The role of surveys Featured

7:10am EDT August 22, 2005
One of the easiest and most efficient ways to ascertain employees’ opinions on everything from benefits to management to overall employment experience is to conduct an employee survey.

Benefits surveys
With more and more of the cost of benefits shifting to employees, it is increasingly more important to ask employees what they want to buy. The employer’s benefits package is like a store with products for sale. If you aren’t in touch with what your target audience wants, then you’ll miss a sale. You may not like the previous analogy, but benefit programs are for recruiting and retention of employees. If the employees don’t choose to enroll in your benefits package, you have failed, even if an employee takes (or stays with) a job.

To ensure that employees want your benefits, employee surveys should be conducted after you have completed your annual benefits review and before open enrollment meetings. Surveys are best conducted when you know exactly what you want to ask.

For example, asking an employee if they want to pay more to stay with the same benefits program is vague. Asking the employee if they want to pay $7.27 more per pay period to keep the same medical plan is based on the specifics of your final review. Conducting a survey is a science and you should be careful how you phrase any question. Avoid any open-ended questions. Some employers are afraid to ask their employees’ opinion, for fear of not being able to give them what they want.

What does any employee want? The employee survey can help make final decisions on carriers or benefits packages. The best surveys explain to the employees exactly what problems the employer is grappling with in this year’s annual benefits review. Don’t be afraid to share with your employees the dilemmas you may be facing. This involvement will always soften the blow of a tough renewal.

The other fear employers have is not getting a consensus. Once again, you have to understand that you are never going to get a full consensus. You should also understand that many employers are now offering three, and sometimes five, medical plans. Choice will continue to be the future of health care plans.

Surveys need to be limited to core questions. There is no magic number. If you have a question that you think is important to get feedback on, then ask it.

Picking the best format for conducting your survey is important. Paper surveys are typically the best, however Internet surveys are more powerful. The best Internet survey tool is Key Survey. It is relatively inexpensive, comparable to mailing a survey, and Key has fantastic customer service. Check it out at

Exit surveys
Another important employee survey is an exit survey. These are the trickiest of all surveys, as the ex-employee has no incentive to complete the survey. So you have to create the incentive. Paying an ex-employee as little as $25 will dramatically increase your survey response. American Express gift certificates or vouchers work well, because if the employee never uses it, the employer avoids the expense.

The other option is to outsource the survey. Ex-employees have a fear of retaliation by their former employer and so choose to distance themselves. By having a third party administer the survey, your success ratio will improve dramatically. These surveys can be kept confidential by using a third party, unless the ex-employee grants authority to release the results.

Exit interviews go through more questions than just satisfaction with benefits. These surveys ask other vital questions, including knowledge of nonethical conduct by current employees, as well as why the employee chose to leave.

Your employee benefits broker should be the best source for assistance in these surveys but developing the survey questions should be a team effort.

Bruce Bishop ( is director of marketing and managing partner of KYBA Benefits. KYBA Benefits provides consulting and administrative services to more than 400 corporate accounts, ranging in size from 20 employees to more than 7,000. Reach Bishop at (770) 425-6700 or (800) 874-2244, ext. 205.