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5 types of questions to avoid on your employee experience survey

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If you’re looking to improve your company culture or employer brand, a survey that gauges employee engagement and the employee experience is a good place to start. These surveys provide valuable insight into what your employees think of working at your organization. They highlight areas where things are going well and where there’s opportunity for improvement.

The key to a successful employee experience survey is asking the right questions. Which questions you ask depends on the information you’re looking to gather from employees and what you’re ready and willing to take action on in your organization.

There are, however, some questions to avoid asking on your employee experience survey. Here are five to keep in mind:

Don’t ask employees to identify themselves.

While you might want to encourage a culture of honesty and transparency in your organization, asking employees to include a name or email with their feedback might inhibit them from sharing their honest experience. Allow employees to respond confidentially to encourage full transparency.

Don’t ask for arbitrary ratings.

“How would you rate your manager on a scale of 1-5?”

Questions like this are asked in the hopes of separating great managers from not-so-great managers, but there are two things wrong with this question:

The ratings are left up to interpretation. What does a one mean? What does a four look like? If you’re using a rating scale, be sure to provide specific insights about what each number on the scale looks like in practice. For example, you could ask the question “How effective is your manager?” and use the following as a rating scale:

1 = My manager is ineffective.

2 = My manager is ineffective in some ways but offers some support when needed.

3 = My manager is effective at most things, but there are opportunities for improvement.

4 = My manager effectively manages the work and relationships well, but I would not consider them a mentor.

5 = My manager is an effective manager and mentor.

What you’re rating the manager on is unclear. What does a great manager look like? If you ask 10 different employees, you’ll likely get 10 different answers. Ask more specific questions about qualities you’re looking for your managers to embody (i.e., “How frequently does your manager provide feedback?” “How often do you and your manager have conversations about your professional development?”). You could also position these questions as statements to which the respondent agrees or disagrees.

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Don’t ask vague, open-ended questions.

“What is one thing the organization could change that would make your experience at work as good as it could be?” This is a popular question—and one that’s likely to generate answers you didn’t quite expect.

When issuing an employee experience survey, it’s important to ask clear, specific questions that can provide valuable insights on areas of success and opportunity within the organization. Vague questions produce vague answers you’ll struggle to know what to do with.

Don’t ask about things you’re unwilling to take action on.

If there’s something you’re unwilling—or unable—to take action on, don’t include it in the employee experience survey. It’s like salt in an open wound: When you ask employees to provide feedback that’s not acted upon, insult is added to injury and the chances they’ll respond to the next employee survey decrease. It’s better to avoid these questions until circumstances allow you to take action.

Don’t ask granular demographic questions.

While looking at employee experience by demographic could be really insightful, getting too granular could single out employees and make them identifiable. This defeats the purpose of an anonymous survey. If employees feel they could be easily identified through their responses, they’re less likely to share openly and honestly. They may even respond falsely to avoid identification.

Before issuing your employee experience survey, ask some key stakeholders to review the questions to ensure they’re specific to what you would like feedback on within your organization, will generate actionable insights, and won’t unintentionally identify an employee. By gaining multiple perspectives on the survey, you increase the likelihood the survey will produce the insights you’re looking for. 

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Lisa is the lead scientist at PI. At the 2010 Border Collie National Specialty, she and her first-ever border collie won the obedience master competition.

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