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The importance of using open-ended questions in your surveys

When conducting any employee engagement survey, considering the way your questions are structured is essential. If you ask the right questions, you will be provided with actionable and insightful data. Ask the wrong ones, and you could end up finding out very little from your workforce and possibly even leave them feeling a bit miffed! There are typically two types of questions in an employee survey – open-ended questions and closed questions.

Using open-ended questions in your employee survey can have multiple benefits, but there are two main reasons why they should be included:

  1. While closed questions give you the ‘what’ (what is good or what may need improvement), open-ended questions give you the context on the ‘why’
  2. Open-ended questions demonstrate to employees that their employer wants to, and is willing to, hear the specifics on how they really feel

What is an open-ended question?

While closed questions collect quantitative data and tend to give “yes” or “no” or “correct” or “incorrect” answers, open-ended questions in your employee survey are ones that allow respondents to elaborate with their answer. They are used to provide in-depth insights to employee behaviour and opinions which is deemed qualitative data.

An example of an open-ended question would be ‘how can we help improve your engagement at work?’ Whereas an example of a closed question would be ‘would you recommend this organisation as a great place to work?’

The importance of open-ended questions

We have already touched on this above, but using a real-life example, here is what you can find out from asking open-ended questions.

From a customer survey, the closed questions and analysis showed that wellbeing was one of the lowest scoring themes for the company but had the highest impact on employee engagement. The open comments then told them that the wellbeing issues were being caused by frustratingly inefficient systems, processes, and sign off layers, all against a backdrop of headcount reductions. In addition, employees talked about which systems and processes they were most frustrated about by name, and their ideas on possible solutions. This all came from one open-ended question: ‘if you could change one thing that would make the biggest positive difference to you at work, what would this be and why?’

Open-ended questions therefore provide a way of not only picking up on the context and reasons why employees score things a certain way, but they also ensure employees can talk about things in a wider sense and can even provide their ideas on solutions that a short and limited set of closed questions wouldn’t allow.

How many open-ended questions should you ask?

We would recommend that all employee engagement surveys have at least one open-ended question (but ideally no more than three) – this is for both pulse and annual surveys.

Some organisations fear asking open-ended questions in their employee surveys because the responses tend to require significantly more time and effort to analyse than those from closed questions, however there is technology available today from employee engagement platforms like WorkBuzz which use technology such as machine learning to streamline the process. These employee engagement measurement tools not only free up time for HR and people professionals but also minimise the chances of errors occurring. Data from open questions can be collected and presented back in easy-to-understand ways such as on a results dashboard.

For more information about WorkBuzz and how our employee engagement platform analyses data from open-ended or closed questions, contact us today: hello@workbuzz.com or book a demo to see the platform in action.

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