ESAT Key Steps
When to Require Questions in an Employee Satisfaction Survey

One of the advantages of conducting a survey via the Internet is that you can require that certain questions be answered. There is an inclination upon the part of some clients to, when they realize this is possible, want to make every question required. However, we don't recommend this.

There are a number of reasons employees do not answer particular questions. These include:

  1. They don't feel qualified to answer,
  2. They are afraid to answer, lest someone at the company find out how they responded.
  3. They are apathetic about the issue being raised in the question.
  4. They forget to answer.

Let's address these issues one at a time.

If employees don't feel qualified to answer, their answers may well be uniformed guesses. Such guesses only serve to muddy the data, making insightful analysis more difficult.

If employees are afraid to answer, but are required to do so, they may intentionally select an answer which does not reflect their real feelings. This will result in findings that do not represent the true feelings of a subset of the subject population.

If employees are apathetic about the issue being raised, they may answer randomly if an answer is required. This also serves to muddy the data.

The fourth issue to be addressed is that of employees who forget to answer a particular question. This rarely occurs with regard to the ratings scale questions in an employee satisfaction survey. The lion's share of scale questions are answered by 97% to 100% of the employee base. The main exception to this is the overall satisfaction question, which 5% to 10% of employees typically forget to answer if not so required. It is probable that most leave it blank until they have completed the remainder of the questionnaire, meaning to review their responses before reaching a decision on the question, and they simply forget to go back and complete it. Consequently, we always require the overall satisfaction question in an online employee satisfaction questionnaire.

Another question employees often do not answer is the one in which they are asked to indicate their department. This is not a case of forgetfulness - it is a conscious effort upon the part of some employees to avoid being identified. We, upon consulting with the client, sometimes require that this question be answered. When we do, we recommend that the client remove as many of the other demographic questions as possible to mitigate the fears employees have that they will be identified.

The remaining demographic questions often are not completed by many (10% or so) employees. We usually do not require that these questions be answered. (In fact, we cannot recall making them required in any survey.) It is more important to know the department in which an employee resides than it is to know their age, sex, income, etc.

We have not yet discussed one other possible impact of requiring that questions be answered - that of respondent frustration. When employees are repeatedly sent back to the questionnaire to complete answers, some will get upset. Some may respond randomly, and some may just give up. To minimize respondent frustration, whenever a question is required, we state this in bold red type and remind employees of which questions are required in text immediately preceding the "submit" button.