I was reminded about the challenge of survey fatigue recently, when a client asked, “How do I get a handle on all of the surveys hitting employees?” Just as organizations strive to manage broadcast emails, many are now wrestling with how to gather feedback while respecting employees’ time. 

When it comes to surveys, I like the Goldilocks strategy. The goal is to conduct just the right number of surveys across the company, so stakeholders have the data they need to make decisions and plan, employees feel their input is valued, and the organization avoids low participation. 

If you’re put in the delicate position of managing surveys across the company, you’ll likely have two roles to play: 

  • Gate keeper—managing employees’ experience with surveys
  • Coach—encouraging colleagues to think strategically about research

Here are guidelines that will help:

  1. Limit large census surveys (all employees) to one or two each year. Examples include engagement and internal communication surveys. (Large surveys typically include 40 to 50 questions and may take eight to ten minutes to complete.) 
  2. Field spot surveys. Supplement large census surveys with spot surveys (about five questions). These should only take two or three minutes to complete.
  3. Use a sample. Rather than survey all employees, field the survey with a representative segment. For example, if you have 30,000 employees, you would need 1,030 responses to generate valid data.
  4. Encourage other research methods. With tools like SurveyMonkey, surveys are easy to set up and field. Remind those who want to conduct a survey that other forms of research may be more appropriate, such as focus groups, interviews, observation and e-metrics/web stats.
  5. Leverage data from existing surveys or other research. For example, a recent engagement survey may provide insight on a stakeholder’s issue.
  6. Ensure surveys are well designed, so employees can complete them quickly and the results are useful. If you’ve ever been stumped by a survey question, you understand the power of well-designed questions.
  7. Share results and actions to encourage future participation.


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