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Why Third Party Employee Surveying Produces Honest Answers

Posted by: Ben Eubanks

Imagine receiving this text message from a resigning employee just hours after she left the office on her last day of work.

I am so glad to be out of there, and I will miss our customers dearly. Working for her was the worst experience of my life, and now I know why the other two people on my team quit before me. Please don’t tell anyone I said this. I don’t want it to affect any references I could get from my old boss.
This was an example from earlier in my career. We had performed an exit interview with this employee on her final day where she made only positive references to her workload, environment, and manager. At the time, I did not understand the importance of third-party surveying. Later on my knowledge from People Element and dealing with employee survey responses has taught me differently.

How to Get Results

In my experience as a business leader, requests for employee feedback do not always produce the preferred response. It seems like it would be logical: I’m asking employees for input and they can tell me what is going on. But the truth is that it’s never that simple. Employees worry about repercussions from “sticking their neck out,” some organizations don’t treat the answers confidentially, and others don’t really want feedback unless it’s of the positive variety.

That’s where third-party surveys come in. Using an external provider to support survey efforts can yield better results with fewer headaches. Some of the key hurdles to in-house surveys can be partially or completely eliminated through the use of reputable third party survey support. Let’s talk through some of the key areas and issues with regard to surveys: participation rates, data quality, and confidentiality.

Participation Rates

One of the challenges of internal surveys is getting employees to respond. If the ultimate goal is to gather information to support business objectives, then a good pool of data must be collected. Unfortunately, many times it’s difficult to get employees to respond to surveys, even when they are working in an office environment in close proximity to their supervisors. That doesn’t even take into account those organizations where workers are distributed and rarely interact with their peers face to face.

A good provider can help companies achieve higher participation rates than possible with a simple internal survey. Ultimately, that participation leads to a stronger data set, providing a holistic view of talent and business impacts.

This quote from the Society for Human Resource Management on employee surveys is excellent advice for guiding initial thoughts around conducting a survey:

“First and foremost, the organization’s senior management must make a real commitment to the concept. If your organizational culture is such that upward communication is generally welcomed, a survey can help focus attention on problem areas. If you are going to do a survey, you must commit that you will listen to what employees have to say, address their concerns openly and honestly and make changes based on the survey results. If you don’t have this commitment, stop here and go find something else to do.”

Data Quality

A big problem with internally-generated surveys is just that: poor data quality. One common reason data can be of poor quality is due to the questions asked. They may be structured incorrectly, not providing the proper response type, or even skipping pertinent topics altogether. While a question may seem interesting, that doesn’t guarantee that the information will be useful. Other times there could be a bias, intended or not, that flavors the questions asked.

Rim Yurkus, Co-Founder of People Element explains more on data quality:

“A question needs to be specific enough to provide data that is actionable. A question like ‘My supervisor is effective’ is too broad to provide useful data. It should instead be broken out into separate questions that ask in what ways the supervisor is effective, such as how well he communicates, holds others accountable, or handles concerns, just to name a few.”

The benefit of using an outside resource with validated, unbiased questions is that the data quality on the back end is more valuable. Good questions, properly designed, can yield powerful data for the business. In addition, providers working within specific industries have an idea of the typical concerns and challenges and can meet those specific needs as they arise instead of trying to use a “one size fits all” template for every company.


The third, and perhaps most important, aspect of surveys that can be improved by using an external provider is confidentiality. Virtually every employee has wondered who will see their responses to survey questions, even ones that are benign. If responses are tainted by employee fears and concerns, then how can an organization truly get an accurate picture through the use of a survey?

In fact, some experts suggest that employees lie in exit interviews as a way to protect themselves from any career fallout. In fact, I have had employees lie directly to me in exit interviews purely for these types of reasons, even though I had built trust with those people over time. But this doesn’t have to be the case for your organization.

While there are tools that will allow companies to gather confidential data, responses can still include identifiable details that could undo any good the survey is intended to achieve. Having third party survey support can add a layer to this interaction protecting the employee’s responses and ensuring total confidentiality.

The data still arrives in the hands of the business leaders, but any sensitive information has been firewalled off from the discussion, ensuring only the pertinent business details remain. This not only helps to focus on using the survey data for improvements; it also leads to more responses overall.

In the End, It’s About the Business

The theme with each of these differentiators should be clear: better data which leads to better business decisions. Performing surveys internally may not sink an organization’s chances for success, but it can impact the level of performance long term. Every decision point within the business brings choices and having the right data on hand at the right time can help your organization to retain talent and drive business results.

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