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How to Increase Employee Survey Response Rates

byMinel Aykut | 2021-10-21
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In today's management approach, an employee is seen as the most valuable resource that an organization can have. The development and health of this resource is important for the success and stability of organizations. On the other hand, organizations are also important for employees since the social and economic life levels of individuals are directly related to business life. It is essential for people who spend most of their lives at work to be satisfied with their jobs, both in terms of their physical and psychological health. As long as they are satisfied with their work life and fulfill their expectations, they will strive for the effectiveness of the organization. For this reason, conducting employee surveys to measure how satisfied the employees are with their job will provide great organizational benefits in terms of identifying employee problems, improving general attitude about the job, organizing internal communication, identifying training needs, planning and managing change. Then it's clear what to do: 
 
1. Create an employee survey 
2. Send out to employees  
3. Let the data collection process begin
After an average of one week of data collection, the response rate is 35%! 

So, what went wrong here? Why did most of the employees not want to answer the survey? 

In this blog post, I will share some of the possible causes of low response rates and some important tips on how to increase the response rate of your employee survey, but first let's talk about the importance of survey participation.

Most disinterested employees are not willing to respond to surveys! 

Research shows that there is a significant positive relationship between employee engagement levels and survey response rate. Furthermore, this relationship was stronger for large groups than for small groups, suggesting that group size influences the relationship between aggregate employee engagement and survey response rate. Survey response rates are, in most cases, a measure of overall employee engagement and a good indicator of how much employees trust your overall internal feedback and following action planning processes. That is, if your employee survey response rate is low, something is wrong here and you need to be worried.  

Survey results obtained from low response rates will not be representative of the overall organization. Therefore, planning HR organizational development changes and initiatives based on the conclusions drawn from these data may also cause serious problems. 

So, what is a good response rate for an employee survey then? 

In general, response rates of 80-90% in small organizations (50<), 70-80% in large organizations (around 500), and 65-70% in larger organizations (<1000) can be considered very good. Anything below 50% is poor. Response rates below 30% should ring the alarm bell in your organization, as it indicates something is wrong.  

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However, focusing only on providing high response rates is also not the right approach! 

A very high participation rate may not always be a good signal, either. Improperly implemented incentives to increase response frequency can also cause problems. Implementing the wrong type of incentive during the survey process that forces employees to provide insincere or dishonest feedback may result in you collecting inaccurate data. Generating high response rates just for the sake of it is not what an employee survey is about. For this reason, social scientists argue that offering "incentives" to increase employee survey response rates is not recommended and should be handled with care. 

Incentives and techniques such as direct or indirect rewards to increase response rates or putting departments/positions in competition is not a good idea. Employees need to understand how important their feedback is to the success of the organization, how it will help them create a better workplace and work experience – not just for themselves but for all their colleagues – and how that feedback will enable them to influence the trajectory.  

How do you increase survey response rates in a good way? 

As we mentioned above, the response rate for your employee survey is critical in gathering as many insights as possible about your workforce and employee engagement levels. In this section, I will share a few ways that will help you improve your employee survey’s response rate. 
 
1. Let your employees take employee engagement training 

On average, 70% of employees and 40% of managers do not know exactly what employee engagement is. It is believed that all responsibility for employee engagement rests with the company. After all, how can you get people to talk about how engaged they are with their work when they don't even understand the concept? Therefore, if your resources allow, make sure your employees receive employee engagement training before sending out the surveys. 
 
2.  Involve and inform your employees 

Yes, support from the executive team is essential, but communicating this support across the organization is more effective. Have your CEO communicate the importance of the survey in more than one way: a few well-written emails, a teleconference from the CEO, a company-wide Webinar, an article in the company newsletter, or announcements from meetings will certainly work well. 

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3.  Communicate expectations and next steps to managers 

All leaders in the organization should understand the purpose of the survey and what it means to them. Tell them that the teams will achieve their results and will need to develop a plan of action. Managers who know they will get data are more likely to encourage their team's involvement. 

4. Guarantee respondent confidentiality 

Many employees are hesitant to speak up at work. If employees fear that candid feedback will be received negatively (probably about 1/3 of your employees feel this way) then they need to make sure that their survey responses will be kept completely confidential. Give employees complete reassurance, freedom, and security to present their honest opinions without worrying about the possible consequences and without being reprimanded by their managers. Don't let the fear of your employees being punished lower the survey response rate. 

5. Limit open-ended questions 

While open-ended questions are excellent tools for capturing the true thoughts and feelings of employees, a survey with too many open-ended questions is not well received by employees. Limit your surveys to 2 or 3 clearly worded questions that invite employees to express their open and candid views. 

6. Send survey reminders 

A 2-weeks period keeps the time frame of the survey at an optimum level. However, employees who are traveling, on vacation, or on sick leave can easily miss surveys. Therefore, you can send 1-2 survey reminders to catch employees who have not done the survey during the process.  

7. Take action in line with the survey results 

The biggest problem is not to take any action based on the survey results. Yes, I am listening, but not much! When senior management receives the reports of the employee engagement survey, they may sometimes react emotionally to the results and this approach may be considered normal for the time being. However, if these reactions do not turn into listening and understanding in a short time, it may affect employee engagement negatively. In other words, if the issues raised by the employees are not taken into account, organizations’ efforts and money may go down the drain. 

The results should be shared honestly with the employees so that the message "we listened and we continue to listen to you" has credibility and reliability. 

After analyzing the survey results, the points that employees draw attention to should be evaluated separately in all segments (Line of Business, Department), starting from the company-wide. 

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8. Make sure you take the right action 

"A must" rule for increasing employee engagement to desired levels and creating a strong culture is 'taking action'. However, it is essential to follow the right methodology to take action!  

After the survey results are received, the action process should be started as soon as possible, together with the communication plan. Speed matters here! It should not be a long gap of time between the results and the actions. All unit managers who will take the action during the action process should apply a common methodology. All actions should be managed systematically and technologically on the supported platform. The CEO should be able to see this action movement in person and share the developments with all employees using all means of communication. 

Conclusion  

Response rate is not just about getting more data, it is about increasing the overall engagement of your employees. If you are doing it right, you can hope to increase your response frequency over time since people will see the collection of information is not just as taking a survey but also it is part of their experience with the organization. Even though companies are different from each other, as long as the factors mentioned above are not forgotten and applied carefully, it is quite possible that survey participation rates will increase in organizations and employee engagement will be a 'value' that leads to happiness, peace and success for all employees. 
 

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