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Learn how to improve employee survey response rates

Employee feedback is a valuable tool for every organization, yet workers may not feel motivated to fill out surveys. Learn how to improve employee survey response rates.

Employee surveys can help improve a company's retention rate, among other metrics, but workers may not feel motivated to fill out the surveys. HR leaders can take steps to increase their organization's survey response rate and secure valuable data about employee sentiment.

Employees may decide not to fill out surveys for a variety of reasons, including a belief that company leaders won't act on the information and a lack of awareness of the survey deadline. HR leaders should learn the optimum percentage for an employee survey response rate and learn ways to increase their organization's response rate if it's below the average.

Here's more about employee surveys and how to get more responses.

Why employee surveys can be valuable

Company leaders often use employee surveys to gain more insight into employee sentiment about organizational operations.

According to Danny Nelms, CEO of Work Institute, a workforce research and advisory firm located in

Franklin, Tenn., leaders often use employee surveys to attempt to learn more about the following:

  • Employees' views of the organization.
  • Employees' attitudes toward their jobs.
  • Employees' relationships with their teams.
  • Employees' relationships with their managers.
Headshot of Danny Nelms, CEO of Work InstituteDanny Nelms

Some companies also use surveys to learn about the potential risk of employee departures, Nelms said. These types of surveys could include the following questions:

  • Have you considered leaving the organization within the next year?
  • What would make you consider leaving the company?
  • What would make you consider remaining at the company long-term?

What is an ideal employee survey response rate?

Employee surveys are only effective if a certain number of employees respond.

Organizations should aim for a 50% response rate at minimum, Nelms said. The ideal response rate is 65% to 70%.

"When [company leaders] have shown routinely that they act on the data in responsible ways, I've heard of companies getting 90 to 100 percent response rates," Nelms said.

Lack of change in the past may negatively affect employee survey response rates.

Headshot of Alec Levenson, senior research scientist at the USC Marshall Center for Effective OrganizationsAlec Levenson

The main reason that workers don't respond is they believe doing so is useless, said Alec Levenson, senior research scientist at the USC Marshall Center for Effective Organizations in Los Angeles.

"If all we're doing is monitoring how things are going and we're not changing it, then the people who give us [this] information at some point are going to go, 'Why are you wasting my time?'" Levenson said.

Leaders must use the information they gather from surveys to improve respondents' employee experience, Levenson said. However, in many cases, company leaders face a difficult balancing act between improving the employee experience and keeping shareholders happy.

"There often are win-wins that can happen [with pleasing employees and shareholders], but the win-wins require a lot more work, a lot more thought and a lot more perseverance than most [leaders] are willing to put in," Levenson said.

5 ways to improve employee response rates

HR leaders can take some steps to improve employee response rates and gather more data that they can then use to improve employee experience.

Here's how to proceed.

1. Ask leaders to promote the employee survey

HR leaders need to make communication about the value of the survey a top-down effort.

Headshot of Kim Downs, director of marketing and business development at Schaedler YescoKim Downs

Schaedler Yesco Distribution, a wholesale electrical distributor located in Harrisburg, Pa., sends out an annual Best Places to Work survey, and leadership promotion of the survey is key to its success, said Kim Downs, director of marketing and business development at Schaedler Yesco. Downs works with HR on internal marketing efforts for the survey.

At Schaedler Yesco, the company president sends out a message encouraging employees to participate, demonstrating that top leadership wants workers to respond.

2. Share why the employee survey is important

HR and other leaders can potentially improve response rates by sharing how survey feedback has led to new initiatives.

In her message, Schaedler Yesco's president explains why it's important to respond, Downs said.

"We're able to say, 'Changes like X, Y and Z happened because of your feedback,'" she said.

Downs also collaborates with HR on promoting Schaedler Yesco as a Best Place to Work, and she believes employees' positive feelings about that title contribute to solid survey response rates.

"Our employees are very proud of [the Best Place to Work designation], so many of them are eager for [the survey] to come out so they can put their two cents in," Downs said.

3. Share an action plan post-survey

While company leaders likely want to make improvements based on employee feedback, some changes may take considerable time and effort to roll out, and others may not be possible.

In many cases, leaders don't communicate with employees after the survey because they don't want to address the factors that they cannot change, Nelms said. This lack of communication can have an adverse effect on future survey response rates.

"Employees appreciate simply knowing that their voice was heard," Nelms said. "If the organization can give [the] reasoning behind why they can't do something, then I think employees are pretty receptive of that."

4. Don't overcommit to changes

Leaders also shouldn't make promises they won't be able to keep. Employees may feel angry if they express unhappiness with an aspect of company operations and leaders say they will change it but never do.

Schaedler Yesco's message to employees after the survey depends upon the scope of changes that leaders are considering, Downs said. In some cases, leaders can act quickly on employee responses, but some decisions require more research.

"I think you have to acknowledge receipt of concerns and feedback but be cautious in the response and promise for action," she said.

5. Send out fun surveys

Periodically sending out surveys that center on fun topics can also improve company culture and reduce the idea of surveys as a chore.

For example, HR could send out a one-question survey asking who will win the Super Bowl and then announce the results, Nelms said. Doing so can nurture a culture of feedback that may pay off when a work-based survey is sent out.

Carolyn Heinze is a Paris-based freelance writer. She covers several technology and business areas, including HR software and sustainability.

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