Qualitative research in HR

Additional insight into motivations, thoughts and expectations

Turning data into profit. Also in HR, we love gaining insights by analysing data. But People Analytics is not synonymous with quantitative research. Rather, People Analytics is about peeling off an issue in a structured way to attain the proper insights. Sometimes the answers are not to be found in the data, but rather in staff interviews, for example. In this event, qualitative research is much more valuable.

What is qualitative research?

In short, quantitative research comprises the collection of numerical data and use of statistical analysis. Qualitative research, on the other hand, involves non-numerical data, such as text, sound and images. These are used to collect information about people’s perceptions, beliefs, opinions and experiences.

Qualitative research is used to investigate existing and new theories, to provide substantive deepening of quantitative research, or resolve a lack of insights. In the latter case, it may offer directions for further research, whether qualitative or quantitative.

What types of qualitative research are there?

There are different types of qualitative research. The most common ones within HR are:


In an interview, one or more respondents are questioned by one or more interviewers.

Focus groups

In a focus group, several participants discuss a predetermined topic.


During an observation, a researcher watches and listens to human behaviour, i.e. what people say and do. Think, for example, of a researcher spending a day with an employee.

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Examples of qualitative research within HR

Exactly which method you choose to answer which questions depends on the objectives of your research. These objectives may include increasing employee satisfaction, mapping employee sentiments regarding working conditions and their effects or retaining talented employees. Other goals may be to scrutinise internal mobility and career policy, provide equal opportunities to minority groups or to further deepen quantitative research on organisational culture.

Methods may include:

  • Interviews to find out what employees consider good career development
  • Focus groups to map organisational culture and its effect on employees
  • Workshops on mapping the employee journey

Combining qualitative and quantitative research

At AnalitiQs, we like to deploy a smart combination of qualitative and quantitative research to get the best results. This is called mixed-methods research.

One example is using qualitative research for guidance, for instance when you want to conduct an employee survey without using a long-winded questionnaire. Surveying several employees first, allows you to set themes and adjust your quantitative questionnaire accordingly.

You can also use qualitative research to deepen quantitative findings. A case in point is a quantitative study we carried out on gender equality in senior management. The data was inconclusive due to the small number of women in the research population, so we followed up with qualitative research.

Employee surveys

This is how we start qualitative research

When conducting qualitative research, we go through a number of clear steps:

Step 1: Kick-off

We start our research with the goals we want to achieve. Then we formulate the research question and any sub-questions. During the kick-off phase, we also determine the scope and focus. Finally, we decide which research method to use and how to select the research participants.

Step 2: Collecting data

During this step, we conduct interviews, hold focus-group discussions, collect data (if we opted for a combined approach using quantitative research) or apply other research methods we have selected.

Step 3: Interpreting and presenting the results

Once we have collected all the inputs, we start the interpretation. We formulate the answers to our research questions and determine action points.

Next, it is important to communicate the findings to stakeholders and other interested parties. In doing so, be sure to include those who were interviewed or contributed to the result in any other way. This usually takes the form of a presentation and a report.

Step 4: Determine follow-up steps

Once the results have been presented, we decide on the follow-up steps together with the audience. These may include organisational changes or improvements, follow-up research, or a combination of both.

Benefits of qualitative research in HR

Using qualitative research to answer your research question has a number of advantages.

Qualitative research:

  • provides deeper insights beyond mere numbers; it often answers the ‘why’ question.
  • provides guidance if you do not yet know exactly what you are looking for.
  • often sparks new ideas; the use of open-ended questions can lead to finding new opportunities or questions.
  • is more flexible: if an important topic comes up in a conversation, you can put additional focus on it.
  • is fast: you can start researching, analysing and presenting soon after the kick-off.
  • is visible: just conducting the interviews is often enough to make employees feel heard – quite literally so.
  • is anonymous with AnalitiQs as your external research partner.

Case examples of qualitative research in HR

Improving Develop & Grow at a logistics service provider

Organisational development and growth are extremely important in retaining talented and experienced IT employees. One of our clients wanted to investigate how to improve in these areas, so AnalitiQs deployed qualitative research.

How internal mobility policies can contribute to talent retention and advancement

Internal mobility is an important issue for a large Dutch multinational. They asked us to conduct research on employee flow within the organisation. Read more about the approach and the results here.

Diversity & Inclusion at a Dutch multinational company

Are men and women in senior management offered the same opportunities and possibilities in this organisation? AnalitiQs investigated this using a combination of quantitative and qualitative research. Read the entire case study here.

What makes AnalitiQs unique in qualitative research?

  • Depending on your business question, we cleverly combine qualitative and quantitative research, for example by creating a mixture of interviews, staff workshops and data.
  • We use specialised qualitative researchers, experienced in People issues.
  • We support you at every step of the qualitative research, starting with thorough preparation.
  • Using a structured approach, we decide on priorities and focus together.
  • We offer support in presenting the results and determining  the follow-up steps

In short: we help you by offering comprehensive HR insights for monitoring and improvement. This leads to continuous enhancement of the employee experience and satisfied, loyal employees.

Want to know more? Contact AnalitiQs

Our mission is turning data into profit, so we are happy to help you with that. Want to know more about qualitative research within HR or how we can support your organisation or HR department? Feel free to contact us to discuss the possibilities.

Frequently asked questions about qualitative research

To make things easier for you, we have listed the most frequently asked questions below.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research gives you insight into people’s perceptions, beliefs, opinions and experiences. It often answers the ‘why’ question.

What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research?

Quantitative research uses numerical data and statistical analysis. Qualitative research, on the contrary, uses non-numerical data such as text, images and sound.

What types of qualitative research are there?

The most common method of qualitative research is conducting interviews, but focus groups, case studies and observations also fall under qualitative research.

When do you use qualitative research?

You use qualitative research when quantitative research is not possible or, for example, to generate fresh ideas.

What are the advantages of qualitative research?

The main advantage of qualitative research is that it uncovers more underlying insights.

What are the disadvantages of qualitative research?

Even the most structured approach to qualitative research will leave room for a certain amount of subjectivity. For instance, asking the same questions in every interview does not mean that all interviews will proceed in exactly the same way. Moreover, there may be room for coincidence as you do not usually interview the entire population but only part of it.

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Irma Doze

Irma Doze

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