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Roadblocks to achieving a high employee survey response rate

Typical staff survey response rates

On average, a well run staff survey achieves around a 60% response rate. A useful predictor of future response rates is the level of employee engagement obtained in past staff survey(s).

If your previous staff survey received a very low response rate, you can achieve a higher rate by committing to a dedicated and co-ordinated effort to address the areas that are holding your employees back from participating.

Staff survey sample size

To gain a reliable sample for your organisation, a general rule to follow is to aim to achieve a 50% responses from your total population, i.e. pool of employees being asked to participate. This is sufficient to draw reliable staff survey data.

Staff survey sample size problems may exist where an overall response rate of 50% is insufficient because one department may have a very large response rate, say 90%, whereas another department may have a very low response rate, say just 5%. This is should be addressed in your staff survey risk/contingency plan. You can map your organisational structure and check response rates in each area. You can also win staff survey sponsorship from key managers in every area and run training and strong communication plans tailored to each department.

Such plans should also address the following threats to your staff survey which can include:

  1. Poor/limited communication
  2. Survey fatigue
  3. Union resistance
  4. Lack of leadership support
  5. Middle management roadblocks
  6. Limited employee engagement at the frontline
  7. Cynicism and lack of trust
  8. Accessibility
  9. Time poor environment
  10. Organisational resistance
  11. Geographically disperse workplace
  12. Fears around confidentiality

Staff survey response rate roadblocks

In our experience, the following things can influence your staff survey response rates and should be addressed to ensure a successful project.

1. Poor/limited communication

Communication planning is essential. Insync Surveys has found that different types of communication strategies can be used depending on the audience and the sender. For instance: line managers typically want to know “what’s in it for my team”, whereas senior executives are interested in how the staff survey process links to strategy and the “future state” of the organisation. Communication should consider timing, i.e. pre-staff survey, while it’s open, and post staff survey, once it’s closed. Also think about your content and delivery method. Branding and marketing are also important considerations. Insync Surveys can help to make your invites enticing, for example a graphically designed invite with clever and concise wording. We can also  give you ideas to drum up interest by suggesting incentives, such as a charity donation or free iPad.

2. Survey fatigue

Survey fatigue is too many staff surveys too often. It can be a serious problem when attempting to introduce another staff survey within your workplace. Timing and communication planning is a key consideration when addressing survey fatigue.

3. Union resistance

Unions typically respond in one of two ways. They can either fully endorse your staff survey process or if they are more aggressive or hostile, they may sabotage the process. Engaging with unions early in the process can help to mitigate resistance.

4. Lack of leadership support

There are many factors that may influence leadership support. Some may not endorse the staff survey due to the fear of obtaining negative feedback. Others may not understand or know how to use the employee feedback in a constructive way. Whatever the cause, it’s important to educate, remove resistance and generate buy-in across your leadership group.

5. Middle management roadblocks

While a proactive and supportive executive is an important step, staff survey engagement can often succumb to middle management roadblocks and resistance. It’s essential to conduct a rigorous organisational structure mapping exercise to identify potential roadblocks.

6. Limited engagement at the frontline

One strategy to build participation is to identify sponsors at the frontline to promote the staff survey.

7. Cynicism and lack of trust

One common occurrence within organisations is that staff surveys are often distributed and completed, yet limited actions are taken, or the results are not communicated with staff. This leads to cynicism within the organisation which can stifle attempts to maximise your next staff survey response rate.

8. Accessibility

Accessibility to your staff survey should be fully explored to ensure that participants can complete the survey with ease. It may mean your staff survey is distributed online and in paper form.

9. Time poor environment

Cynicism often occurs through not allowing your staff opportunities to complete the survey.

10. Organisational resistance

Organisational resistance manifests in a culture where employee feedback is shunned and not encouraged. Highly competitive environments or those with large structural power differences may also lead to staff survey resistance.

11. Geographically dispersed workplace

Although a geographically disperse organisation is not considered a major threat, it can influence response staff survey rates if roll out and communication is not planned well.

12. Fears around confidentiality

One of the most common reasons for not completing a staff survey is confidentiality. If your staff survey is administered by a third party provider it’s beneficial to communicate their credentials. Insync Surveys has numerous strategies to help remove individuals fears concerning staff survey confidentiality.

In summary, there are many possible challenges that may need to be addressed to ensure your staff survey receives the strongest response rate possible. Identifying the areas of resistance and planning ahead will help ensure your staff survey process is successful.

Given the past staff survey history and organisational context, it is important to set a realistic goal to your response rate. It is critical to get the your staff survey right as this will help employees see the value in participating in the staff survey and subsequently improve response rates. Insync Surveys recommends a thorough risk/contingency plan, organisational structure mapping and sponsorship planning, training and communication planning to address the factors listed in this article.

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