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There’s No Such Thing as Survey Fatigue When You Act on Employee Feedback

By Sarah Johnson, PhD - April 20, 2021

Continuous listening, an approach that allows for the collection of employee feedback at multiple times in a year and at moments that matter in the employee lifecycle, has become a common practice in many organizations. When planned strategically and managed efficiently, a continuous listening framework can provide valuable and timely insights that enable leaders to make smart, data-based decisions about their people. 

However, one phrase pops up over and over when it comes to continuous listening: Survey fatigue. If you aren’t familiar with the notion, survey fatigue suggests that if an organization sends out too many surveys or asks employees for their input too many times, employees will simply grow tired of the exercise and fail to respond.

Hold on a second. Really?

Organizations ask their employees to do all kinds of difficult things. They invent, fix, sell, make, design, and code. They work long hours under demanding conditions. They adapt under difficult circumstances (I’m looking at you, pandemic). Employees make our companies what they are. They are our most important resource. Yet somehow, we think that clicking on responses to an online survey is fatiguing.   

I don’t believe there’s any such thing as survey fatigue. I do, however, believe that there’s another, more serious phenomenon at play and it does involve a type of fatigue: the fatigue that employees feel when their companies do lots of asking, but very little acting. In other words, collecting feedback from employees and doing nothing to actually help them be successful.

Imagine this scenario. Your spouse or partner comes home after a long day. You ask, “How was your day?” and you’re prepared to listen. Your spouse or partner shares the details of what went well and what was challenging; what made them happy and what frustrated them. They go on to say, “It would be awesome if, from time to time, you got dinner started, tossed in a load of laundry, and helped the kids start their homework.” 

Your response? “Good talk. Let’s do this again soon.”

How would that go over at your house? Probably not well.

Listening is great. Every company should listen to employees. But if all we’re doing is listening, then we’re setting employees up for frustration and cynicism. They are telling us what they need to be more effective, more productive, and more engaged. When we don’t act on what they tell us, we’re reenacting the scenario above. Despite trying to do something positive, we end up creating a negative situation. How can that be?

When our employees share their feedback, they expect us to do a couple of things. First, acknowledge their perspective. Sometimes survey results tell a tough story. In those cases, leaders need to recognize that and not sugarcoat the situation. 

Secondly, do something about it:

  • Take action
  • Make changes 
  • Drive improvements 
  • Communicate more  
  • Share the strategy
  • Recognize contributions

In my experience, employees will respond to surveys all day long if they believe that their input will not just be listened to, but acted upon. We saw evidence of this with many of the COVID-era surveys that our Perceptyx team ran for our clients. A Perceptyx client conducted a survey to understand what their store-based essential workers needed to feel safe at work in the early days of the pandemic and implemented several changes in the stores immediately afterward. They surveyed the same population 3 weeks later and saw a significant increase in the response rate. Why? Because it was clear to employees that their feedback was not just heard but acted upon quickly. 

It’s not survey fatigue. It’s lack-of-action fatigue. Listening is great, but it’s more important to act on what we’ve heard.

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