Participation rates on employee surveys vary widely from one organization to the next. Some organizations achieve nearly 100% participation, while others struggle to get even half of employees to respond to the survey.
Survey response rates tend to be higher in small and mid-size organizations. The benchmark average response rate for organizations with fewer than 500 employees is an impressive 85%. That is a high bar. We generally consider a response rate of 75% or more to be fine, and anything below 70% might be cause for concern.
For organizations with more than 5,000 employees, the benchmark average response rate is 65%. Within larger organizations, participation rates differ widely, reflecting the higher level of complexity and extra challenges that come with conducting a survey at this scale. Hence, we would need to look at the specific circumstances in order to determine what might be considered a "good" response rate.
The best way to ensure respondent anonymity is to employ a third party to collect the data and generate the reports. Employees will feel more comfortable and respond more openly and candidly when they know their responses are being handled by an outside organization. Whether you are conducting your survey online or via paper, using a third party will improve not only the response rate, but also the quality of responses.
Be sure to let employees know that their individual responses will not be seen by anybody inside the organization. Let them know that results will only be viewed in aggregate, and clarify the minimum group size that will be used when viewing the survey results.
When announcing the upcoming survey, and again when distributing the survey to employees, a letter of endorsement from the CEO, GM, or some other organizational leader will communicate the importance of responding to the survey. The letter should explain why the survey is being conducted and what the organization and the employees stand to gain from it.
Longer surveys have lower response rates. It's as simple as that. Regardless of the length of your survey, tell people up front approximately how long it will take them to complete it. If your survey is relatively long, consider setting aside a designated time during the workday for employees to fill out the survey.
By clearly outlining how employees and the organization as a whole will benefit from the survey, you give people a reason to fill out your survey. Response rates will be higher and your employees will be more candid in their responses and feedback.
Communicate what you intend to do with the information you gather from the survey. If you plan to share the results with employees, let them know that. When you share with people what you plan to do with the survey results, you show them that you are serious about what you are doing and that you have given thought to the entire process. They will realize that the time they invest in completing the employee attitude survey will not be time wasted. And, in turn, this will increase response rates the next time you survey your employees.
Now that you have told your employees what you plan to do with the survey results, be sure you follow through. If you don't, the next time you want to gather information or conduct an employee attitude survey, you will have lost credibility and your response rate will suffer. Be sure to not only follow through on your promises, but do so publicly. Remind people of what you promised and show them the results.
Consider offering modest group incentives to teams or workgroups who have the highest response rates. Ideas might include a Friday pizza lunch or a matinee movie outing. The incentive should fit with your organization's culture and appeal to all employees equally.