Some Employers Ruin Surveys For the Rest of Us
This recent Dilbert comic caught my eye:
One of the biggest problems in organizational survey research, especially about sensitive topics, is that many employees do not trust that the survey responses they give will be held confidentially.
It’s led to a great number of techniques for minimizing impressions that surveys have anything at all to do with the company. For example, if you were conducting a research project on ABC Co. about theft, it would be important not to use ABC Co. in materials. Initial e-mail invitations should come from an independent research team with e-mail addresses unrelated to abc-company.com, the web address should not contain abc-company.com, the first page of the survey should have a color scheme unlike that of abc-company.com or any familiar company colors, a single graphic representing the company should be on the first page only to establish that this is company-sponsored (only if it really is – if the research is from a truly independent source, DON’T DO THIS), clear explanations of the anonymity/confidentiality of survey respondents should be given, and no references to the company should be made after that point, if at all possible.
Even doing this, some respondents may feel their responses are being forwarded to management. Some researchers try to address this by asking “Do you think management will be able to link your responses directly to you?” and eliminating such people from subsequent analyses. But thus we hit the major problem – if you thought management would be reading your responses, you’d probably say “No” to that too!
So far, we have no better solutions to this problem for survey research. In fact, as long as there’s a person’s mind creating survey responses, this will always be a problem – at best, we can discourage such deception. This is what leads some researchers to seek more “objective” measures, like absenteeism, units produced, weekly sales, and so on. But there only so many things that can measured “objectively,” and many of these aren’t really that objective in the first place.
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