Thanks to our friends at NJ TRANSIT for this idea.

Surveying employees is often seen as difficult and expensive, but NJ TRANSIT uses a simple and effective e-mail survey that captures how their employees commute. This is a simple way to determine if you are meeting the 14 percent employee participation rate goal.

Microsoft Outlook e-mail offers an option for messages to incorporate “voting buttons”. Other e-mail programs may have a similar feature.

Here’s how to set it up in Outlook.

1.Create the ” buttons”. Choose one of the voting options provided – “Approve; Reject,” “Yes; No,” “Yes; No; Maybe” or “Custom” depending on the type of answer  buttons your want available in your survey. If you select “Custom,” the Message Options dialog box appears and you can enter your voting button names in the “Use Voting Buttons” text field under Voting and Tracking Options. Separate each button name with a semicolon. Click “Close” to save your entry. You won’t see the buttons on your draft, but they will appear when recipients receive their e-mail messages.

2. Draft your e-mail message with instructions. Prepare the e-mail message to emphasize how quick and easy it is to respond and to further explain the voting button choices. Be sure the survey questions direct recipients to select the one single option that best describes their commute, as multiple selections are not allowed. If you want to add more tracking options to your message, check “Request a Delivery Receipt” or “Request a Read Receipt” or both.  Prompt recipients to respond by adding a flag to your survey message. Select the “Message” tab and click “Follow Up” under the Tags section. Click “Flag for Recipients.” Specify the date and time you want an automatic reminder to be sent out. Press “OK” to get back to your email message.

3. Send the e-mail. Enter your recipients and click the “Send” button when ready.Your e-mail system may allow you to broadcast an e-mail to “all employees” so one click distributes the survey to everyone.

4. Receive and tally the replies. When you create and send an email survey you may want to track and print the results. You can either quickly copy the voting results into a blank Word document or a new email, or copy them into Excel so you can work with the data later. For example, Click Message > Tracking to sort and work with the survey results in Excel. On the keyboard, press and hold Ctrl, and then click and drag the mouse to select all names and responses in the list.  Copy and paste into a blank workbook.

NJ Transit had a 60 percent response rate (over 700 replies) in less than six business days. It took minimal effort to capture a wealth of employee information. Using this system they eliminated the additional time and expense to physically distribute the surveys and tally results, while enhancing the speed and accuracy of compiling the votes. They incurred almost no survey-related expenses and had a great response rate.

If you are not a Microsoft Outlook user or your e-mail system does not offer this feature, you can find other self-survey solutions on the Web.