This study focused on the empirical examination of qualitative data from employee surveys (e.g., open-ended questions). The data set was a climate survey administered to 661 employees at a large military organization, representing 23 different work areas.
Results indicated that dissatisfied employees are more likely to provide comments in the open-ended questions. Additionally, the more negative the comments were, the longer they tended to be (as a quick aside, the longest I’ve seen is 3 pages commenting on everything from favoritism to adultery!). The authors caution that open-ended comments tend towards the negative and people are less likely to leave positive feedback in their comments.
There were very little differences across demographics for those providing comments, but that may be due to this particular population. It would be best to break out the results into subgroups before assuming you have a good feel for your particular population. This may be especially true for large companies employing both union and non-union employees. Overall, the ability to code qualitative data and examine it empirically holds promise for the future of surveys and what can be learned from their administration.