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Article | EX Insights

Survey best practice: Determining the ideal survey length to achieve the perfect combination of participation and value

Employee Engagement |Talent

By Adam Zuckerman | November 9, 2020

When creating a survey, you want to include the perfect amount of questions to get the value you need, while not burdening your employees with too many questions or their managers with overwhelming results.

Deciding on the right number of questions for a survey can be tricky. Although there are often more questions we want to add, it's best to keep a survey as short as possible. This would reduce the burden on employees to respond and on managers to analyze the results. But are these burdens real? Is a shorter survey the best way to manage them? Let's take a look.

First, let's address the burden on employees. While it's true that there is rarely a good reason to ask 100 questions or anything close to it, 35 or even 40 questions will be less burdensome. In most cases, the challenge is getting employees to complete a survey in the first place, and that challenge exists even with a very short survey. Once an employee sits down to focus on responding, it doesn't take appreciably longer to answer 40 versus 20 questions (although you've doubled the intelligence gathered). In fact, we've found that surveys of 40 questions take less than 15 minutes on average to complete. This is probably why employees themselves rarely complain about being asked too many questions. If anything, one might hear that key areas have been neglected.

Next, let's consider the burden on managers to review the findings and act on the results. Surely the fewer questions we ask, the less of a drain this will be. But is that the best way to solve this challenge? At Willis Towers Watson, we believe each manager should focus on a limited set of issues coming out of a survey – ideally three or fewer. But rather than achieve that goal by asking only three questions to begin with, we think it makes more sense to ask as many questions as needed and then thoughtfully apply comparative and predictive analytics to quickly identify the three most pressing concerns.

To do this, Willis Towers Watson's Employee Engagement Software uses an algorithm that combines current, robust and relevant benchmarks (based on industry, geography and performance, among others), together with analyses measuring the impact of each question on key outcomes (employee engagement, customer satisfaction, company profitability, etc.). The tool highlights the three key issues for each manager on their reporting dashboard, together with associated recommendations for action. Rather than reducing the number of questions, we've eliminated the burden on managers by reducing the time and effort required to process the information and identify focus areas. As far as the manager is concerned, the survey might as well have asked 1,000 questions, yet it adds no additional effort.

When designing your next employee survey, we recommend that you do not focus so much on length. Instead focus on a) measuring the issues properly with a sufficient number of questions, and b) reducing the time and effort required by managers to review the results. By applying the right tools for analysis and prioritization, and by packaging the information in a way that’s easily digestible by managers, it is possible to gain the many benefits of a comprehensive survey and endure none of the costs.

Log in to Employee Engagement Software today to start your next survey or contact us for a demo.


Product Leader
Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software

Adam is responsible for the overall development and direction of Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software. His goal is to create the world’s greatest software for delivering insight and enabling actions that enhance employee experience, company culture, and business performance. Outside of work, Adam enjoys off-roading in his Jeep and spending time with his family. Follow Adam on Twitter.

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