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You're putting a lot of effort into designing and administering a survey and it's natural to want as many employees as possible to participate. Often, it becomes a source of stress while the survey is live and you end up sending desperate sounding emails to employees on the last day. At Willis Towers Watson, we've seen it all - from 95% to 25% participation - and we've come up with a list of seven things you can do to ensure a high response rate for your surveys.

1. Be realistic

Not every survey will have a high response rate. Census engagement surveys tend to have the highest on average (around 80%) but exit surveys often have the lowest (around 30%). Also, office-based environments tend to have higher response rates than non-office-based ones. The more established the practice of employee surveys is within your organization the more likely employees are to participate.

2. Make it easy

Don't make employees jump through hoops to participate in your survey. Willis Towers Watson surveys are accessible through a computer, tablet or mobile device and may be taken from anywhere, anytime. The survey link should be easy to find. You can email it, put it on your Intranet, or convert it to a QR code. If you're running an HRIS-based survey, employees may also receive their survey link via email. Creating a recognizable survey brand is a relatively small investment that can help you year after year.

3. Eliminate technical barriers

Your IT department can help you make sure that all the right settings and whitelisting are in place prior to the survey launch. You can download a document to share with IT in the Employee Engagement Software Help section.

4. Frame participation in terms of impact

Employees are more likely to participate if they feel their views will be taken seriously and something will be done to rectify areas of concern. If you have examples of how their feedback led to positive changes in the past, now is the time to remind them. But above all, share what you plan to do with the results and what they can expect from leaders. Being open about your objectives shows that you respect their time and input.

5. Encourage leaders to compete, but be careful not to overdo it

Publicizing the returns from different parts of the company during survey administration is one of the most effective ways to boost overall participation. Once leaders see they are being compared with their peers on this key metric, they will encourage their teams to get involved, starting a positive spiral. At the same time, survey participation should always be truly voluntary, and this fact should be emphasized in all communications. Requiring employees to respond, even implicitly, can provoke resentment and undermine the process.

6. To incentivize, or not?

Many organizations wonder if they should provide employees with an incentive to participate, beyond the opportunity to contribute to company improvements. In general, we find that very few companies actually do this (less than 5%) and that it is definitely not required to achieve a high response rate. If you do go in this direction, incentives for aggregate participation may be most aligned with the overall process - for example, a company donation to a well-regarded charity if the company reaches over 80% participation.

7. Don't worry too much if you don't reach your target

Although it may feel disappointing if your return rate is below expectations, you almost always have enough data to get a broad understanding of employee opinion and identify where you need to take action. The best practice, even with a very poor return, is to focus on the data you do have, address it, and broadly communicate those actions. As employees see the process work, they will be encouraged to participate in the future. It can take time to build this momentum, but there truly is no substitute. A poor response rate is also an opportunity to uncover underlying issues perhaps not directly related to the survey, such as high workload, lack of trust or communication barriers.

You can easily monitor response rates using any of your demographic questions in Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software, so keep an eye on them throughout the survey administration period and consider doing some additional outreach to the teams lagging behind.

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Andromachie Lella, Product Consultant
Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software

Andromachie supports Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software users through training videos, online help topics and the design of new features. When she’s not working, Andromachie loves to cook, draw and listen to podcasts. Follow Andromachie on LinkedIn.