How to prevent employee feedback fatigue


Organisations understand the importance of listening to their employees, both to improve their experience and to use their insights to drive better business performance. And while in the past they might have struggled to run anything beyond a paper-based annual engagement survey, they now have the access to technology that lets them quickly launch a digital survey at the touch of a button.

What is employee feedback fatigue?

While the fact that collecting feedback is now much easier is a real positive, it does bring a major concern – employee survey fatigue. Essentially staff will become fed up with giving their feedback, leading to plummeting response rates and potentially inaccurate answers that skew your insights. So how can you combat employee feedback fatigue?

First, let’s look at the different types of survey fatigue. It could be:

  • Survey Response Fatigue – where employees don’t even start to give feedback, simply deleting the email asking them to take part.
  • Survey Taking Fatigue – where employees give up part-way through the survey, or, if they do complete it then simply ticking random boxes rather than sharing their true feelings.

What are the causes of employee feedback fatigue?

We all receive a growing number of requests for feedback, whether it is when we buy something online, rate how happy we are when we call customer service or have a home visit from a tradesman. Many stores even have a set of simply emoji-style buttons you can press to provide feedback on how happy you are when you leave.

On the positive side this helps create a feedback culture, where everyone feels more comfortable in giving honest feedback. But on the downside, this means your employee feedback survey is competing for attention against a lot of other surveys.

All of this means your approach needs to stand out if it is going to be successful. And that means overcoming the two main causes of survey fatigue – poor design and a failure to act on results.

Poor survey design

We’ve all struggled and given up when filling in surveys that are too long or ask irrelevant or unclear questions. Resist the temptation to ask too many questions and be focused. Instead, start by defining the purpose of your survey and then ensure that all your questions relate to that. Don’t use jargon that will confuse people and test your survey properly before sending it out. Use filters to remove irrelevant questions based on people’s earlier answers and make the whole process interesting and engaging. Segment your audience so you don’t survey everyone every time. There’s plenty more best practice advice on this subject in our blog on running effective employee engagement surveys.

Failing to act on results

While survey design is important the number one reason employees don’t fill in surveys is that they don’t believe they’ll be listened to. It’s not that people are tired of being asked how they feel, its that they are tired of no action being taken on the feedback they give. Survey fatigue statistics from academic and business research back this up – McKinsey looked at studies published in more than 20 academic articles and found that, “the number one driver of survey fatigue was the perception that the organization wouldn’t act on the results.” Or, as the adage goes – there’s one thing worse than not asking for feedback and that’s not acting on the results.

This lack of timely action was an issue in the days when companies ran a single, annual employee survey. It is now a critical problem when organisations are collecting feedback much more often as the timeframe to take action is much shorter. And the issue goes beyond employees not filling in surveys. If they feel they aren’t being listened to, engagement levels will fall, and they simply won’t feel valued by their employer. At best, they’ll be demotivated – and at worst they’ll start looking for a job where they are listened to.

Fixing the causes of survey fatigue

To get employee buy-in to your survey you need to show that it’s going to benefit them – that action will be taken, and improvements made, based on their feedback. Following these best practices helps drive that engagement and prevents survey fatigue:

Be transparent on the process

Explain why you are gathering data, what it will be used for, how it will be shared with the business, and vitally put in place a timeframe for communicating results.

Make the survey actionable

Ensure that the questions will give insights that you can easily act on, rather than being too nebulous to deliver value.

Communicate clearly

It may take time to analyse survey results, but keep employees up to date with progress, such as letting them know when the survey closes or when results will be available.

Communicate personally

While some feedback will be company-wide, other results may be focused on a department, team or individual. Make sure that your communications reflect this and are personalised and engaging so that people feel they are really being listened to.

Be realistic on timelines

A peril of over-surveying is that you don’t have time to act on the results quickly enough. So be ruthless – don’t run a survey if you won’t be able to do anything effective with the feedback in a timely manner.

Share the results

Whatever the results, you’ve made a promise up-front to share them with the whole organisation. So, communicate to everyone, in lots of different ways, from town hall meetings led by the CEO to emails, videos and one-to-ones/team meetings.

Lead from the top

Show that senior management are committed to driving improvements by involving them in both sharing the results and being part of taking action. This demonstrates that feedback is being taken seriously to staff.

Take action

This is the biggest reason for survey fatigue, and often the hardest area to get right. Set out clear action plans and communicate them to your employees. Make sure they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound (SMART) and that you focus on a set number of areas, rather than trying to do everything at once.

Involve your people

Management can’t solve the issues that have been raised in isolation, so involve employees in co-creating solutions to problems. This could be through further, in-depth feedback with specific employees or by creating teams to work together to come up with solutions. If staff are part of the process, then changes are more likely to be adopted.

Demonstrate quick wins

You won’t be able to act on every feedback priority immediately, as some will take time to work on. However, identify and implement quick wins that can deliver value in the short-term to show you are committed to change.

Check that actions are delivering results

Once you’ve made changes go back to staff and get their feedback. Measure the impact of changes and whether they have been effective in solving problems.

It has never been easier to survey employees – but feedback that isn’t acted on is worse than useless. To drive success you need to build an effective feedback loop involving your employees in driving change and clearly communicating progress. Otherwise, all your survey exercises will do is create employee feedback fatigue, harming the overall experience and demotivating your people.