Organizations are really concerned about how their employees are feeling during this time of uncertainty and wish to survey to understand more about the current moods and feelings they are experiencing. With all good intent, there are a number of reasons why exploring an individual's mental and emotional state is not the best approach. In essence, because:
- Data of this kind is not inherently actionable by the organization. Knowing that your employees are struggling will not help you take remedial action, and indeed many aspects of the existing uncertainty are outside of the leader or the business’ control. The question we often prompt organizations with is ‘what will you do with this information?’; if the answer is not clear, then the question is unlikely to provide fruitful information.
- Asking direct questions about emotional states or mental wellbeing to an individual may not yield true insight to their actual mental state. Elements of mental wellbeing tend to be unconscious to the individual and we all have different baselines. Moreover, clinical scales require much testing and validation to be distilled down to a robust number of questions to prove useful in an applied setting, which is usually a lot more than 1-2 questions would allow for.
- It requires an extremely high level of trust for an individual to disclose this information. Having employees willingly give you accurate information here depends much more on the wider culture of vulnerability and openness.
Further, there is likely evolving complexity within most organizations at present, with groups of employees differentially affected by organizational restructures or changes to their status, roles or benefits, for example. Without paying very close attention to this, sending broad questions out to the whole employee base could be uncomfortable or insensitive for some.
In our guide to getting feedback on employee wellbeing, we suggest a number of more actionable questions focused on understanding levers the organization may have control over that also send a clear message around how much the organization cares about the wellbeing of its people.
Our best recommendations, if you do move forward
Given the possibility of employees divulging serious mental health or harassment issues, we recommend running any desired questions by your legal team, if you plan to ask questions of a more personal rather than organizational nature.
Maintain organizational trust
We go to great lengths to maintain employee confidentiality and adhere to the highest possible standards with regard to data protection; however, many employees may still be concerned with sharing information on personal facets of their wellbeing.
If you are maintaining confidentiality, remember that you will be unable to identify specific individuals’ responses. When surveying on mental wellbeing, it may be preferred to be able to identify employees who are having a poor experience. If you choose to turn on raw data extract, it is crucial that you overtly communicate why you have chosen to eliminate confidentiality, what level of data will be seen, by whom, and how it will be used.
You’ll also need to close the loop by communicating how the organization has responded to the feedback they received. You will want to demonstrate to your employees that their feedback on personal wellbeing is taken seriously by the organization.
Direct employees to support structures that are in place
A crucial aspect to consider before you draft any questions is to ensure you have the prerequisite support systems in place. If you are going to ask about mental wellbeing, then you need to have the right support available and ensure employees that they are aware of them (for example, an Employee Assistance Program, access to counseling services, etc.). This ensures that, as an organization, you have adequately met your duty of care responsibilities. Consider this analogy: TV shows that touch on difficult issues will end an episode with, "If anything in tonight's show has brought up issues for you, please contact lifeline". You can use something similar at the end of your survey on this topic, by directing your employees to the existing support resources the organization provides.
Consider the design of questions and the survey
Format and Composition
Most of our templates utilize a 1-5 rating scale (strongly disagree - strongly agree), this is a deliberate design, since by stating the ideal state you are sending a message about what the organization is striving to achieve. It’s also key because having a consistent response style enhances participants' experience, and the accuracy of the data they provide. This also enables the platform to identify questions which are key drivers for your organization. Thus, we usually recommend that all questions be framed in the positive ideal-case scenario (i.e. ‘I feel the business is supporting my wellbeing’ rather than ‘I do not feel the business is supporting my wellbeing).
If you seek to ask questions that are negatively worded, on a different type of scale, or a “Yes/No” format, you will want to consider the impacts that this will have on reporting. For example, the following image shows what reporting will look like for a multi-select item:
Keep in mind that questions which are not on a positively worded 1-5 scale will not be included in the driver analysis.
Terms to avoid
We recommend that, even where you may be seeking information on aspects of mental wellbeing or health, you avoid clinical terms in the questions that you ask employees (e.g., use worry instead of anxious), unless there is some express purpose of the information you are seeking which makes this appropriate.
Make it optional
We do not recommend that any items within a survey be mandatory, and in this instance it can be even more helpful to ensure that all questions are, indeed, optional. If a participant is comfortable answering most questions, but feels uncomfortable with some, they are less likely to abandon the whole survey if they can simply “skip” an item.