How to Boost Participation in Employee Surveys

Getting honest input from employees on workplace culture and conditions can be a valuable practice. But time and again, companies sending out employee surveys are frustrated by a mediocre response rate—and stymied as to what actions they should take on their employees’ behalf.

Why the lack of enthusiastic participation in a survey designed to help make employees heard? According to the Australia-based survey firm 6Q, some employees who have taken part in previous surveys see “no change coming of the results,” or “fear being identified and persecuted for their points or view,” or, finally, managers don’t “put enough emphasis and attention on having [surveys] completed by the staff.”

Clearly, most businesses don’t persecute employees for their views, but a lack of concrete results from prior surveys can contribute to staff indifference and lack of enthusiasm.

To boost survey participation, consider taking these action steps:

Guarantee anonymity.

Employees concerned about sharing strongly held opinions aren’t likely to share their views if their names and positions are required. You can take one or both of these actions: (1) Guarantee anonymity and leave out required demographic fields for names/positions/departments; and/or (2) Outsource the survey itself where responses are measured, not who takes part.

Keep the survey short.

Multi-page surveys with many questions tend to discourage employees who feel pressured for time. Instead, select perhaps up to ten “yes/no” or multiple-choice questions designed to gauge employee views on specific issues, with no more than one or two open-ended questions for providing answers at great length.

Ensure manager support.

It’s up to managers to inspire their teams to take part in surveys. They should promote the survey before it takes place and while survey time is open. It’s important for managers to understand your expectations regarding participation and follow through with support and encouragement.

Promote the survey organisation-wide.

You can dramatically increase participation by communicating the importance of the survey and how much you value employee input. Make clear that a strong survey response will “improve their work experience, impact the type of recognition they receive, or allow them to influence the direction of the company,” notes SoGoSurvey. “If your employees know what they’re going to get out of it, they’ll be more likely to provide honest feedback.”

Remind employees of the survey in progress.

Your employees are busy people. They may fully intend to participate but get drawn away by their own pressing job responsibilities. As part of your survey-promotion efforts, send gentle email reminders soon after the open survey period begins, another reminder about mid-way through, and then once again on the day before the survey closes. Emphasise your commitment to learning more about how employees feel about the company and your plans to take action based on their feedback soon thereafter.

Share results of the survey and future plans.

Here’s where some employers fall short of expectations. They rigorously promote an employee survey, collect and collate the responses, then shelve the final report where no one can see it. Take the opposite approach: share a full summary of employee feedback (both good and bad), add commentary where appropriate about what’s being done to address issues (and what future actions are being considered), and thank employees profusely for taking part. Like anyone else, they want to be appreciated for their participation.

Employee surveys should never be viewed as a merely symbolic exercise. Successful businesses depend upon their workforce and should never fail to appreciate the hard work these individuals perform on behalf of the organisation every day.