Dear Workforce How Could We Boost Participation Rates in Employee Surveys

By Staff Report

Oct. 7, 2005

Dear Dealing with Disinterest:

One place to start is asking employees why they don’t participate in satisfaction surveys.

I have asked this question over the years and the typical answers tend to fall into three broad categories. The first tends to be along the lines of “it doesn’t matter as management does nothing with the data,” or second, “I’m not going to indicate my real sentiments as I want to keep my job.” The third category is typically, “I didn’t get around to it” or “I’m too busy.”

The first two categories are critically important to address, and successfully doing so will likely help raise participation rates. The third category of answers, when placed under further scrutiny, seems linked to the first (skepticism that the data will ever be used). After all, if employees truly believed that an employee satisfaction survey would lead to better outcomes in their employment relationship, they would surely find the time to complete a 30- to 40-minute survey.

1. Building Confidence That the Survey Data Will Be Used in a Meaningful Way.

This is possibly the most challenging issue to address, and yet is the one likely to lead to the greatest payoff in terms of participation. Before implementing a survey, step back and ask:

a) Why are we implementing an employee survey?

b) How do we intend to use the data?

c) What is our track record in taking action and communicating changes that resulted from previous surveys? (What value will employees get by participating?)

d) Are employee surveys linked to consequences for managers who influence certain aspects of satisfaction and engagement? If not, why?

e) What actions can we absolutely commit to after the results are in? (Focus groups, communication sessions, data availability to participants.)

More rigor in answering these questions helps you craft a compelling message to employees on specifically how the data will be used. Not only is this valuable to employees, but it builds leadership accountability outside of human resources for taking action and responding to the results.

2. Address Confidentiality Concerns

Concerns over the confidentiality of responses typically can be allayed by committing to confidentiality and using a third party to host the survey online. The degree of confidentiality promised is a careful balancing act. On the one hand, the survey needs to provide enough data on employees–their business unit, function, tenure, gender–to allow for a meaningful analysis of results. On the other hand, employees in very small groups will see themselves as readily identifiable through the demographic/organizational data. So the message here is:

a) Use a third party to manage/administer the survey.

b) Set a minimum number of employees for which data will be reported to avoid situations in which a participant from a small team is readily identified by demographic data.

c) Clearly communicate confidentiality parameters and commitments.

3. Make It Easy to Take the Survey

Keep the survey to a targeted length of 30 to 40 minutes. Make it easy to access online and simple to complete. Communicate the necessary time commitment.

4. Set Reasonable Expectations for Participation Rates

What’s “reasonable” will vary depending on your organization’s track record with respect to taking action in response to surveys, among other factors.

5. The Direct Route

Finally, remember that employees often look to more direct means to influence key aspects of their employment relationship, namely good performance. Many employees see performing their jobs to the best of their ability as a more direct route to advancement, further training, increased pay, etc., than participating in a survey.

SOURCE: Garrett Sheridan, vice president/North American practice leader,Hudson Human Capital Solutions, Chicago, Dec. 9, 2004.

LEARN MORE:Employee Surveys: Ask the Right Questions, Probe the Answers for Insight

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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