How to Fix Low Response Rates on Employee Surveys

Employee surveys help management keep track of employee engagement levels across the organisation. However, given all the resources and effort that go into conducting employee surveys, getting low response rates makes this expense a worthless endeavour by producing data samples that are just too thin to enable accurate survey conclusions.

It can be quite challenging for any company to get employees to complete a survey. The top mistake modern organisations make when it comes to employee surveys is placing the responsibility of making the survey successful squarely on the shoulders of the Human Resources department.

This is a serious misconception – employee surveys (and the goals they are intended to achieve for the organisations) call for all levels of management to join hands with the HR manager(s) and cooperate intentionally.

Furthermore, as surveys have become more ubiquitous, employees have in turn become desensitised to the conventional methods of getting them to respond, such as telling them to “make their voice heard”. Many employees today are skeptical and distrustful of the relevance and efficacy of company surveys.

When you ask your employees to “share their honest thoughts” by filling out yet another survey, some of the questions that (justifiably) run through their heads include:

  • When was the last time you asked me to fill out one of these surveys?
  • What have you changed and/or achieved with the data you collected from the last survey?
  • Is it really worth my time and effort to participate in this survey?

Here are 5 tips on how you can overcome the problem of low response rates on employee surveys:

Highlight the point of the survey

Make sure to explain the specific purpose of the employee engagement survey, the value their opinions carry and what they stand to gain from completing the survey – it could be helping management improve their work experience or getting the opportunity to influence the next step the company takes.

When employees know exactly what impact the survey is going to have on them, they are more likely complete it, and honestly at that. If your organisation has conducted employee surveys before, you should lead with the positive results of the last one in order to motivate employees to take part again.

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Avoid survey fatigue

Survey fatigue is a phenomenon whereby the respondent fails to complete the survey due to how long it is and/or gives lower quality responses as they progress through the questions.

Make sure the questions in the survey are easy to understand and the survey is not too time-consuming to take so that you are able to gather enough data without irritating your employees. If you find that you have too many questions and can’t let go of any, then split them into several surveys and spread these out over an adequate period of time.

Also have no more than 2-3 open-ended questions as these call for the employee to pause and engage in deep thought and honest introspection about their answers.

So while such questions are a great tool for finding out your employees’ candid feelings, they contribute to low response rates too as too many of them can be so exhausting and time-consuming the employee loses morale for the rest of the survey.

Ensure 100% anonymity

Lack of anonymity (or the perceived lack of it) is one of the biggest factors behind low response rates and inaccurate survey results. It’s impossible to gather any true, meaningful data if the respondents don’t feel comfortable sharing their honest opinions without having to worry about a witch-hunt or ostracisation.

This is where a third party tool such as 6Q comes in handy for conducting an internal survey by providing a reassuring buffer of anonymity for employees and easing the work for managers.

Walk in their shoes

Before sending out the survey, put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Imagine it was you taking the survey and ask yourself the following questions:

  • At which point in the survey would you most likely lose interest?
  • What would it take to motivate you to keep going and finish the survey?
  • Can the survey questions be presented in a different, more appealing order?
  • What do you like about the survey and how can it be highlighted?
  • What is the best time and place for this survey to be taken?

It’s also very important to acknowledge and respect your employees’ time and effort by having a short but sincere “thank you” message at the end of the survey. They should understand how truly grateful you are for each and every genuine response they share whenever you conduct a survey.

Low response rates

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Follow up!

As mentioned earlier, one of the major factors behind low response rates on surveys is employees feeling like their efforts are futile due to the lack of follow-up from management. Following up after every survey is what creates the vibrant culture of employee feedback that your organisation needs.

Here are the top three ways to follow up with your employees after a survey:

Share the results quickly

You shouldn’t wait too long to share the results of the survey – the same urgency you request your employees to have in responding is the same urgency you should have in sharing the findings with them. Take no more than 2-4 weeks so that they get the results when the survey is still fresh in their memory.

Highlight the positive results

Human beings naturally tend to focus on the negatives (negativity bias). However, it’s crucial to highlight the positive findings of the survey so that employees have something to be proud of their organisation for and so that they don’t start dreading surveys from subconsciously associating them with negativity.

Keep the feedback loop going

Once you have zeroed in on the changes you would like to implement based on the findings of the survey, share them with your employees and ask them for more feedback. Keep in mind that the whole point of conducting the surveys is to create and nurture dialogue between employees and management.

In Summary

Employees are the most important asset in your business. This is why it’s important to routinely survey them to measure their engagement and morale levels, as well as hear out their ideas and suggestions.

With the above steps, you can make sure that your employee surveys don’t suffer low response rates.

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.