Conducting survey research with employees presents a different set of challenges than research with customers or prospects. While it is certainly easier to reach and communicate with your employees, the relationship between employee and your business is different and more complicated than with your customers. While some of the solutions for these challenges are the same (shorter surveys, better questions, etc.), there are also challenges that demand very different approaches.
One aspect of employee data collection that does not apply to other types of research is communication. Use different internal communication vehicles to make sure that employees know the survey is coming, which executive is supporting it, how the results will be handled, how they can take the survey, and what incentives will be offered if any. Be sure to include communication to managers about talking with their staff about the survey so that you can identify and remove any obstacles that might come up from mid-level staff. And if you have unionized employees, it is probably a good idea to get the union onboard with the survey before you launch.
Do you have employees who do not have ready access to a work computer? For example, do you have employees who work in manufacturing plants? How geographically dispersed are your employees? Making your employee survey accessible to employees in different settings and locations might require an online survey for some, a paper-and-pencil survey for others, and setting up a laptop with internet access in the plant breakroom for still others. What about different languages? Do all your employees speak and write fluent English, or do you need translation? The important thing is to think through the variety and come up with the best approach – or approaches – to allow and help as many of your employees as possible to complete the survey.
Incentives increase the response to employee surveys, just as they do to customer surveys. Gift cards and cold, hard cash are always welcome in employee surveys, and they also create an opportunity for some fun. For example, the department with the highest response rate in the company gets a catered lunch or ice cream sundae party. Another popular incentive in employee surveys is a drawing for additional time-off. And finally, unlike customers, employees may enjoy receiving logoed items as incentives. Just be sure that you do not violate any employment agreements or contracts with the incentives you want to offer.
Don’t be afraid to use more reminders than you would in a customer survey. Research has shown that later employee survey participants tend to be more engaged and satisfied than earlier participants. And if you are offering incentives, your reminders can focus on that rather than on nagging non-respondents to get the survey done.
The average response rate for an employee survey is about 60%, but of course, can go higher. If you reach 50% participation, you should consider the employee survey a success. However, unlike customer surveys, your response rate is an important data point. It is important to look at response rate by division and department, county/location, and even by manager, to see if there are some very low-participation groups. That might indicate a problem with those employees or how they perceived or accessed the survey. Or it may mean that you are just asking employees to complete surveys too often. At the same time, a 100% participation rate may be impressive but is not valuable if employees believe they were coerced or forced into participating. So, response rates on either extreme should result in additional investigation.
The final tip is confidentiality. This goes beyond maintaining privacy about individual respondent identities. In some case, where the number of people reporting to a manager or in a specific department is small, employees may be concerned that their manager will be able to “figure out” which employees are giving negative responses. To prevent this, you might want to specify a minimum number of responses for analysis at certain levels. Remember, confidentiality is not just about information privacy, but also about fear of reprisals.
Employee surveys are an excellent source of information for better running your business. However, they do take a little more planning – and perhaps sensitivity – than the average customer survey. Take time to effectively plan your data collection process, and you will be paid back with optimal results.
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