Understanding the employee survey response rate

employee survey response rate

 You likely already have some familiarity with what an employee survey response rate is (especially if you have any experience in HR or employee engagement). And of course, the phrase itself gives away its meaning. But to share a definition—an employee survey response rate is the percentage that workers participate in a particular survey. Some companies also refer to this as the participation rate.  

Effectively tracking the employee survey response rate is important for a number of reasons—some of which we’ll cover in this post—and it’s a critical piece of data that you’ll use across your employee engagement teams and when you’re communicating with senior leadership. If you can’t get your workers to respond to surveys, you’re going to have a hard time tracking down how employees are feeling and what changes you may need to make across your organization. It’s a metric that’s necessary to understand your workforce, and one that will prove critical for championing the needs of your employees. 

What’s a good employee survey response rate

To start, you might be wondering what a good employee survey response rate is. Is it possible to have a 100% response rate? Does any company pull that off? Should that even be a number that you’re aiming for? These are important questions to ask. 

It’s important to remember that a high response rate doesn’t necessarily mean that workers are engaged and happy at your organization. It’s just as likely that every worker is responding to surveys because they have a lot of negative feedback or there’s been a recent organizational change that people want to share their opinion on. Always make sure that you don’t fall into the trick of equating a high participation rate with meaningful and positive engagement. 

The amount of participation to aim for will also depend on the size of your company. If you’re a smaller company, you’ll want high participation (think around 80-90%). If you’re larger, you should expect slightly less (about 70-80%). It’s a good rule to usually expect less participation the larger your organization gets. Large organizations should aim to be higher than 60%, but when businesses get very big it’s harder to track down answers from all employees. You might also create your own metrics and aim for certain scores on different surveys. (It’s more valuable to have high participation on an engagement survey rather than a pulse survey for example. Your HR and people teams can decide internally—and with employee engagement specialists—what surveys are most important for your organization.) 

Why is it important to have a good employee survey response rate? 

There are a couple of reasons to have good participation rates. The most important three are:

  1. You need enough data to get an accurate assessment of the topics that you’re surveying. Without enough data you won’t be able to make meaningful changes, or be sure that you’ve heard from enough of your worker population to properly identify the things that you need to fix. 
  2. A good amount of responses will help confirm that your workforce is engaged. You want to know that they’re responding to asks from managers, leadership, and even their peers (when peers bump them on participating in surveys). 
  3. An engaged workforce that has its needs addressed will benefit your customers. The more that employees feel equipped to do their jobs, the higher likelihood there is that they’ll take care of customers and trickle down the positives of your organization to the outside world. 

Like we mentioned earlier, you do what to hit the sweet spot of enough participation. Always remember that low participation isn’t good, but something could have gone awry if your participation is unusually high. If you do average high participation and you see it consistently, that’s great as well. Tracking participation will let you see how your workers are responding to surveys over time, and whether or not their activity is waning or following hot and trendy topics within your organization. Ideally you’ll be able to have a consistent amount of participation across survey categories. 

Are there ways that you can impact participation rates?

Absolutely! Culture and general engagement will play a huge role in the likelihood that your workers participate in surveys, but these numbers can be influenced and improved. In some of your ordinary surveys, you could even ask workers why they often choose not to participate, and that can inform your strategy. (That was a bit of a meta perspective on surveying for you.) 

Here are some general strategies and approaches that you can use to increase employee survey response rates: 

  • Promote and communicate effectively—Use your newsletters, town halls, messaging apps, and other sources of company communications to tell employees why surveying is important and when they can expect to see some rolled out. If you want workers to participate, you have to properly communicate why it matters to them and the organization. You also have to make sure they’re well aware and that they should expect surveys to come their way.  
  • Utilize managers—Managers are one of the best resources to help encourage and improve survey responding. Make sure that managers are reminding their workers during standing team meetings and 1/1s. They can even use prizes or other incentives to work toward all of their direct reports responding to surveys. 
  • Be transparent with results and how they’ve turned into organization change—If workers don’t get to see results or find out what happens after your company receives them, they’re going to be less enthusiastic about answering surveys. Make sure that when results are confirmed, your workers are looped in on what their peers are saying, what changes your company will make, and even remind them about the effects of past surveying. 
  • Be fun and have the right cadence—Workers shouldn’t feel bored, overwhelmed, or annoyed when they fill out your surveys. You can introduce personality, fun questions, and make sure to survey at a cadence that is right for the personality and needs of your organization. Once workers can trust that surveys are easy—and enjoyable—they’ll be even more likely to participate. And, of course, employees that are willingly participating without too many prompts is the best case scenario. 
  • Always remember patience—You won’t improve employee survey response rate overnight. It’s going to take some time, and some trial and error. Try different strategies to improve the response rate, track the results you’re seeing, and don’t get frustrated if you aren’t seeing results quickly. Workify is here to help you if you’re hoping for additional tips or insights. 

As you can see, there isn’t a one-size answer for getting employees to participate in surveys. It requires an intentional effort across many touchpoints in an organization. The good news is that once a company creates a culture of employee participation and engagement, they’re likely to be able to keep counting on their workers to respond and share feedback. (This is of course assuming that companies keep taking feedback and maintain the positive feelings that are contributing to high employee engagement and satisfaction.) 

Ready to improve your employee survey response rate? 

Our team is here to help. You can connect with us today for a free consultation. We’ll be able to share more details about employee survey response rates, and include tips that can be tailored to your organization and its needs. 

If you’re ready to take the next step after talking to us, you can get started with surveys or an engagement program. Our surveys are backed by I/O psychologists and they’ve shown results for companies like yours. We’ll be there along the way to let you know what your data means, and how to use our engagement tools and platforms.