From the workplace · Home life


Last month I received a Questionnaire, an NHS GP Survey, through the post. I dislike Questionnaires very, very much and rarely fill them in, but decided to fill in this one. It struck me that it was worded to make it difficult to say, simply, “I am very happy with my GP and have no complaints”. I gave the highest marks to every question and sent it back the same afternoon. If I had left it by the front door, ready to post the next day, it would still be there, and I would now be able to open it again and give specific examples of the wording that made me uneasy. It didn’t quite say: “How dissatisfied are you with your GP? Extremely dissatisfied / Very dissatisfied / Sometimes dissatisfied / Dissatisfied every now and then”, but that was the implication, as I saw it.

In the 1990s I worked for training companies that gave out Evaluation Forms at the end of every course. You might deliver 5 different courses in a week and would then be evaluated (or judged) on every single day’s work, by 5 different groups of delegates. It was, for me, the worst part of the job, not least because some of the forms were so badly designed. In one case they had been knocked up one evening in a hurry and were not reviewed for years. Form Design never took off as a software type for non-specialists, unlike word processing, presentation graphics, or spreadsheets but there were people in the 1990s who believed that there would be a big market for it and that Form Design software would take its place alongside those other user applications. If it had people might have learnt some of the basics of designing effective forms.

At one workplace the forms were redesigned so that the 5 options (which, as a rule, is not enough) were changed from “Excellent / Very Good / Good / Below Average / Poor” to “Very Good / Good / Average / Below Average / Poor”. It became literally impossible for anyone to mark a trainer as Excellent. And these forms were designed by one of the owners of the firm, not by some government department trying to make a political point. Some workplaces might make it as easy as possible for delegates to say nice things about the trainers and the training courses they delivered, but here it became harder. Some of the delegates noticed the switch and commented on it.

Also back in the 1990s I noticed that the cars that came top in owner surveys were typically German or Japanese. I have only ever owned or driven French cars, have always been happy with them and would never have traded my Peugeot or Renault for a VW or a Toyota. But I am also very unlikely to fill in a form to say this. I figured that VW and Toyota drivers must enjoy filling in forms and those of us driving French cars just give a Gallic shrug and toss any driver surveys into “la poubelle” (that’s French for dustbin).

These days, for someone like me, the number of follow-up calls and emails we get as we go about our daily business is ridiculous. Every time I buy something on a well-known retail site they email afterwards asking me to rate the experience. I take my car for a service and get follow-up messages for weeks afterwards to check that I was completely satisfied. On holiday in France and Italy last summer I received answerphone messages every day for over a week as a “courtesy” following a recent car service. It cost me time and money to pick up each call. I was very happy with how my car was serviced but increasingly annoyed at paying to pick up messages from a bored-sounding representative who can’t tell if the mobile number they’re calling is outside the UK. (You can tell, you know: the ringing sound is different.)

And when we got home from holiday every single place we stayed (six different locations), and the ferry company, emailed asking me for feedback. I filled in two evaluations – for the place in Italy where the owner was always on hand to help, and for the place in Nice, hoping that the nice things we had to say about the concierge would be passed on to the owners. (They were.) That was more than enough.

I drafted this piece earlier this evening and before posting it went to a parents’ evening at one of my children’s schools. As I left the school, guess what they gave me. Yes, a Questionnaire, for a school parents’ evening.

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