Maximizing Employee Survey Participation

For any general employee opinion survey, we recommend that all eligible employees be invited to participate in the survey and that they also be given an equal opportunity to participate. This means that:
  • Employers should inform employees of the survey initiative at least 2 weeks prior to the anticipated survey launch date and should use all forms of internal communications to make them aware of the survey. Have senior management at the client company send at least one message (and, ideally, multiple messages) to all eligible employees announcing the survey project, calling on employees to participate and committing to taking action on the results. This kind of commitment from the leaders of the organization will definitely boost participation.
  • On a similar point, you also need to reach out to frontline managers and/or supervisors get them "on board" as well. Emphasize to them that the purpose of the survey is to make constructive improvements in your organization. If these managers or supervisors do not endorse the study, their direct reports are less likely to participate.
  • The selection of the collection methodology should take employees' workplace and skill sets into account. For example, if some employees do not typically have access to external websites, they either need to be given access to the survey URL while data is being collected or some form of computer terminal with online access should be provided.
  • Invitations to participate in the survey should be designed to accommodate how employees typically receive corporate information. For example, if some employees have online access but do not typically check their email accounts or do not have email access, Insightlink recommends giving them hard copy survey invitations that will direct them to the survey URL.
  • It should be clearly communicated to employees that they can complete the survey during their working day (if they so choose) and, if necessary, specific arrangements need to be made to ensure that this promise is fulfilled.
If there is an employee population with Internet access but who do not have email addresses, we recommend using hardcopy survey invitations.

For hardcopy surveys, you can deliver them through the mail but, in our experience, the use of mail - especially to employees' home addresses -- tends to reduce participation. If possible, we encourage clients to "proctor" survey sessions with employees who are completing hardcopy surveys. Typically, we rely on internal client personnel to be the proctors but have employees seal their completed surveys in unmarked envelopes before submitting them to the proctor in order to maintain anonymity.

In our experience, there are also a number of other important steps that will help maximize employee participation:
  1. Get the client's IT department to "white list" your vendor's mail server IP to ensure that the email invitations are not stopped as "spam."
  2. Do not give employees the survey closing date when the survey is launched, since knowing that date lets employees postpone participating and can have a negative impact on the final participation rate. This approach also gives you more flexibility in setting the actual closing date, in case participation ends up running a little behind expectations.
  3. Monitor participation in total to determine when to send email reminders. Our typical employee participation rate exceeds 80% for fully online surveys with a completion rate of more than 95%.
  4. In addition to total participation, monitor participation by major departments so that specific action can be taken if participation is falling behind the rest of the organization.
  5. Give employees the closing date toward the end of the data collection process in order to reinforce a sense of urgency to get their voices heard.
Also consider creating customized tools to encourage participation - for example, we developed a survey process "FAQ" for a client whose workforce consists of in-home nursing staff. Some clients also use group-based incentives (such as pizza parties) to reach goals on participation.

Recently, one CEO recorded a welcome message highlighting the organization's commitment to looking at itself and making changes based on employee feedback, as well as clearly stating that the survey was an opportunity to let employees' voices be heard in a systematic way. This message was shown throughout the organization, as well as appearing at the start of their online survey and the effective use of this message helped lead to a participation rate of close to 100%. We strongly believe that any action senior management can take to show visible support for the process, as well as anything that generates buzz around the survey, will help boost your participation.

Although these are pretty simple steps, they will help your organization achieve high levels of enthusiasm and participation for your employee survey!

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