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Employee survey fatigue

Ever wonder if you’re sending too many employee surveys? Employee survey fatigue is a concern for many employers, but avoiding it is within your control.

What is survey fatigue?

Survey fatigue is when respondents lose interest in your surveys and become unwilling to take them. They may start and then abandon a survey or just not take it at all.

An explosion of survey research during the COVID-19 pandemic has been associated with spikes in survey fatigue in a range of contexts, including medical patient research. As surveys become more accessible and cost-effective to run, there is a perceived risk that high numbers of surveys, not all of them carefully designed, may lead to a lower willingness to participate among respondents.

So is the problem a lack of quality, rather than an excessive quantity of surveys? It may be a bit of both.

Why does survey fatigue happen?

Generally speaking, whether you’re surveying customers, employees, or the general public there are two major causes of survey fatigue.

  • Sending too many surveys, which will often result in non-response
  • Poor survey design which makes taking surveys boring, confusing, or difficult

In the specific case of employee survey fatigue, there are some additional factors to take into account.

  • “Lack of action fatigue”

If employees take the time to fill out a survey but see no changes as a result of their input, they will feel that taking surveys is pointless and that they are not being listened to. This can be especially demoralizing in the case of an employee experience survey because it feels like the employee’s experience is not important to the employer.

  • Surveys that don’t address the most critical issues

If people feel strongly about some aspects of their employee experience, they may be frustrated to receive feedback requests that don’t relate to the issue.

How many employee surveys is too many?

The good news is that most employees do want to share their thoughts. Our research shows that employees want to be asked for their feedback quite regularly.

We found that 77% of employees want to provide feedback more than once per year and that the majority would like to provide it four times a year. This gives employers plenty of scope to run a substantial and valuable employee listening program without exceeding employees’ appetite for surveys.

Action is critical in preventing employee survey fatigue

As we’ve noted, leadership’s response to employee feedback has to be seen to be useful and valuable if you want employees to keep providing it. And unfortunately, there just aren’t enough employers getting it right.

Data from our 2021 Trends Report shows just how large the gap is between asking for employee feedback and making use of it.

  • 92% of employees believe it’s important their company listens to feedback
  • Just 7% say their company acts on feedback really well

The result of this disconnect may be a decrease in the quality of employee experience, for example, a decline in employee engagement. In fact, it may even cut engagement levels in half.

As the 2021 report explains, “when employees feel a company acts on feedback well, employee engagement is more than double that of workers who feel it’s not acted on or acted on only slightly.”

Employee survey fatigue causes and effects

So where exactly are things going wrong, and what is the negative impact for employers?

Employee survey fatigue causes

  • Poor communication

Employees are less likely to engage with a survey if they haven’t been made aware of what’s expected of them and why their organization is carrying the initiative out. They also need to know what’s in it for them and how the organization will benefit. Then there are practical details like when the survey is taking place. A clear communication plan can address all these requirements, as well as providing timely reminders to respond.

  • Poor survey design

Do your questions lack focus? Do employees struggle to understand what’s being asked? Does the survey logic not flow well, or do the questions seem to jump around from topic to topic? These and other symptoms of bad survey design could be putting your employees off.

  • Frequent surveys with no visible results

If you’re conducting surveys about things that might benefit employees and improve employee engagement but then nothing happens, your people may start to think the previous surveys were pointless and the intent to improve the workplace isn’t really there.

  • Survey length

Sometimes it may be tempting to ask as many questions as possible in order to make the most out of the fact that you’re running a survey. Your questionnaire should stay focused on the research questions you’re interested in, nothing else. If you need demographic data, consider getting it from another source, such as HR records, which will spare your employees and likely offer more reliable data.

  • A lack of relevance

If your employees don’t understand what you’re asking them or why you’re asking it – or if they’d really prefer it if you asked them something else, they are more likely to abandon the survey or not take it at all.

The effects of employee survey fatigue

  • A lower response rate

Once bitten, twice shy – employees who have had a poor survey experience or fallen out of the habit of answering will be less likely to complete future surveys.

