Employee Survey fatigue? On a scale of 1 to even, I can’t

If you’ve attended a communication conference in the last few years, you’d assume that survey fatigue is a global epidemic affecting corporate workers everywhere - small companies, big companies, wherever. But I wonder, who’s actually fatigued?

Let’s take a quiz. Why a quiz and not a survey? Because there is only one correct answer here:

Who is suffering from survey fatigue inside the organization?

  • The communicators
  • The employees
  • All of the above
  • None of the above

Based on what I hear at conferences, I’m guessing a lot of you are thinking B — that’s what your employees are telling you. Some communicators might recognize they are the problem, and choose A. Those who like to spread the blame around would have picked C.

All reasonable answers, but they’re all wrong. It’s D, none of the above. Employees aren’t suffering from survey fatigue. And neither are communicators. If there’s any suffering it’s from sharing and taking awful surveys. 

Case in point: the annual employee engagement survey. It’s a good idea to get employee feedback on the business, leadership and priorities. What’s not a good idea is to save these questions up for a one-a-year (if even that often) survey that has 60, 90, a bajillion questions asking feedback on a 1-5, tend-to-not-agree type scale. Yes, this is what we do to employees. It’s like we’re punishing them as a thanks for providing feedback.

On a recent Chuck Chat, I asked Mike Klein whether he thought the annual employee engagement survey was still relevant. His answer? It never was. Engagement can’t be refined to a single score or on a 1-10 scale.

But for those who still believe in survey fatigue, here are some things you do to remedy this symptom:

  1. You do not need to ask every employee every question for each feedback request. New research by Santa Fe Institute Professor Mirta Galesic and her colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin came to the conclusion that larger crowds do not always produce wiser decisions. 

    “When it comes to qualitative decisions such as ‘which candidate will win the election’ or ‘which diagnosis fits the patient's symptoms,’ moderately-sized ‘crowds,’ (around five to seven randomly selected members) are likely to outperform larger ones.”
     
  2. Ask the right feedback to the right audience at the right time. Communicators should know the value of relevant content to employees; surveys shouldn’t be any different. We know the way we do business can change quickly. What’s the point of asking employees questions where the feedback takes months and months to dissect and analyze? We’re all about instant gratification. Show live feedback. 
     
  3. Only ask what you can act upon. Julia Markish, from Medallia, shared this advice at an event last spring. And it’s super smart. Let’s talk about about another F word - frustration. This is what employees are experiencing when they get asked to provide feedback, provide their ideas but then nothing changes. 
     
  4. Pulse surveys are a step in the right direction. BUT they aren’t a cure-all. They can still be poorly-worded, irrelevant and non-actionable. But at least employees aren’t feeling like they are wasting time answering them. So how long should pulse surveys be? Let’s not focus on the number of questions, but instead on how long it will take employees to finish it. To me, a minute or two feels right. Take it yourself. If you’re bored completing it, that should tell you a lot. 

So, raise your right hand and repeat to me:

“I, state your name, promise to never blame survey fatigue for shitty surveys and will instead focus on gathering employee feedback that matters and report back quickly.”