How open-ended questions can enhance your employee surveys

24 April 2023 | 3 Minute
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How open-ended questions can enhance your employee surveys

Do you know the difference between open-ended and closed questions and why you should ensure you use open-ended questions to measure engagement in employee surveys?

Open-ended and closed questions complement each other when measuring employee engagement, but before you start adding them to surveys, it’s essential to understand their benefits and when to use them.

What are open-ended questions?

Open-ended questions allow you to collect detailed, qualitative data to really dig deep into a topic or feedback. Closed questions require responses from set answers. Therefore, they can be used for multiple choice or where you're looking for yes, no or maybe.

Different situations will require open-ended and closed questions. For example, during a job interview, you're likely to use open-ended questions to encourage in-depth answers from candidates to allow them to expand their responses.

However, in employee engagement surveys, you'll likely use more closed questions to produce quick, straightforward data to analyse and draw conclusions from.

Examples of open-ended questions in employee surveys

There are many examples of open-ended questions, each depending on the topic you want to gain more information about. For an employee engagement survey, you may ask questions divided into different topics, for instance:

  • What do you like about working at this organisation?
  • How could we improve our employee benefits scheme?
  • How would you recommend the organisation to others?
  • What is the best thing about working with your current manager?
  • How would you describe the company culture?

Benefits of open-ended questions

Detailed responses: Closed questions can be quick to complete but provide limited detail. However, open-ended questions allow you to dig deeper into a topic and gain further insights from an employee perspective.

If respondents are anonymous, they may even give more honest and detailed answers to open-ended questions.

For example, you might want to learn more about professional development using your employee engagement survey. You could ask a closed question such as, ‘Do you think you spend adequate time on your professional development?’ While this question will provide data on yes, no or don’t know responses, it doesn’t tell you much.

An open-ended follow-up question such as, ‘Please explain your answer,’ will give you added detail and colour.

Provide potential solutions: Using the example above, the closed question provides the data, but the open-ended question may provide some valuable insights about the why, what and the how. For example, respondents may say why they aren’t focusing on their professional development enough and what they intend to do or how they intend to change it.

No right or wrong answer: Depending on how a closed question is worded when responses are restricted, employees may feel they need more choices or responses feel right or wrong. However, an open-ended question can take away this forced answer and encourage employees to add additional insights that would not be given in a closed-question response.

Forced answers: There’s a risk that a closed question doesn't contain the response the employee wants to give. For instance, you could offer a question such as, ‘I ask for feedback from my manager,’ and the responses could be, every week, every month, or never. 

While the information from this question would give interesting statistics, the options are limited. What if the respondent wanted to say every quarter or explain why they can't ask for feedback etc.?

One study showed that parents were asked a closed question about their children and were given limited options to choose from. The most favourable option (60% of the parents chose it) was only mentioned by 5% of the parents when they were asked the same question as an open question.

Pick up on emotions: An open-ended question response may highlight an employee’s opinion or emotion towards something. While it may not make for easy reading, certain words or tones can help you define employee mood and engagement more than just a selected closed-question response.

Restrictions of open-ended questions

While open-ended questions can benefit an employee engagement survey, it's worth considering how many you include. This is because they can provide a lot of information which can take time to read through and summarise. The results from closed questions can be used as data to provide trends; open-ended answers may be irrelevant, unhelpful and may not answer the question.

You may also receive low response rates because people may want to put less time and effort into writing out their answers. Closed questions with set responses are quicker to complete and require less effort. 

One option is to limit open-ended questions per survey or make them optional rather than compulsory, which may increase the response rate. You can use your employee survey software to help you manage this.

Employee engagement survey always require a lot of thought and planning before you go ahead and compile the questions. And while you may choose to have a mix of open-ended and closed questions, you must consider your survey objectives, time to analyse responses and what you want to do with the open-ended question responses.

Sorwe brings together your internal communication, feedback, learning, and performance processes in a single mobile platform. Contact us to discover Sorwe solutions and understand how our employee survey software can help you.

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6 Things To Consider While Selecting Employee Engagement Tool For Your Organisation
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