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Staff surveys: a guide to making them worthwhile

Staff surveys can do more harm than good if poorly executed, argues Mike Lamb. But he has some tips for getting them right

Staff surveys: a guide to making them worthwhile

Staff surveys can do more harm than good if poorly executed, argues Mike Lamb. But he has some tips for getting them right

Staff surveys can be incredibly useful for gathering information from your colleagues. However, the whole process needs to be carefully planned and the survey itself well designed, or there is potential for it causing more harm than good.

If a survey is badly worded, inaccessible, frustrating or if there isn't sufficient time to complete it, then it is likely to immediately leave staff feeling negative. Similarly, if staff do not receive feedback on the results of the survey, or the information is not used constructively to effect positive change, then morale will suffer.

However, if you get your survey right, you shouldn’t have to worry. What, then, is the recipe for a successful staff survey?

Firstly, there is no point reinventing the wheel. It is worth looking around for existing examples, such as this staff survey template that I have created.

But while a template like this one can make a good starting point, it is also essential that you make your survey specific to your context and fit for purpose. With that in mind, it is also worth considering the following points.

Don’t forget the ‘technophobes’

The days of paper surveys are gone. Online surveys allow for quicker, easier data collection and analysis. Google Docs, Surveymonkey and others provide straightforward free platforms to produce surveys that can, at an added cost, become very sophisticated. And, with the help of online tutorials and advice, setting these surveys up can be really quick and straightforward.

But don’t forget those staff members who don’t check email regularly or spend a lot of time online, or you will be missing a cross section of your staff and biasing your results.

Plan questions carefully

Questions require a lot of thought and testing prior to release to ensure that they will be interpreted correctly by colleagues – and that they will produce valid results. It is crucial they are clear, accessible to all and are not leading respondents towards a particular answer.

As a general principle, questions should be simple to start with and become more sophisticated.

You can include questions that will help you to identify patterns (for example, asking which age groups/subjects respondents teach; or their management level) but you must ensure that respondents can remain anonymous, so that they feel able to answer honestly.

If you start by considering what information you want, this should help you to determine the type of question you need to ask. Open questions will help you to gather rich, detailed information whereas closed questions will be easier to analyse and represent graphically.

Asking simple, closed questions, followed by an option to expand will allow you to gather both data types.

It is also worth considering Likert scales (for example: "strongly agree/agree/neither/disagree/strongly disagree") or scoring charts, which both produce results that are easy to analyse.

Repeat your surveys

When it becomes time to analyse your results, online survey platforms allow you to produce tables, graphs and word clouds, which can make the data easier to interpret and display. Data should always be objectively presented to give an accurate picture of the findings.

However, your data will become even more useful if surveys are repeated regularly (for example, annually, at the same time of year) as this allows for monitoring of patterns and any significant changes.

This should help to produce some really useful data. All you have to do then, is work out what to do with it.

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