Seven steps to make staff wellbeing surveys actually useful

Too often, staff wellbeing surveys are a waste of time and tell leaders little about the reality of staff happiness, says this senior leader

Mike Lamb

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Do you know if your staff are happy? Many a headteacher will say “yes”, but how sure are they, really?

Push them, and they will point to a staff survey. And when I look at those staff surveys, my heart can often sink.

Staff surveys offer a starting point for consideration of staff wellbeing, but they must be carefully planned, executed and fed back to staff or they could themselves negatively affect wellbeing.

For example, there are various "off the shelf" questionnaires accessible online. but an institution-specific survey reveals more about key specific issues and will be more accessible and appropriate.

How do you build an effective staff survey? Below are a few points we considered at our school.

1. Expectations

A survey of this sort raises expectations about what will happen to feedback. As such, you must be clear from the outset with all involved what the point of the survey is, what will be done with the information and how that will impact the school moving forwards. For example, you might make it clear that the purpose is information gathering and the answers may help shape a wellbeing strategy moving forwards. This can be set out in a preamble or even in early communications about the survey.

2. Format

The survey needs to be as accessible as possible to get input from as many staff as possible. The questions should be easy to interpret and answer honestly. A survey announced via email and completed online will likely gather the largest amount of responses, however, will it reach staff that don't use email or who are less IT literate? Google Docs and Surveymonkey are two well-known examples of online surveys that are easy to use and collect data with.

3. Collaborate

Ask others for input into the survey. Interested staff will appreciate being asked and will undoubtedly provide ideas that you hadn't considered. They may also be willing to test out the format as a 'pilot' before the survey is launched to all staff. Senior management buy-in is essential, too, to help support and drive the initiative.

4. Anonymity

It is essential to offer true anonymity to all respondents. If they choose to be identifiable then that is, of course, their prerogative. This needs to be considered in terms of questions asked and also how the data is collected, analysed and disseminated. Some staff may be suspicious of surveys being used for reasons alternative to those advertised.

5. Questions

These need to be developed very carefully to ensure there are no leading or biased questions. Questions should not cause any distress to respondents and should be able to be answered honestly and genuinely. As such the wording must be carefully considered. Closed questions provide a great opportunity to gather quantitative data (what percentage of staff feel supported in their roles) and hence headline figures, however open questions are likely to produce more detailed qualitative data (why staff actually feel supported in their own words). Long written responses will be more time consuming and difficult to analyse in comparison to simple Yes/No answers. In reality, a combination of questions is likely to be most successful. Likert scales (Strongly Agree/Agree/Neither/Disagree/Strongly disagree) or scoring charts are also worth considering to produce easy to analyse results.

6. Dissemination of results

This is key to explaining what the data has revealed and how it will be used. The role of anonymity could be re-emphasised at this stage too and, obviously, individuals protected when results are made available. If results are not to be made available to all then an explanation of why should be provided.

7. Action

Unless the results are perceived to have been carefully considered and appropriate actions discussed then respondents may feel the exercise has been pointless. Focus groups or committees could be established to investigate issues further and follow up surveys could be used to monitor any interventions.

Mike Lamb is director of Staff Welfare at Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex

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Mike Lamb

Mike Lamb is director of staff welfare at Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex

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