Nothing can ruin an employee communication survey like poorly written questions. Bad questions decrease the likelihood that employees will complete your survey, as well as impact the validity of your data. In this issue of Smart Tips, Davis & Company consultants share their experiences with bad questions.

Problem: demographics overload

"The worst question I've ever seen was actually a series of questions to allow segmentation of results by work group. But the company was so complex that employees couldn't accurately identify which group they belonged to. Some had response rates well over 100%, rendering the segmented data invalid."

Advice: Less is more, especially when it comes to demographics questions.

Problem: complex questions

"I'm part of an 'insiders' group for a clothing retailer. (Basically, the retailer bribes me to participate in their research with chances to win gift cards.) I was asked for my opinion on ten different promotional offers. Each was long, complicated and hard to differentiate from the next. I was so frustrated that I gave up and quit the survey."

Advice: Simple is always better. A survey shouldn't feel like work.

Problem: two-in-one questions

"It's a classic mistake, but one I see often, and it gets me every time: two questions in one. For example: Was the message clear and compelling? Is your manager honest and trustworthy? The results are inherently flawed."

Advice: Split these questions up for more valid responses.

Problem: vague questions

"Every survey has at least one question that's open to interpretation. For example: Did you enjoy the town hall meeting? Employees might respond favorably because the content was compelling or because they got to nap in the auditorium for an hour."

Advice: You can learn more by making the question concrete. For example: Was the Town Hall meeting a good use of your time?

Problem: questions with a biased rating scale

"The worst survey question I've ever seen was flawed because of the rating scale. It used a five-point scale, but the options were weighted too heavily towards the negative: Agree/Somewhat Agree/Neutral/Somewhat Disagree/Disagree. I'm glad I didn't have to present those results!"

Advice: Ensure your rating scale is balanced with an equal number of positive and negative responses.

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