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Preventing Response Bias On Employee Engagement Surveys

Preventing Employee Response Bias
Summary: Collecting survey data is a great way to gain a better understanding of your employees' work-life needs. However, you must create and distribute surveys that will give you the most insight into how your employees feel.

Response Bias: Causes And Definition

One of the best ways to get inside your employees' heads is to survey them to gather their feedback. However, it is vital to the accuracy of the survey that you properly collect your data to ensure accurate accounts about how your employees feel. Being sure to avoid any response bias is essential for gathering the highest quality assessment that accurately represents your employees.

If you fail to prepare well-crafted survey questions for your employees, you might risk creating confusion about how they feel. Furthermore, the data collected will now serve no value and you will have wasted precious time and resources for inaccurate results. Your survey goal should be to improve employee experience, but you can’t do that if you don’t have accurate details about their needs. To learn more about what causes employee response bias and what you can do to avoid it, take a look at this breakdown: Anything that might cause an employee to answer the survey inaccurately is considered response bias. There are several reasons an employee would give faulty survey responses. For example, they might simply misunderstand a question that could have been easily avoided with better wording. Your employees also may have just wanted to make themselves look more desirable by fudging responses.

These examples will help you understand what typically causes response bias:

  • Acquiescence bias
    This is one of the most common ways that response bias is produced. Leading questions are those that are phrased in a way to get a specific answer from respondents. This can be tough to avoid when you have survey goals because you must ensure accurate, rather than desired responses.
  • Social desirability bias
    This deals with the respondent’s unique perception of what they think the survey says about them. If an employee is worried about making themself look good, then they might not answer truthfully.
  • Extreme response bias
    All-or-nothing response bias refers to the idea that some people who are not interested in your survey will go down marking the same response for each question. This often happens during long surveys and redundant surveys. To combat this, avoid distributing surveys that take longer than 10 minutes to complete.
  • Question order bias
    Depending on how you order your survey questions, you can create some response bias by priming context from previous questions. For instance, a respondent might choose an answer because it is consistent with their previous responses, but does not actually agree with or understand their answer.
  • Demand characteristics
    Demand characteristics on a survey refer to a participant who is too eager to help. Being excited to participate is a good thing, but being overly excited about the survey might lead to inaccurate results. In some cases, the respondent may try to learn about what you are surveying so they can contribute to the results, without realizing they are creating bias.

More Response Bias

Now you know the most common response biases to expect from your employees. Nonetheless, there are some other biases that you should know before you distribute your employee engagement survey.

Non-Response Bias

This kind of bias occurs when there is a significant enough difference between employees who responded to the survey and those who did not. An example of this would be if you were to send a mail-in survey and only received responses from employees who work from home. This means that you did not properly tailor the survey to your audience.

To evade any non-response bias, be sure that your audience has the time and means to respond. It helps to talk to your employees ahead of time about the survey being sent out. Establishing early awareness about the survey will give your employees more time to plan for it rather than it showing up on top of their existing pile of work.

Voluntary Response Bias

Voluntary response bias occurs when you include participants in your survey who volunteer to specifically answer the questions on your survey. This is usually due to the respondent already knowing the questions, thinking they know the questions, or having an existing interest in the survey topic. If this is the case with your employees, then they most likely will not be able to give impartial answers.

For example, you want to collect data in the office about an issue with the copier being too loud. So, you send an email to the office asking your employees to survey their thoughts on the copier. Odds are that you will only collect responses from those who sit near the copier and have strong opinions about the noise it makes.

How To Avoid Response Bias When Structuring A Survey

You now know all the possible causes of response bias in a survey. Now, follow the 3 tips below to help you stay on top of your survey structure:

1. Use Simple Language

You cannot yield accurate survey results if your employees don’t understand what you are asking. Include a lot of straightforward information and ask simple questions that make responding accurate and easy. You can even run your questions through a content analyzer to ensure your survey’s readability.

2. Don’t Lead Into An Answer

Even though you might be conducting this survey to confirm or disconfirm some information, it is important you don’t seek a specific answer from your questions. Your goal is to understand how your employees feel so that you can give them the tools to be successful. Leading questions might show you the data you want, but you risk losing its accuracy. Questions that give employees more range, like free-response questions will usually give better results than yes-or-no questions.

3. Think About Your Employees

You should also be thinking about any background information you might need to include. For example, you are the owner of a car dealership, and you wish to survey your employees. Your employees will be much more knowledgeable about a car’s engine than politics, history, or any other context. So, depending on what you are surveying, you should give your employees information to start with so they understand what is being asked.


Collecting survey data is a great way to gain a better understanding of your employees' work-life needs. However, you must create and distribute surveys that will give you the most insight into how your employees feel. Remember the tips above when you are drafting your unbiased survey to get the most out of employee responses.