Quick Summary: Will employees tell you what they want and need? You bet they will, but only if your survey asks the right questions.
It’s smart to survey employees to gauge their needs, desires, and misconceptions, but the process should be strategic, not shoddy. Here’s how to craft an effective questionnaire that can lead to more effective health programs and workplace communication.
Thousands of scientific papers have been written on how to develop workplace surveys, and the research findings are varied and disjointed.
One commonality that’s important for HR and benefits managers is this: The best surveys are constructed with an open mind (no opinion going in) and a plan to use the data once it’s gathered.
By taking into account some of the issues noted here, you’ll be able to better prepare your next survey:
- Keep your survey simple and logical. Employees don’t want to see crowded pages that are hard to read, with complex instructions, or questions that skip from one section to another. Assume the respondent has an eighth-grade education. (Note: A questionnaire administered by a hired professional interviewer can be more intricate.)
- Move from general to specific. There are no hard-and-fast rules for the flow or sequence of questions, but the following guidelines can help:
- Keep the respondent in one mindset at a time. Complete all questions about one topic before moving to the next. For example, don’t ask about a person’s perceptions of health savings accounts and then go back to questions on wellness programs.
- Ask easy questions first, and more introspective ones later. Simple questions regarding behavior are easy for respondents to answer because they don’t have to think about them. As a result, employees quickly get comfortable with the survey.
- Avoid questions that lead respondents to an answer or give them too much to consider. “It takes very little thought to write out a bunch of questions on a piece of paper and call it a questionnaire,” says Bob Kaden, president of The Kaden Company and author of the book Guerrilla Marketing Research. He cites the following examples of good and bad questioning techniques:
Biased question: What did you like about the last wellness program we offered?
An assumption here is that the respondent liked it, and so the question tends to push for a positive response. A better question: What, if anything, did you like about the last wellness program we offered?
Dual-thought question: What, if anything, do you like or dislike about your doctor?
”With such a question, employees tend to focus first on the strongest likes or dislikes,” Kaden says. “If it happens to be something they like, they will give less thought to what they might not like, and vice versa. It would be much better to ask two questions—one focusing only on likes and the other only on dislikes.”
Multiple-thought question: With 10 being more important and 1 being least important, how important is it for a bank to have friendly and knowledgeable employees?
Friendly is one thought, knowledgeable is another. When you ask a dual-thought question, you are stuck interpreting both issues at once. Keep your questions to a single thought.
- Be sensitive to employees’ time. “Respondents will fill out a 40-page self-administered questionnaire if it is well written and easy to complete and will toss a 2-page questionnaire if it is cluttered and complex, but a good rule of thumb is to keep the timeframe to about 5–10 minutes,” Kaden says.
- If you conduct employee surveys simply to push through an agenda or program, you’ll begin regardless of survey responses, so don’t waste your time asking questions.
- Before sending questions to employees, make sure they’re easy to understand, flow logically, and can be answered quickly. The best way to test your questions is to try out your questionnaire on actual employees (a focus group).
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