When it comes to engagement surveying, timing is everything — but not in the way you’d expect.

Before teams can analyze employee engagement survey data or act on the results, they need to gather enough usable data. That’s led companies to experiment with survey reminders, contests, and even monetary incentives for participation — tactics we’ve discussed in previous articles. Others shorten their surveys to boost participation, potentially at the expense of additional insight.

While all of these can influence employee engagement survey participation, Lattice Advisory Services suspected that survey launch timing and duration might have a role to play, too. Are there certain days you should or shouldn’t launch a survey? How long is too long when it comes to giving employees time to respond? To find out, we looked at employee survey data from the companies using Lattice.

Survey Launch Date

Mondays and Fridays, conventional wisdom would lead you to believe, should be considered off-limits for significant People initiatives or launches. On Mondays, people are often busier than on other days and perhaps less inclined to check emails — and on Fridays, well, we’re ready for the weekend to get started.

But to our surprise, Lattice engagement survey data tells a different story. Though only 15% of engagement surveys launch on Fridays, they have the highest average participation rate (75%) once the survey window closes. Surveys with Thursday launch dates rank second, with a 72% participation rate. Wednesdays rank last. 

Survey Launch Days and Participation

Day Percent of Surveys Employee Participation Rate
Sunday 2%
Monday 21%71%
Tuesday 21% 71%
Wednesday 22% 70%
Thursday 18% 72%
Friday 15% 75%
Saturday 1% 72%

Julia Markish, Director of Advisory Services at Lattice, was initially surprised by the results but had a theory as to why Friday launches came out on top. “For surveys launched on Fridays or over the weekend, my hunch is that HR admins want to make sure the survey is the first thing that employees see in their inbox on Monday morning,” Markish said. The data seems to bear that out, as Saturday and Sunday launch dates (though accounting for a tiny share of surveys) have similarly high participation rates. 

Survey Window Length

Another factor influencing participation is survey duration. If your completion deadline is too soon, you risk not getting the data you need. Conversely, giving respondents too much time could undermine the survey’s urgency and subsequently see it get buried in employees’ inboxes. Identifying the “sweet spot” between these options is a challenge, often leading HR teams to second-guess question quality when the actual culprit is timing.

If you’re looking to maximize participation, focusing your attention and resources on the survey’s first week might be advisable. Lattice survey data shows that the average employee response time is just over four days. Beyond the seven-day mark, we observed little relation between survey window length and participation — suggesting that simply giving employees more time isn’t an effective strategy on its own.

Survey Duration and Participation

Response rate is the number of responses submitted out of the total number of questions sent out.
Participation rate is calculated by taking the number of people who have answered at least one question out of the total number of those sent a survey.

While participation settles at seven days, Markish still recommends keeping surveys open for more than a week — but not much longer than that. “I would suggest timing your survey in a way that makes sense for your specific situation. The important thing is to make sure your survey hits the broadest number of employees and gives everyone a fair chance to respond. That is, make it longer than seven days to account for any vacations,” Markish said. That may be especially true during the summer months or holidays, she added. The average employee survey window in Lattice is 19 days.

Number of Survey Questions

One of the most common surveying recommendations is to keep questions to a minimum. The longer it takes someone to fill out a survey, the less likely you are to have high response and participation rates — or so the theory goes.

The data tells another story: We found that response and participation rates generally increase with survey length, with 50-59 employee engagement survey questions leading the pack. Lattice data also shows that surveys with 30-39 questions have the shortest average employee response time (only four days) and the second-highest participation and response rates, making them another promising option.

Survey Length and Participation

Number of Questions Avg. Response Time (Days) Response Rate Participation Rate % of Surveys
1-9 4.2
55% 61%
10-19 5.0
68% 73%
20-29 4.3
71% 77%
30-39 4.1
79% 84%
40-49 5.1
78% 83%
50-59 4.7
84% 88%

Response rate is the number of responses submitted out of the total number of questions sent out.
Participation rate is calculated by taking the number of people who have answered at least one question out of the total number of those sent a survey.

“We didn't see that coming,” Markish admitted, reflecting on the analysis’s surprise outcome. But while she planned to revisit the results in the future, she already had a working theory as to why they panned out that way.

“At first blush, it’s surprising that response and participation go up the longer the survey is. But if you look at what proportion of surveys those longer ones constitute, you start to realize that they aren’t actually happening very often. Our thinking here is that the longer the survey, the more focus the organization puts on getting response rates up,” she said. Survey length may correlate to priority level, and companies may invest additional time and effort to maximize these longer surveys’ participation numbers.

Surveying empowers company leaders to assess the employee experience and engagement levels across the organization. But as with most aspects of your People strategy, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach to engagement surveying.

Lattice has enabled over 2,500 companies to build award-winning workplaces. We’ve worked with organizations that conduct quarterly, semi-annual, and annual surveys  — and a handful somewhere in between. Those experiences gave Lattice Advisory Services a deeper understanding of not just what surveying models companies can choose but which they should choose. We’ve broken these down into six easy-to-remember archetypes, which you can read about in our new ebook, People Program Models