In order to improve employee engagement with a survey, you have to have solid employee participation, and this can be easier said than done.
Employees have full plates and they need a good reason to put off other work to take an engagement survey. As a management team, you know that an engagement survey is the best thing to increase employee satisfaction and make better workplace policies, but do your employees? And if they know that in theory, do they believe it will happen in their workplace in practice?
To ensure high survey response rates, you need to do more than just force people to complete it, or dangle a carrot at the end to entice them. To increase survey response rates, you'll have to communicate the importance of the survey by proving you're committed to the value of an engagement survey as a tool for your organization to spark positive changes.
1. Build buy-in into the engagement survey process
Buy-in for employee surveys should be built up and down:
- Build up: You likely have an idea of what areas you want the survey to focus on, but you should still check in with employees. Rather than just unveiling an engagement survey and shoving it at them, involve them in the process. Ask them to participate in discussions, suggest topics for the survey and follow-up by soliciting their feedback after you get results. If employees know they are being heard, if they're a part of creation and change, you'll be able to increase their investment-- and your response rate.
- Build down: Management, from C-suite to mid-level, needs to be 100% behind the survey, and it should show. Management's commitment to using the results of the engagement survey to make positive changes is why it will benefit employees, and top leadership should be open about this commitment throughout the process and during any survey communication.
Don't wait until you are giving an engagement survey to involve employees in the process — get them on board from conception.
2. Guarantee anonymity of participation
Employees need to know they are not going to be singled out for constructive criticism. You are asking employees to be honest about how they feel about their job — the good and the bad. Employees need to feel as though they will be able to speak freely as survey respondents if you want to increase survey participation and have higher response rates. That's why, if you run surveys through Lattice, they're 100% anonymous.
3. Communicate the value of an employee survey
Nobody likes to do busywork. Your employees are busy, and if they think that an employee survey isn't going to change much, they will push it off or not take it altogether.
When you are asking employees to participate, make the purpose of the survey clear, and make it clear that it's in an employee's best interest to participate, so high employee survey participation rates are vital. Also, be transparent about what you are going to do with the survey data, once it's gathered. You can increase response rates by underscoring that you have a plan to follow through on the results of the engagement survey and stress that every individual employee should view the survey as a chance to take control of bettering their own work experience.
4. Demonstrate follow-through
If you have given a previous engagement survey, remind employees of changes that you made as a result of the last go-round. This will be your best way of proving that you take the feedback seriously. It will also give employees a chance to remember what has changed and how they felt you handled the previous survey responses. As you build up a rhythm, employees will come to see engagement surveys as a regular chance to tangibly improve their workplace. If it's the first time, this might be more challenging, so you should explain how you'll use survey results and that it's the best way for employees to make their voices heard in your initial communication regarding the surveys, as well as through reminders, etc.
5. Make it easy to take
These days, there's so much survey software out in the world, you could use a different platform or survey site every time you needed to give one. Unsurprisingly, we don't recommend that you do that: it's basically asking for low response rates.
Instead, to increase participation integrate your engagement survey into an existing platform. Do not ask your employees to navigate a new system, log into anything new or create any accounts. Put your survey in a software that your employees see every day and don't have to think twice about.
6. Limit the employee survey length
Long surveys lead to abandonment or people cruising through without actually giving thought to the questions. People have short attention spans, and employees at work want to be efficient about checking tasks off their to-do lists. Giving a 50-question survey that covers every possible angle of engagement will result in people clicking buttons just to get through, so you might have survey completion but without valuable information. The number of survey questions is important: aim for more than 15, but fewer than 40. There will be time to give another engagement survey later — tackle a couple of focus areas in one survey, not every problem.
7. Tell people how long it will take
So you made the survey short... let people know! When you ask them to take the survey, and when you remind them, lead with a simple statement, like there are 10 questions with two open response and it should take you no more than 10 minutes to complete.
Being clear about the amount of questions— and how many are multiple choice or Likert scale versus open-ended questions— as well as the approximate length of the survey will definitely impact your completion rate. This way, employees know that they can squeeze it in just before lunch, can fill in that gap between meetings with it, or can knock it out as the final item on their agenda before they leave. If employees believe they need to carve out a huge chunk of time to take the survey, they will put it off until they never take it.
8. Send out creative reminders
While employee engagement surveys are serious business, that doesn't mean you can't have a little fun getting people to take them. Adding a simple gif or a one-line joke in your email invitation and any subsequent follow-up survey invitations or reminder emails can be an easy way to snag employees' attention and cut through the mess of notifications they get every day. Obviously you don't want be so clever that employees don't take the survey seriously (so skip a silly subject line), but a little bit of whimsy goes a long way. One company found that, by injecting some creativity into their survey email reminders, they boosted themselves to a 90% response rate.
9. Put managers in charge
If you want teams to buy in, you need managers to buy in. If a team senses their manager does not care about a task or is not doing it themselves, they will have far less motivation to complete and respect an engagement survey, and you will have lower response rates.
Try putting your managers in charge of survey reminders, and make them responsible for their team's participation. Even when your survey is anonymous, a manager asking their team directly to remember to participate carries more immediacy than a company-wide e-blast.
10. Share results
When you finish the survey, it is critical that you share the results with your company. It shows employees that their response is actually “going somewhere” and not just being marked for posterity. If there are a few people who brushed off the survey, they'll see that you are actually dedicated to the results, and be more likely to take it seriously next time.
When you share the results, make sure to outline next steps and open up the floor for further employee feedback. This is building that bottom-up buy-in that will result in better engagement survey participation next time around.
And two things not to do:
1. Give a reward
Yes, a lot of people recommend giving a reward such as gift cards as incentive to taking an employee survey. But rewards are tricky: if the survey is anonymous, how do you give the reward and what does it look like? You could give a group reward, but that means you have to look at why you're doing so.
The truth is that giving survey incentives for an employee survey is basically a bribe. And employees responding to a survey to get a bribe will just tick off boxes, not take it seriously.
If an employee doesn't want to take the survey, it's most likely because they don't believe their input will be heard and they don't believe in the efficacy of the system. Solve this problem, rather than dangling a carrot.
2. Nag employees into compliance
Yes, you should send out reminders and make announcements to ensure that employees are taking your survey. But if you present it as a chore that just needs to get done, employees will take it that way.
The difference here can be slight, but it matters. Rather than saying 'Just get this out of the way, it only takes 10 minutes!,' you can say, T'his survey will take 10 minutes and it is critical that you give it your attention.' Passing off an engagement survey as a task and nagging employees will lower the quality of your results, annoy your employees, and may not even get them to take it.
Remember: Think holistically
Improving employee engagement is a holistic process, and giving an engagement survey should be one as well. The intentionality you put into giving your engagement survey and getting people to participate in it reflects the level of rigor you're giving to your whole employee engagement process. Use these tips to help improve participation but, most importantly, take the process seriously and show that, every step of the way.