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Workplace Health

Focus Group

What is a focus group?

A focus group is an interview of 6-10 employees to gather information about workplace health.

What is the role of facilitator?

Be prepared to direct the flow of the session. After your welcoming remarks and a review of the purpose and format of the interview, pose the first question to the group. Wrap-up each question with a brief summary of what you heard before moving on to the next question (the co-facilitator, if you have one, can do this). Remain neutral (i.e. do not react strongly to anything that is said) and don’t lose control of the group. The latter can occur when respondents stray to another topic, take so long to answer a question that time begins to run out, or even begin asking questions of the interviewer.

If one or two people are dominating the meeting, then call on others. Consider using a round-table approach, giving each person a minute to answer the question. If the domination persists, note it to the group and ask for ideas about how the participation can be increased.

(Adapted from Basics of Conducting Focus Groups written by Carter McNamara, PhD)

How do I plan for a focus group?

When employees agree to be part of the focus group, they are providing their consent to be part of the group and to participation being voluntary. They are also consenting to the information being recorded as long as it is kept confidential.

Be clear about the purpose and develop 5-6 suitable questions. Open-ended questions will stimulate more discussion than closed-type questions. Ensure that you invite participants to the focus group who are representative of the workplace compliment. The session should run approximately one hour, and an agenda will help keep it on track. Include a copy of the questions that will be used at the session, so that your participants will be prepared. If the session is to be recorded, advise the participants.


Start with non-threatening topics in order to allow sufficient time for the facilitator and group members to establish rapport with one another. Proceed from general questions to more specific items. Focus on need to know questions and leave the nice to know questions out.  The questions should be general in nature with probes that could be used to stimulate discussion and elicit details (THCU, 2004).

Sample questions

Organizational culture
How could work be better organized to help reduce stress?

What could your workplace do to reduce stress at home or outside of work?
What kinds of things do you think your employer can do to help you improve or maintain your health?

What do you think your workplace can do to help employees feel more of a sense of influence over their work and personal health?

What can your workplace do to provide support when needed?

Healthy lifestyle behaviour
In your opinion what changes in your workplace need to occur to make healthy choices the norm?

What are the most significant barriers to making healthy choices the norm?

Occupational Health and Safety

What health and safety changes could be made to this workplace?

Adapted from Health Canada, "Health Works".


Further explore certain discussions or stimulate discussion around specific sub-topics.  Probes are limited and only used when the facilitator feels that the participants require further direction or encouragement in the discussion (THCU, 2004).

Recording the focus group session?

Most sources will tell you it is preferable to record the session to avoid having to rely on memory alone. However, do not use participants’ names in your notes (i.e. so-and-so said this or that).

(Adapted from Basics of Conducting Focus Groups written by Carter McNamara, PhD)

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