Re-energizing Employee Surveys: The Fight Against Survey Fatigue

August 17, 2023

survey fatigue pulse response rates

Employee displaying fatigue with head in hands

When Human Resources (HR) teams try to implement pulse surveys or employee feedback programs, one of the most common objections they hear is: Survey Fatigue. We want to discuss what survey fatigue is, what some of the common causes are, how it can impact your employee engagement efforts, and some ways to mitigate the effects.

What is Survey Fatigue?

In short, survey fatigue is exactly what it sounds like — survey recipients getting increasingly tired of receiving surveys over time. In the HR context, this happens when pulse surveys begin to feel like a burden to the employees. There are a number of different causes, and more importantly, there can be some very unfortunate and serious consequences.

What causes Survey Fatigue?

There are a number of different reasons that employees may experience survey fatigue. While the frequency of surveys is often cited as the primary cause, there are actually a number of different factors that can contribute to survey fatigue. Some of the most common causes are:

  1. Survey Overload: As we discussed, this is the first thing people associate with survey fatigue. When surveys are sent too frequently, employees can feel overwhelmed by them, and believe that they are interfering with their regular work and responsibilities.

  2. Survey Length: When surveys are too long and have too many questions, employees can tire of responding to that specific survey as well as any future surveys.

  3. Lack of Follow-Up: Without appropriate follow-up, employees can start to believe that the surveys are pointless, and begin to lose interest. Proper follow-up should include sharing the results of the surveys with the employees, and crucially, taking action on the feedback that the employees provided.

  4. Survey Design Flaws: If survey questions are confusing or worded poorly, or if the questions are perceived as irrelevant, employees can tire of the surveys more quickly.

  5. Survey Platform Issues: When it’s difficult or inconvenient for employees to respond to surveys, they can tire of the survey processes much more quickly. User unfriendly platforms or processes can hasten fatigue because employees will view surveys as a nuisance.

How does Survey Fatigue impact your employee engagement efforts?

While pulse surveys are designed to provide HR teams with the data to measure and improve the employee experience, survey fatigue can actually harm these efforts. That means that an initiative that began with the best intentions can lead to some very unfortunate outcomes. When survey fatigue sets in, you may begin to see some negative side effects in the surveys such as:

  1. Decreased Response Rates: With each successive survey, the number of respondents for each question decreases as fewer employees take the time to complete them. This leads to fewer data points for each question.

  2. Survey Avoidance: This is a more severe manifestation of decreased response rates. Instead of just not responding to some questions, employees may begin to avoid surveys altogether by ignoring invitations and disengaging from the process. This can reduce the amount of data you’re receiving from your surveys.

  3. Reduced Quality: Instead of avoiding surveys, some employees may just speed through the surveys answering carelessly or randomly. This can add a lot of noise to your data, and reduce its reliability.

  4. Disengagement/Resentment: When survey fatigue sets in, and especially when employees don’t see any follow-up, they can begin to feel disengaged or resentful. Because conscientious employees are taking time to give thoughtful response to pulse surveys, it can be extremely difficult when they don’t see the company address or even acknowledge their feedback.

Survey fatigue can lead to both a reduction in the quantity and quality of your data. Once the integrity of your data is affected, you may face some more serious issues including:

  1. Unreliable Insights: Aggregate data is less reliable, and trends are more difficult to interpret as they may be skewed by limited participation.

  2. Biased Results: Surveys with high response rates give you a good picture of your entire team. Once response rates decrease though, you may see some sampling errors as small cohorts of respondents have outsized impacts on the data.

  3. Inability to Identify Issues: Without quality data, it becomes much more difficult to accurately identify the underlying issues. Moreover, some issues can be missed entirely because you no longer have a complete dataset.

  4. Loss of Trust in Leadership: If you take action on incomplete or inaccurate data, and that data doesn’t accurately reflect employee sentiment, then employees may begin to lose trust in leadership. The executive team can become to be viewed as out-of-touch or misguided.

How can Survey Fatigue be avoided?

Because the issues stemming from survey fatigue are serious, some companies may feel that it’s best to avoid surveys altogether. However, when administered properly, pulse surveys are among the best ways to gather employee feedback, particularly at scale. The solution isn’t to avoid pulse surveys, but to try to avoid survey fatigue. Some possible ways to mitigate survey fatigue include:

  1. Communicate Effectively: Before administering surveys, ensure that your team understands why the surveys are important. When employees understand the reasons behind the surveys, they are more likely to be engaged with them.

  2. Send Surveys Strategically: Think carefully about both when and how often to administer surveys. If there are high-stress times in your natural business cycle (e.g., the close of each quarter for Sales), try to avoid sending surveys during those times so employees don’t feel overwhelmed. Also be sure to think about your cadence so you don’t send too many surveys too often.

  3. Keep Surveys Short: Pulse surveys or check-ins should be quick and easy to respond to, especially if you’re giving them with any frequency. In general, surveys shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to complete.

  4. Minimize Distractions: Try to keep your employees in their natural workflow by using easy-to-use and well-designed surveys that keep your employees in their usual workflow. Surveys shouldn’t be a nuisance.

  5. Protect Anonymity: As we’ve discussed in a previous blog post, anonymous surveys can help ensure that employees are comfortable responding honestly.

  6. Follow Up and Act: Show employees that their feedback matters by sharing the aggregate results of your surveys, and take action on any important findings. If employees believe that their input is taken seriously, and can tangibly affect the company, they are much more likely to continue participating in surveys.

  7. Evaluate the Survey Process: Keep track of your response rates and data quality, and check in with your employees on the survey experience during your one-on-ones or via a focus group. This can help to identify issues with the survey process before fatigue sets in.


Survey fatigue is a real concern in your employee engagement efforts. While the effects of survey fatigue can be quite negative, the insights and value gleaned from properly designed and administered surveys are essential to promoting and maintaining a healthy and productive company culture. The answer isn’t to ditch surveys to avoid survey fatigue; instead, the goal should be to mitigate survey fatigue to make your surveys more insightful and valuable.

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