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4 Proven Secrets of a High-Response Employee Survey


(October 27, 2016) – Picture this: after an inspiring keynote from a leading engagement expert, the head of HR at a growing company has decided it’s time to survey their employees. She leads her team as they pour their hearts and souls into the project, coming up with insightful questions and content.

After giving employees a full week to complete the employee survey, executives decide it’s time to aggregate answers and analyze results. And that’s when it hits them: More than half didn’t respond to the survey.

What went wrong?

According to numerous experts, the average employee survey response rate tends to hover around 30-40%. This means that, more often than not, results do not accurately represent the needs and wants of an entire workforce, but rather a select few who were persuaded to take the time to complete the survey.

Poor response rates can usually be traced back to a failure to leverage the following proven practices:

1. Guarantee Survey Anonymity

One well-known employee engagement survey platform received this review on G2 Crowd:

Sometimes I worry that a truly honest answer would be misconstrued. I know that my identity isn’t shared along with my answer, but I work on a small team and we frequently communicate through writing. I imagine that a superior would know the answer was from me and treat me differently because of it. Also, the CEO of our company will often follow up and ask to chat about a response, which puts me on the spot.

The message is clear—just because you say respondents aren’t identified doesn’t mean employees believe leadership will preserve confidentiality. This can lead to one of two outcomes—either employees provide superficially positive ratings, or they forego taking the survey altogether.

To achieve a statistically valid sample size of honest feedback, it’s important to take an extra step or two that gives employees confidence you’ll preserve their anonymity.

One way to do this is to review results in the form of a scorecard. Rather than inspecting individual answers, which rarely leads to actionable insights, you can map overall results to different levels of engagement. This holistic approach will not only provide a more realistic view of current team dynamics, but also can be used as assurance that leadership is truly seeking honest feedback that can be acted on:

2. Use Multiple Survey Delivery Methods

Do you share surveys with employees by email? If so, that’s great for the percentage of your workforce that’s overcome “inbox overwhelm.” But if it’s the only delivery method you’re using, that’s likely to blame for a low response rate.

Many workers are spending less time in email as they turn to other preferred forms of communication such as chat channels and text messaging. Although a segment of the workforce does favor laptops over small mobile screens, you’ll miss a big opportunity for high response rates by relying on email alone.

We know from research that mobile messaging has become the communication channel of choice for a large component of the working population. In fact, Americans check their smartphones constantly, spending a reported 3 hours and 40 minutes on them every day.

As a best practice, we recommend using multiple methods to deliver surveys to employees. One person who overlooks your email may respond immediately to a text, and vice-versa.

3. Time Your Survey Right

Crafting the perfect employee engagement survey is a big job, so it’s natural to want to push it out the minute it’s ready. First, take a moment to assess if it’s the right time.

The days leading up to major holidays, vacation seasons, or end-of-week wind-downs are almost guaranteed to lead to low response rates at many organizations. A less obvious mistake is the survey that’s sent out too late (asking about an annual event six months after it occurred) or too soon (mere hours after a big new initiative is rolled out).

Survey frequency also correlates directly to response rates. A single annual survey can hinder employees from feeling invested in the process, while too many pulse surveys can lead to “survey fatigue” and result in unreliable, low-confidence findings.

As a general rule, a quarterly employee survey cadence tends to work well. It’s not too frequent for employees or so sparse that it becomes easy to overlook.

4. Share the Results

When employees see that their answers have a real influence on company culture, they become a lot more invested in the process. For this reason, surveys should be an integral part of your employee engagement strategies. Let your workforce know what specific impacts that their [anonymous] answers will have on policies and perks as they evolve, and use this as an incentive for participation. Over time, employees will begin to view your engagement surveys as a fundamental responsibility and greet them with enthusiasm.


Don’t want to go at it alone? You don’t have to! The employee engagement experts at Emplify have devised a white glove service to handle everything for you—from ensuring confidentiality to delivering surveys via text to reporting and analysis. Check out our measure tool to learn more.

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