How to effectively survey your staff

Surveys are a common method of data collection in organisations. They involve asking a sample of employees a series of questions related to a particular topic.

Conducting a survey can help you measure the state of diversity in your organisation as well as employees’ attitudes, opinions and behaviours in relation to workplace gender equality.

Surveys enable you to reach large sample sizes and assess trends or patterns over time or between particular variables. The anonymity of a survey can also support employees to honestly express their views about what is working well and what could be improved.

Preparing your survey

Sampling

Surveys make it easy to reach a large number of participants, particularly when they are administered online. When consulting your employees, you may wish to survey all staff, or a particular subset of staff.

If you are only planning to survey a subset, then it is important that your sample is representative of the broader group. Consider the key characteristics or demographics of your target group that you will need to reflect in your survey sample. This will help ensure your findings are ‘generalisable’. 

Your chosen sample will also dictate the specific questions you choose to ask in your survey.

Designing questions

When designing your survey, there are a number of questions you should ask yourself. These align with the broad literature on survey methodology and design.[1] [2]

  • What are the questions you want answered? Sometimes, less is more. To maximise your response rates, you might be better off having a small number of targeted questions, rather than a long and exhaustive list of questions. 
  • What’s the context? Think about how much background information respondents need to answer the questions reliably. Do they need to read any background documents? Are you using acronyms or jargon that they won’t understand?
  • What demographic information do you need? As well as gender, some common demographic questions relate to age, cultural background, job category, management level, employment status, disability status, and caring responsibilities. Understanding the demographics of your sample can enrich your findings, for example, you may find that employees with one or multiple minority statues have difference experiences to the population on average, requiring more tailored solutions. Think about your sample size and whether demographics will make respondents identifiable (see Appendix).
  • Have you used the right design? Most online survey tools will give you a range of question types to choose from. Consider the data you want to collect when selecting a question type. Is it an open or closed question? Do the response options align with the question wording? Have you included double-barrelled or double-negative questions? Have you included a ‘don’t know/ not applicable’ option? Should the question be mandatory?

When designing the questions, make sure you have involved relevant people to ensure key issues are being addressed appropriately. You may also consider piloting the survey with a small group before distributing. 

Download our bank of possible survey questions (Doc, 125KB). These are samples only and should be tailored to suit your organisation’s individual needs and structure.

Conducting your survey

Administering your survey

Consider whether an online or paper-based survey is more appropriate.

  • Paper-based surveys are appropriate when access to the internet or a computer is limited. They can also feel more anonymous for users. However, distributing the survey and entering the data can be resource-intensive.
  • Online surveys can be easier to distribute, track and analyse data. There are many tools available online to help you do this. When distributing the survey, you can use direct email addresses to target who it reaches, track response rates, send targeted reminders, and analyse emerging findings in real-time.

You should also decide how often you want to repeat the survey. It is best practice to do this at regular intervals so that you can measure progress and changes over time, as well as any emerging needs or priorities. Where possible, avoid changes to questions so that you can accurately compare results. 

Communicating with staff

Effective communication is key to maximising response rates. When administering your survey, it can help to send:

  • a ‘warm up’ email (or other communication) to familiarise people with the survey and what to expect
  • reminder emails (or other communication) after the survey has been sent  to encourage responses.

Diversity Council Australia’s guide to conducting a diversity survey also suggests developing a communication strategy to share with staff, explaining the rationale for the survey and how the data will be used.[3]

Maintaining confidentiality

When surveying employees, it is likely that some will have concerns about confidentiality, particularly if the survey is administered online.

To build trust, you should make explicit which staff will have access to the raw data. Ideally, leadership/management staff should only be able to access the data once combined to show overarching findings rather than individual responses.

It can also help to make questions ‘optional’, though this can reduce response rates.

 

[1] OECD, (2012). Measuring Regulatory Performance: Good Practices in Survey Design Step-By-Step

[2] Krosnick and Presser, (2010). Handbook of Survey Research: Question and Questionnaire Design

[3] Diversity Council Australia, (2019). D&I 101 - Conducting a Diversity Survey