  • Non-representative results

Survey fatigue can prevent accurate survey results. The responses may become less accurate and poorer in quality as employee motivation to respond fades.

  • Lack of action

It becomes more difficult to put employee feedback into action as there is not enough accurate data to back plans or decisions.

  • Lack of involvement in change initiatives

When changes are made, employees don’t feel a sense of investment or ownership, as they haven’t given their views via employee surveys.

  • Wasted resources

Without engagement from the workforce, survey research loses its value and delivers little return on investment

How to reduce employee survey fatigue

Here are some practical techniques to reduce survey fatigue.

Be strategic – make sure your listening program is fit for the purpose

1. Rethink your survey program and review the survey frequency

Run shorter pulse surveys more often, or condense your current survey program into fewer questionnaires.

2. Segment your survey population

Sending different surveys to different segments of your workforce means nobody has to answer irrelevant questions.

Design questionnaires that promote engagement

3. Use open field questions carefully

Comment box questions demand more cognitive effort than other question types, so place them thoughtfully, for example after a previous answer as a way of adding more detail or rationale for their choice.

4. Don’t force responses

Allow them to skip questions when they want to

5. Remove questions on static trends

If things are unlikely to have changed, remove the questions to save time and effort

6. Make your surveys shorter

After designing your survey questionnaire, run through it with colleagues to see where you could cut it in length

Connect with your respondents

7. Create a comms plan

Set up a communications campaign that connects with employees before, during and after the survey is launched. This can help with response rate, especially if communications are personalized and targeted to each recipient. Having a standard protocol for how you do employee surveys can help maintain employee engagement. Before the survey goes out, announce it and back it up with strategy and benefits that will make sense to employees. Afterwards, communicate the results to employees via managers and make a commitment to taking action.

8. Mix up your feedback modalities

Collect feedback across as many mechanisms as you can, such as focus groups, SMS or Whatsapp, suggestion boxes

9. Make it conversational

Use survey logic to make the questions seem responsive to their answers, displaying only the relevant branches of questions. Couple this with a conversational tone that engages the respondent.

10. Create an open invitation to feedback

Add a persistent feedback button to your survey so that open text feedback can be added anytime.

11. Make it contextual

Use technology to ask employees for feedback soon after the event they’re feeding back on happens.

12. Go beyond email

Use technology such as in-app surveys to ask for feedback in different contexts.

Act on employee feedback

13. Act on - and celebrate - feedback

Thank employees in a meaningful way for their input, and show or tell them how you’re putting their experience data to good use

14. Close the feedback loop

Use alerts and automated actions to immediately respond to feedback as it’s left, for example raising support tickets when employee experience with services is poor

15. Bonus tip – find a great survey provider

Our clients benefit from expert advice on how to make employee survey programs more strategic. Support is on hand for everything from survey design and creating roadmaps to setting up automatic actions. We can also signpost clients to self-service resources they can use at their convenience.

Ready to take it one step further?

One way to avoid survey fatigue is to be more intentional in designing your employee listening program. With a strong strategic foundation for your program, you can use technology to implement your plans and create engaging, low-effort experiences for your employees. With expert support, you can get more out of your survey platform and troubleshoot issues like survey fatigue.

Resolve survey fatique


Dr. Vanessa Kowollik

Vanessa is an EX XM Scientist at Qualtrics advising on survey methodology and program design. Her focus is on creating scalable, high impact solutions to improve the Employee Experience. She has 15 years of experience as a practitioner and consultant in Employee Experience.  Prior to Qualtrics, Vanessa was a Senior Consultant within IBM’s Talent Management Solution business where she helped lead the employee survey program. Vanessa holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Oklahoma (USA).

Lisa Le Derff

Lisa is an EX XM Scientist at Qualtrics working with customers to design and scale their employee experience listening programs. She has more than 10 years of experience in the HR and consulting space. Lisa earned her Master’s Degree in Business Administration and Management from the Université Paris Dauphine – PSL (France) and worked as a Senior Consultant at Kincentric prior to joining Qualtrics conducting multinational employee experience programs.

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