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Posted by on Jul 14, 2015

Survey Fatigue: Do You Have It??

Survey Fatigue: Do You Have It??

Survey picSurvey fatigue is a common occurrence in agencies. I often work with them to collect information from their employees in an automated way, whether it is a training needs assessment, a training evaluation survey, or some other type of survey. Clients usually tell me that although they need input from employees to make resource-conscious decisions, their agency’s employees are over-surveyed. On the occasions that I talk directly with those employees, I hear them echo the same thing:

“We get so many surveys we can’t possibly fill them all out.”

“They keep asking us to complete these assessments, telling us that they will share the results with us. I never see any results.”

“Didn’t we just get a request a few months ago to fill out a similar survey? I don’t think they did anything with the feedback I gave!”

I can empathize with employees. It is frustrating to be inundated with survey requests, especially when nothing seems to happen as a result. But, as a consultant, I’ve picked up some lessons that can counteract survey fatigue:

  1. Know the past. As the old adage goes, those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it. Take the time to find out what requests have gone out in the past. Note that “requests” go by many different names: surveys, pulse surveys, assessments, 360s, and questionnaires. It can be hard to know exactly how far back to go. Many years ago, I was conducting a focus group to prepare for an organizational survey when one participant said, “Didn’t we just do this seven years ago?” Instead of debating whether seven years is the recent past or not, try to understand that, from that participant’s point of view, it was too soon to be collecting the information again. Find long-tenured, trusted colleagues across your organization who can share with you what has been sent in the past. Where possible, try to use existing data to inform decisions, or if you do have to send a survey, collect only the data that is needed to make decisions or inform actions.
  2. Explain yourself. Take the time to explain to employees why the information is needed, how the results will be used, and what benefits they will get from participating. Sometimes this can be done in the email that invites them to complete the survey. Other times, you might want to hold an informational session that explains the importance of the survey and addresses employee questions. It also might help to have an executive send a letter explaining the importance of the initiative.
  3. Actually take action. Most of the time, employees’ aren’t complaining about the actual number of survey requests but about how nothing ever seems to change as a result of the surveys. So, make sure that you actually take action based on the results. If you’re doing a training needs assessment, then make sure you use the results to inform the training offered to employees. If you’re doing an employee engagement survey, then do something to improve in areas that score low on the survey. Although you can’t solve all the past ills of others, if you can show employees that you follow through on your promises to take action, then they will start to have a more positive attitude about survey requests. This doesn’t mean that you have to act on every suggestion. It just means that you have to listen to their feedback, decide what you can change and what your agency’s top management is willing to change, and then make an honest effort to make a change. And, don’t ask survey questions about things that you or your top management are not willing to address; don’t ask questions just because someone in the agency says, “I’m curious…”
  4. Take the time to show all invitees what action was taken. This point is a bit different from the previous point. Although many surveys are completed without any follow up, sometimes action is taken that is not directly visible or apparent to employees. For example, low customer satisfaction scores about a call center or low ratings for an Elder Care program are acted upon without survey respondents knowing that their feedback made a difference. You don’t have to go in to detail about how three customer service reps were re-assigned to non-customer-facing duties or that the Elder Care program coordinator has been replaced with someone new. But, at least take the time to let respondents know that you heard their feedback and that actions were taken to address the low ratings. And maybe let them know that you will re-survey them in the future to confirm that their concerns have been addressed.

By following these tips, employees will start to trust the survey process, response rates will improve, and you will get more accurate responses. You have the power to change your agency’s “survey culture” from “oh no, not another survey” to “oh good, a chance to be heard.”


  1. My biggest issue with surveys is when executive management makes them mandatory. They tell you that the survey is anonymous, but they clearly track who is and who is not completing them. If you’re giving me a survey about things for which I have no opinion, making it mandatory that I complete it forces me to give an answer. That will most assuredly skew the data, painting you a picture that may be fully or partially inaccurate. I don’t give false responses. When I do not have an opinion, I either skip the question, or if the system makes me give an answer, I select the N/A response. Sometimes when there isn’t an N/A response, I select NEUTRAL. If that isn’t an option and I can only select from 1 2 3 4 or 5, I pick 3 (the mid way point), which still isn’t my true feeling if I don’t have an opinion about it. Mandating employees to complete surveys does more harm than good.

    • Will –

      Thanks for your comment! I completely agree that there are many drawbacks to making surveys mandatory.

      Executives and others often are more concerned with response rate than meaningful results. Of course a higher response rate is better, yet that is not the reason for conducting a survey.

      I would rather have a lower (yet acceptable) response rate and have higher quality information to act on than have a higher response rate of people who are pressured to respond. As I note in Point #3, one must actually take action based on the results in order to start to change the culture around surveys.

      Also, I have to point out the difference between anonymous and confidential. No survey completed online is anonymous. Survey software can track IP addresses used to complete the survey, and depending on how the survey is administered, can track individual responses. Typically, the latter is done so that people who respond are not sent reminders. I am always careful to use the term “confidential,” meaning that I (the survey administrator) will not attach an individual’s name to their responses or comments.

      Thank you again for sharing your thoughts!

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