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Annie Hayes

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How to: Craft the perfect employee opinion survey

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In a recent Any Answers post Garry Newby asked for advice on compiling an employee attitude survey; Harvey Bennett explains in his bite-sized guide just how to get the right data.


An Employee Opinion Survey is one of a range of survey/feedback tools in the organisation development locker. The others in the range include 360-degree feedback, team effectiveness surveys, customer satisfaction surveys and, in the political sphere, opinion polls.

They all follow the same approach:

  • Decide why you want the data and how you intend to use it.

  • Decide what data you want to collect, and from whom (sample, census).

  • Design a suitable questionnaire.

  • Ensure that you have suitable means to collect and analyse the data.

  • Test it out/pilot it amending if necessary.

  • Communicate with employees in advance of surveying.

  • Run the survey.

  • Take action on the results.

  • Re-measure, re-run the survey (all or part/census or sample) at regular intervals to measure progress.

For HR professionals who are considering using employee surveys, there are a number of key points that can make or break a successful venture into using a survey/feedback tool.

1. You need to recognise the political dimensions of running surveys in organisations. The data may well provide evidence that the employees perceive the organisation isn’t a perfect place to work in (I’m still looking for this utopia!), so you need to prepare the ground before embarking on any survey activity.

2. The survey needs to have senior sponsorship/ownership. They need to be on message that survey/feedback isn’t a one-off exercise in collecting data; it is the start of a continuous improvement process in which data is collected regularly and is used to identify where change can be beneficially made, with the survey data showing over time whether or not the changes have resulted in improvement. As an HR professional, can you help provide a commercial case for your organisation to start running surveys?

3. If there are concerns by employees around trust and confidentiality within your organisation, have your survey run by an external administrator, who will also process and analyse the data for you.

4. Establish a realistic budget for running surveys. Data collection has associated costs. If the sponsors want external benchmark comparisons, recognise that this will have a major impact on cost because you will need to subcontract survey administration to one of the specialist companies that use standard survey items and have a large database for comparing results across industry sectors and geographical regions. The most important benchmark is your first survey; you measure all your improvements against that one; the other benchmarks are nice-to-have but not essential.

5. Employees need to have confidence that something positive will result from their giving feedback to the organisation. If the organisation has ‘previous form’ in running surveys which have had no visible outcomes, then don’t expect a high response rate to your survey. Prepare the ground for your survey; communicate why it’s being run (and repeated) and how the data will be used. If employees can be involved in its usage, for example through continuous improvement projects or perhaps consultative panels, so much the better.

6. Be honest in sharing feedback with employees. If the survey reveals that something needs to be fixed, then don’t try to cover it up. You can be sure that employees will be talking about it anyway. A cover up damages management credibility.

7. Ensure the design/content of the survey is relevant to the issues that the organisation faces – no obvious gaps (“we’d better not ask questions about this because we know what the result will be!”). Avoidance damages management credibility.

8. Keep questionnaires as short as possible (consistent with number 7 above) to encourage a high response rate. Some organisations run a lottery with a small prize or prizes to respondents, to encourage a higher response rate.

9. Ensure the wording of questions is absolutely clear.

10. Make the data collection as simple as possible. Online survey questionnaires make data collection very simple, but not everyone has access to a PC at work or at home. When running census surveys (that is asking all your employees) you need to accommodate these employees by providing paper-based questionnaires; not seeking their opinions tells them that they are not valued by the organisation.

11. Ensure that you have sufficient demographic information collected in each questionnaire so that you can analyse/use the data well, but recognising that you must not compromise any guarantees given to respondents about confidentiality and anonymity.

12. Manage employee expectations about the outcomes of the survey; set and communicate a realistic timetable for feeding back results. First of all, give yourself plenty of time for you and the senior team to understand and make sense of the data, and to prioritise and agree next steps. Secondly, prepare the feedback communication stage, setting out the headline results and what specific actions you intend to take – maybe two or three specific action steps. Thirdly, if these steps entail engaging employees in problem-solving and recommending actions, ensure that the senior team reserve the right to accept or decline a recommendation, giving reasons, and that employees understand this. For example, the organisation may not have the funding to implement a recommendation.

13. Do whatever you said that you would do.

14. Measure your progress with further surveys. One survey is just a snapshot of where you were when the survey was run…..ok for the initial diagnostic, but not much else.

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Annie Hayes

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