages.

Survey Fatigue - looking at watch

3. Look at previous survey response rates

Iyou’ve been doing massive surveys and getting high participation and good results, go with it. If rates are falling, lean on shorter surveys.

An employee survey must have a good response rate to produce accurate and useful results. Low response rates usually don’t include a true random respondent sample. Overt optimists or constant complainers may skew feedback and bias results. And conclusions drawn from unrepresentative data can cause problems if used to guide strategies and actions.

4. Take your cue from trust levels

What are trust levels like in your organization? If it’s on the low side, keep to short surveys and ramp up communication. Emphasize confidentiality. Promote how feedback is intended to be used and then be sure to make it happen. Report on progress. Ask for feedback every step along the way. Trust is a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Be transparent. Do what you say you’re going to do, give employees a firm belief in the reliability of their organization, and the length or frequency of surveys won’t get in the way of getting the data you need to keep improving.

5. Factor in survey frequency 

If an annual or biennial Employee Engagement questionnaire is your singular feedback tool, you need to collect as much data as you can, when you can. This means asking lots of questions to get a solid baseline, a lay of the land. Otherwise, you could be missing out on critical details. So, use that engagement survey to ask away. 

Some companies, like us, here at WorkTango, supplement a full-on engagement survey with regular targeted surveys as a part of our Active Listening model. We conduct an internal survey and share feedback every single week. Six questions. That’s all we ask. Response rates have yet to dip below 80-some percent while our eNPS is always (boastfully) high, a great example of survey fatigue being a misnomer. 

Others we work with deploy pulse surveys on a biweekly, monthly, or quarterly basis to better understand the employee experience and become nimbler in the process.  

 Whatever cadence your organization chooses, make sure survey frequency aligns with management’s ability to act on findings.  

The frequency of employee surveys should also take into account the current climate inside your organization and beyond. Sentiment around the pandemic is an obvious case in point. Opinion polls tell us employee engagement gained traction. When people were suddenly thrown into a remote work-world, organizations had to figure out how to keep in touch. Frequent surveys took on heightened value. 

Survey Fatigue - working from home

6. Mix up your surveys

If you decide to deploy frequent surveys, ask different questions.   

Learn how employees feel about the results and actions associated with previous surveys.  Otherwise, you’re spinning your wheels and driving right into survey fatigue. An advanced technology company with 500 employees, for instance, has been sending out a 27-item survey every month and keeping it open for three to four weeks. Each survey asks the exact same questions. As a result of this repetitive, essentially non-stop open-survey tactic response rates have fallen 22%.   

Think about using frequent surveys as a fun team-building tool too. At WorkTango, to add some playfulness into the weekly survey. Our questionnaire often features a quirky question like: Does pineapple go with pizza? What was your favourite childhood toy? Are you left-handed? Right-handed? Ambidextrous? Or mixed-handed? There’s nothing wrong and everything right with a little levity. 

7. Keep it relevant

Keep your audience in mindDo the questions asked of administrative office staff have any bearing on manufacturing personnel or front-line staff?

Post-secondary institutions and hospitals are two environments where what works for administrative and support staff doesn’t always resonate with scholars or physicians and surgeons. Is the terminology familiar? What about the vocabulary level?  Use intuitive survey tools that skip questions or sections of a survey (skip logic) or present different questions based on a respondent’s earlier answers or pre-assigned HRIS demographic details (attribute-based questions). 

8. Know what you want to know

Is it an Employee Engagement survey you want to deploy? Health & Wellness? Diversity, Equity and Inclusion? Occupational Health & Safety? Onboarding or Exit feedback? Pulse surveys about internal or external impacts on employee sentiment? Know what you want to learn before developing your survey question sets. You can ask dozens or just a half-dozen questions as long as you take action on the one or two or few factors that have the greatest bearing on improving the employee experience.  

The right length and frequency of employee surveys also hinges on whether you’re a large corporation with tens of thousands of employees, a mid-sized organization with tens of hundreds, or a start-up with a small, globally dispersed team.  

Can you realistically deploy a survey once a week? Or once a month? Or even every quarter? Well, again, it depends. A customized approach to WorkTango’s continuous Active Listening model will allow you to authentically hear, learn and respond to the voice of your employees, without ever coming close to causing that so-called phenomena called “Survey Fatigue.” 

Book a demo today to talk to an expert and get a customized approach for your business.

Additional Resources

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