7 Terrible Survey questions -cultureiq quarterly

An employee listening survey can focus a bright light on the great things, and the urgently-in-need-of-repair things, in your organization’s culture. It can also lead you and your survey takers down a dark, confusing path that ultimately wastes time and money, and makes employees cringe when feedback requests pop up in their inboxes. Nobody wants to go down that latter road, so we asked CultureIQ Principal Strategist Diane Daum navigate you through the survey minefield by describing 7 employee survey questions you should definitely not ask, and why:


1. The unrelatables: Don’t ask questions that don’t apply to everyone taking your survey. For example, asking questions about serving external customers to people with internal roles. Or asking about specific benefits that are only received by people at certain levels. Use branching as needed to ask things only to the appropriate populations.

2. Answers they can’t refuse: Don’t ask questions that have strong demand characteristics (e.g., people feel that they have to answer them a certain way). For example, you could ask “I have the skills needed to do my job.” but nobody wants to disagree with this. Instead, you could ask an open-ended question such as “what types of learning opportunities would be most beneficial to you in your role?”

3. Ask, but they won’t receive: Don’t ask questions about issues the organization is unwilling to address. For example, don’t ask about satisfaction with compensation if there is no budget for increasing it.

4. Danger of exposure: If the survey is supposed to be confidential or anonymous, don’t ask people questions that could be used to identify them, as they will ultimately make people less willing to respond to any of the questions.

5. Dazing and confusing: If you are trying out new questions that you (or your vendor) haven’t used before, have several other people (ideally from different levels / parts of the organization) review them to make sure that they are easy to understand. Similarly, if you are translating survey content, it is a good idea to have an “in country” reviewer from the organization to make sure that the translations will work well for that particular population.

6. The close-ended: This one is more about leaving good things out. Don’t forget to give employees the chance to speak frankly. It is always a good idea to have at least one open ended question that will allow people the opportunity to speak their minds on any topic. This allows you to get some feedback on areas that you may not have anticipated were issues, as well as on your specific questions.

7. Long and rambling: Make sure your survey has a specific purpose and stick with it. Otherwise, it will get too long. Often when people hear you are doing a survey, they come out of the woodwork with specific questions that they want answers to. Use pulses or specialty surveys to give each of these topics the attention they deserve rather than trying to cram all of the content into one survey.

Following all of these guidelines will help you avoid the pitfalls when crafting your employee survey. If you want to learn more about what can make your employee surveys shine, check out our pulse survey guide (with bonus information on the benefits of an annual census). Our free whitepaper is now available for download.

CultureIQuarterly is a weekly blog series based on a quarterly theme. This quarter focuses on survey insights and best practices.