As consumers we’re increasingly being asked to complete surveys and provide feedback on the organisations we interact with. The same trend for gathering more feedback is happening at work, with employers seeing the benefits that listening to staff and acting on their insight can bring. However, feedback is only relevant if you receive a high enough response rate for your survey – otherwise you risk making decisions based on the opinions of a small percentage of your target population. So how do you increase the amount of feedback you request from staff without asking so often they simply don’t respond?

First, it’s worth understanding that there are actually two types of survey fatigue. The first is when your employees fail to complete or submit feedback – survey taking fatigue (STF). They may start to fill in a survey, but then become tired or bored of the process. Factors that might lead to this include: survey design, lack of time to complete the survey, the number of questions etc.

The second type of survey fatigue is when employees simply ignore the survey invitation without even looking at the questions – survey response fatigue (SRF). This could be because they feel they have been asked for feedback too many times, and have become disengaged by the whole process. 

Addressing both types of survey fatigue
You can do some things to address both types of survey fatigue and help to encourage participation.

1. A clear purpose
Ensure there is a clear purpose for conducting a survey; the questions are relevant, and will collection the information you need to deliver your business strategy, change initiatives, innovation or improve performance. Even if there are a lot of questions, if employees understand and see a value in the survey and the importance of every question, they’re more likely to participate and complete the survey.

2. Provide a fair exchange
Be clear about what it is employees can expect in return for their feedback. As a minimum, you should take the time to provide honest feedback to the respondents. This should include the survey results (both good and bad), a commitment to actions that will rectify issues identified, delivery of those commitments, and then closing the loop by communicating what has been done and the improvements achieved.

3. Ongoing Communication 
Communicate both the purpose of the feedback and what staff will receive in exchange, during the three stages of feedback activity: pre-launch, feedback live period and post feedback. Post feedback should include regular updates on the actions being taken and the resulting improvements.

4. Make communication a two-way process
Feedback communication should be two-way, so you need to think about communication channels and how to offer employees the opportunity to ask questions regarding the feedback process. One option is to use Voice of the Employee (VoE) champions – train selected employees on the survey process, so that they can roll out communications and act as first line responders for their colleagues’ questions.

5. Act on feedback
Asking for any feedback sets up an expectation that something will be done with the resulting insights. Before you launch a survey ensure you are ready to act on the feedback, and communicate widely what you have done. This will build trust in the process and show that the exchange offered for feedback is genuine.

Reducing Survey Taking Fatigue (STF)
With STF one of the big problems is when survey participants’ attention and motivation drop toward later sections of a questionnaire. Tired or bored employees may more often answer “don’t know,” engage in “straight-line” responding (i.e. choosing answers down the same column on a page), give more perfunctory answers, or give up altogether. Factors that an organisation can use to address these issues include:

1. Avoid question bias
This is a complex subject which has many influences including question wording, question order, scale selection, etc. A few key tips are to keep the language simple so it can be understood by all employees, avoiding jargon or complexity. Do not use emotive language or ask double barrelled questions (where ‘and’ is used) as you may be asking about two different concepts.

2. Limit the number of questions
As a rule of thumb the more often you ask for feedback about the same subject, the fewer the questions you should ask. Ask the minimum number of questions to give you the data you need.

3. Split surveys
An additional approach is to split the question set and ask a very small number of questions on a regular basis, such as two or three questions every Friday. Take questions from the full survey and rotate them so employees spend only a couple of minutes completing it – over time this can build up a full feedback picture. Splitting can provide real time insights while helping to mitigate STF.

4. Ask questions that are relevant
Use attributed survey feedback software that remembers a respondents’ survey history (which questions they have been asked and when, how they responded, demographic data, etc). This means you can tailor additional requests to ensure employees are not asked for information they have already provided – or shown questions that do not apply to them.

5. Make it engaging
Use different visual approaches to engage potential respondents. Make it fun, so that they don’t even consider that they are completing a survey. There are numerous response options that do not involve the more traditional radio buttons such as sliders, picture options, count down timers and of course emojis.

6. Gamification
Gamification is about using elements that are typical of game playing (such as point scoring, competition with others, rules of play), to encourage engagement. You might, for example, award virtual badges for completing split question surveys for a number of weeks running. The level of gamification will depend on factors such as cost and audience, but it is a creative and fun way to engage respondents.

Reducing Survey Response Fatigue (SRF)
In the not too distant past employee feedback was generally gathered on an annual basis. Employee engagement surveys were often a large administrative burden with data gathering, analysis and reporting taking a long time.

Most employers now know that to achieve a more open, two-way dialogue a single annual/biennial survey is not sufficient. They are now developing broader Voice of the Employee strategies; the typical strategy skeleton is an annual survey, with quarterly pulse surveys to monitor the impact of improvement initiatives, with additional short ‘on-demand’ surveys to address specific local/team issues. Research shows that this ongoing approach provides the highest level of satisfaction with the feedback process. However, a greater number of surveys could contribute to SRF, so it is important to focus on these two factors to consider when thinking about whether to request feedback:

1. Frequency
If you’re conducting a series of surveys to measure how an attribute changes over time, the gap between surveys needs to be long enough for any change to take effect. For example, in a steady state environment employee engagement and culture are slow to change so measuring them annually in your main employee survey is valid. For faster changing attributes, a more regular feedback cycle is appropriate.

2. Sample size
In some circumstances you may not need to request feedback from every employee – for example pulse or ad-hoc surveys. By using a rolling sample, you can get representative data for the target audience while ensuring that each employee receives the minimum number of surveys.

There is no one easy solution for reducing survey fatigue, so you should analyse your VoE strategy to see if any of the points above are relevant to your own organisation. Aim to create an open and transparent dialogue using a mix of an annual survey, quarterly pulse surveys, on-demand surveys, and always-on feedback. That will help you gather reliable, actionable feedback that can be used to improve your business, now and in the future.