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Dr. Matt Grawitch: June 2011 Archives

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I recently read an article discussing the potential for engagement surveys. The author argued that engagement surveys can be a “powerful tool if used properly.” I would not argue against that, as I conduct a lot of surveys as a part of my work.

However, I would refine it a little bit and suggest that any surveys (not just engagement surveys) can be powerful tools if you use them properly.

Unfortunately, in many companies, surveys are seen as something you just slap together. You figure out what you want to assess, create an online survey and send the link to employees. And then you watch as responses trickle in. At the close of the survey, you may be less than overwhelmed with your overall number of responses. If this defines you and your experiences with company surveys, I would like to offer five steps to improve overall response rate.

  1. Take the time to communicate the purpose of the survey to employees. We read a lot about the importance of effective communication in organizations. Prior to sending employees a survey, you should tell them why you want their input or feedback, how it will relate to organizational objectives, how survey responses are going to be used and whether there is anything in it for employees (like an incentive). This way, employees know that the survey request will be coming in the near future.
  2. Collect your data anonymously. If you want honest and open feedback, employees need to know they can provide that without fear of retribution. That means don’t collect anything (e.g., names) that could link employees’ identities with information they provide.
  3. Keep it as short as possible. Most employees do not have tons of free time to spend on completing a survey. When employees see a survey request and find that completing the survey will take 30 minutes, they may be hard pressed to find 30 minutes to invest in your survey. In my own work, I’ve found that surveys that take 20 minutes or less result in the best response rate.
  4. Consider providing an incentive for completion. You are asking for a one-time commitment, so offering a raffle or drawing at the end of the survey can be just the incentive employees need to make time to complete your relatively-short survey. Cash drawings and gift card raffles are some of the more motivating incentives you can offer.
  5. Ensure you share the results of the survey with everyone. People want to know how their input was used. One of the biggest mistakes companies make is refusing to share survey results. Even if you use the results to design future initiatives, employees don’t know that if you don’t tell them. This will likely not affect the response rate for your current survey, but it will affect response rates in the future. You don’t have to make every piece of data available, but you should be willing to share (a) highlights of the survey results and (b) actions you plan to take based on the results.

Of course, there may be other steps you can take to improve response rate for your company survey. If you’ve tried something and have found it to work very well, share your thoughts here, so that others can benefit from your past success.

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