The Researcher’s Advantage to Chilled-Out Survey Participants

Topic(s): stress, wellness

Topic: StressWellness
Publication: Journal of Organizational and Occupational Psychology
Article: Too stressed out to participate Examining the relation between stressors and survey response behavior.
Blogger: LitDigger

If you’re in the kind of work I’m in, your projects thrive off of survey response rates. Yes, that is only one element to a successful organizational study, BUT CLEARLY response rates are a big deal to research! You probably have read some articles on how to boost your survey response rate (e.g., is handing out free candy or instilling guilt ACTUALLY effective to your cause?), but a recent article by Barr, Spitzmüller, and Stuebing (2008) takes a new perspective.

Instead of investigating the effectiveness of methods like initiating reciprocity or offering cash rewards, these researchers examined the impact of job stress on the likelihood that survey recipients would go ahead and complete the surveys. There are many reasons why any given survey recipient may NOT complete a survey.  Some consciously choose not to respond (referred to in the study as “active non-respondents”) while others may instead get distracted by something else (maybe they’re in the middle of trying to make a quickly approaching deadline) and just so happen to not respond (the study refers to these people as “passive non-respondents”). Note: look into Rogelberg, et al. (2003) for more information on the difference between “passive” and “active” non-respondents.

What types of stress did they study?  Role stress. The different role stressors they measured were role overload (having too much to do in too little time – yes, we can ALL relate to that), role conflict (having incompatible job demands, so it’s impossible to make everyone happy), and role ambiguity (not being entirely sure what is or isn’t your responsibility).

So, let’s get to it already: Is STRESS one reason why people may not respond to a survey?  Barr et al. conducted their 2008 study to find out. As the researchers had anticipated, more overloaded respondents were less likely to respond to surveys (this showed for both active and passive non-respondents).

Not surprising. The role conflict measure of stress did not show a significant relationship to
unresponsive behavior. What was surprising was that those high on role ambiguity were more likely to respond to surveys (but this was only for passive non-respondents). The authors suggest that people who are unsure of their role in their organization or group may mistakenly view surveys as a mandatory part of their job rather than a voluntary activity.  Ah-HA! So we finally found an advantage to employees not knowing what their roles and responsibilities are.  Hurry up and send out your surveys before they figure it out. J

Barr, C.D., Spitzmuller, C., Stuebing, K.K. (2008). Too stressed out to participate? Examining the relation between stressors and survey response behavior.  Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 13(3) 232-243.

Rogelberg, S. G., Conway, J. M., Sederburg, M. E., Spitzmüller, C., Aziz, S., & Knight, W. E. (2003). Profiling active and passive nonrespondents to an organizational survey. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 1104–1114.