Dealing with “Over-Surveying”

How Can We Help?

Q: What words of wisdom can you pass on about when you’re working for a company that is reluctant to survey: “Oh, staff have been over-surveyed; we don’t want to bother them.” Unless we set goals and measure, we can never determine if all the effort has been worthwhile. Help!

Many thanks for your assistance.


A: Dear Cathy,

I think that management often believes employees are over surveyed before employees do. Employees feel over surveyed in some of the following situations:

  • The surveys are developed by individuals with no survey design background and include questions that are difficult to understand or respond to, or seem to have no relevance for improving employees’ own work experience.
  • When employees never hear the results of past surveys.
  • When employees see changes in the company, and there is no reference made to the relationship of the changes to past employee surveys.
  • If it is a relatively small group (under 1,000) so that every survey is sent to every employee every time, rather than sending different surveys to different randomly selected groups of employees.

Techniques that help get around this “survey fatigue”:

  • Coordinate all employee or customer surveys through a clearinghouse so that the timing of surveys doesn’t overlap and you don’t ask questions for which answers are already available.
  • In the introduction to a new survey, begin with key findings and changes made based on a previous survey or other form of employee research.
  • Send the survey only to a sample of employees (although you’ll need a statistician’s help in selecting a sample of the right size). If you know several surveys will be administered about the same time, pick mutually exclusive samples at the same time so that no one person receives more than one survey during that time period.
  • Literally connect changes the company is making with employee or customer survey results when you announce the changes.
  • Consider doing very short “stealth surveys” for which you don’t obtain advance permission. People might not even know they’ve been surveyed. For example, obtain a list of 400 to 600 randomly selected names and divide the list among 10-15 of your colleagues at work (or an intern). Then have your deputized research team call these employees on the phone and tell them who they are and that they’re wondering about what people think about a couple of topics you’re planning to communicate about. As you all have this conversation with employees, you would actually be recording their answers on a survey form. Or, somewhat less scientifically, you could stand near lines in the cafeteria or the credit union (or in a check-out line for customer research) and ask people a few questions while they’re waiting in line. It’s not statistically defensible, but it will certainly give you a good directional reading of where a wide range of different types of people stand on a topic.

Hope this answers your questions,

Angela D. Sinickas