How to Make Member or Employee Surveys More Effective

How to make member and employee surveys more effective

How to Make Member or Employee Surveys More Effective

Surveys are powerful tools for gathering feedback, measuring satisfaction, identifying problems, and discovering opportunities among internal audiences such as members, customers, employees, or stakeholders. But getting these projects launched can be daunting. Follow these nine valuable tips to get the most helpful data from member or employee surveys.

Tip 1: Have a clear purpose

At the outset of the survey project, clearly define its goals and objectives. What questions do you want answered from the survey? What data would be helpful? A clear purpose will help focus the survey on the most relevant topics and avoid irrelevant questions. To put it another way, specify the hypotheses that will be tested. Taking the time to define the survey’s goals will also help communicate the importance of the study to the target audience, increasing their motivation to participate.

Tip 2: Use simple language

One of the most common mistakes in survey design is using complex or technical language that confuses respondents. If the survey’s language is too difficult to understand, respondents will lose interest, create issues with question interpretation, or invite improper feedback — compromising the validity of the data. To avoid this, the survey should use simple language appropriate for the target audience. Jargon, acronyms, abbreviations, or terms that are not widely known should be avoided. Similarly, be direct and avoid ambiguity. If you have to use technical language, provide definitions. Simplicity ensures that all respondents are answering the same questions when they make a selection.

Tip 3: Avoid leading questions

Using leading questions that try to influence or persuade respondents to answer in a certain way can bias the data and undermine the survey’s credibility. Some examples of leading questions in a member or employee survey might be: “How much do you enjoy our team’s supportive work environment?” or “How dissatisfied are you with the lack of career advancement opportunities?” or “What positive impacts have you noticed since the policy change?” These questions lead the respondent to assume that their work environment is supportive, there is a lack of career advancement opportunities, and the policy change has had a positive impact. Keep questions neutral, allowing the respondent to express their honest opinion. Avoid using words that suggest a positive or negative tone. Also, avoid using rhetorical questions, hypothetical scenarios, or assumptions that are not based on facts or evidence. Keeping questions neutral will ensure the survey data accurately reflects the target audience’s opinions.

Tip 4: Don’t be afraid of the data

You might be tempted to avoid asking difficult questions that might invite negative or unpleasant feedback. Some organizations have a low tolerance for bad news. However, this approach is short-sighted and counterproductive. So long as the questions are balanced and fair, the attitudes revealed by a survey exist whether the survey is conducted. Avoiding difficult questions only ignores valuable insights that can help improve performance, solve problems, or seize opportunities. A questionnaire that avoids difficult topics also sends a message that the survey builders would rather avoid hearing the truth or addressing the issues that matter to the target audience. Instead of avoiding difficult questions, confront the data and use them as an opportunity. Identifying problems is better than letting them go unnoticed.

Tip 5: Ensure anonymity

Respondents should be assured that their answers will be confidential and not linked to their names in any way. Without that guarantee, respondents will be reluctant to answer honestly or participate. They may also have concerns about retaliation, discrimination, or harassment. To avoid this, not only should you adopt anonymity for your survey, but you should also take every opportunity to reassure respondents of their confidentiality – including announcements of the survey, follow-up messages, and the questionnaire itself. Avoid asking for personal or sensitive information that is irrelevant to the survey. Involving a third-party research organization helps as well. Such an organization can handle the data collection and analysis, ensuring that individual responses are not accessible to anyone within the organization. This can help to allay any concerns about internal bias or the potential for individual responses to be linked back to specific employees. Taking these steps invites honest and candid feedback from the respondents, which increases the trust and confidence in the resulting data.

Tip 6: Use open-ended questions

Multiple choice questions are the workhouse of any survey. They provide standardized feedback that can be quickly analyzed. However, they may fail to capture why respondents hold certain beliefs or miss feedback not covered by their defined answer options. To overcome these limitations, incorporate open-ended questions in conjunction with multiple-choice questions. Open-ended questions allow the respondent to answer in their own words in an open text field. They can provide rich and nuanced data, capture the diversity and complexity of respondent attitudes, and reveal unanticipated insights. However, open-ended questions require more time and effort from respondents. The survey should use open-ended questions strategically, focusing on the most critical topics.

Tip 7: Develop and follow a precise communications plan

How you communicate with the target audience before, during, and after the survey can significantly impact their willingness to participate and provide honest feedback. A robust plan that communicates the goals of the survey, invites respondents to participate, reminds them to participate, and disseminates the findings can improve response rate and data quality. One of the best practices for effective survey communication is to have the announcement for the survey come from a trusted executive or leader of the organization. This announcement strategy increases the credibility and legitimacy of the survey, and it shows that company leaders endorse the survey. The survey announcement should succinctly outline the importance and the purpose of the survey, as well as how the results will be used. Putting this information front and center helps underscore that the survey is not a waste of time or a mere formality but a meaningful exercise.

Tip 8: Leave the survey open and send reminders

When and how long an organization fields a survey can substantially influence the response rate. The longer a survey is left open and available for the target audience to take, the more respondents will take the survey. Preferably, you’ll want to allow at least two weeks. An increased response rate can increase the sample’s representativeness and diversity, reducing bias. However, leaving the survey open after the initial invitation email is insufficient. Regular reminders need to be sent to encourage participation. Most people lose track of emails after three or four days. A regular pace of short, concise reminders that reiterate the survey’s importance is critical to increasing survey participation.

Tip 9: Share the results

One of the most important and often overlooked aspects of the survey process is the follow-up communication after the survey is completed. An organization should share the results of the survey. Not every data point needs to be released, but the important takeaways should be disseminated in a transparent manner. This can increase the survey’s credibility, allowing an organization’s leaders to show that they respect the feedback and the respondents’ time. It can also foster a culture of feedback and improvement. In addition to sharing the results, the organization should outline how it is taking action to address the insights derived from the survey. After all, a survey is not a goal in and of itself. The purpose of a survey is to use the data to better an organization’s mission and goals.   


Implementing these strategies can help improve a survey designed to gather feedback from employees, members, or stakeholders. If you need any help or guidance with your survey project, please get in touch with us at We have extensive experience and expertise in designing and conducting surveys with these audiences. We would love to hear from you and help you with your survey needs.

Andrew Rugg

Andrew Rugg is an expert in survey research, media analytics, and qualitative research projects. Before leading the team at Certus, he lead a fully integrated research department at a public relations agency.