Participation in surveys is an important metric to keep track of and consider. Participation on its own can help determine how much trust employees have with the company and its leaders. When it comes to viewing results, participation can make an impact on how you interpret the scores and action plan.
What does it mean if I have low participation in my survey?
If it’s the first time you’re running a survey, or the first time you’re running a new survey, you can expect to get lower participation than you will in the future. The purpose behind running a survey is to get employee feedback, but if employees haven’t seen how you handle feedback yet as a company, they may be reluctant to share their feedback for a few reasons. First, they may have low trust in leadership. If the survey is setup to share their name, they may hesitate to share their honest opinion.
Do you need high participation for a survey to be useful?
The higher participation in a survey, the more accurate your data is for determining how the entire workforce is feeling. If a survey gets 100% participation then you know that everyone is represented when you look at the results, and therefore you can make an action plan that best fits what everyone needs. If a survey gets 25% participation then it’s a bit harder to come up with an appropriate action plan since the majority of people are not represented. However, a survey with lower participation is still a data point to consider. Are employees over-surveyed? Do they have low trust in leadership? Are they skeptical that any changes will be made as a result of their responses? Trying to understand why the participation is low can be beneficial on its own to determining what changes you may need to make.
Ideas for Driving Initial Participation
- Communicate that leadership cares about employees' honest feedback. A simple statement can transform a survey from being "one more thing" to add to a task list to a survey being evidence that leadership cares about employees.
- Have managers model participation. You don't just want the feedback of the front-lines, you want to hear from everyone. Ask managers and leaders to take the survey in early days and share that they have completed it with teams to encourage them to participate.
- When you craft communications remember the survey is meant to measure engagement, so your policies shouldn't sacrifice engagement in order to hit a participation goal. If your requests for participation start to feel more like bullying, step back and make do with the numbers that are voluntary.
Sample Statement: "I want to thank you in advance for taking time to complete the survey. Hearing the honest thoughts of our employees is important to us as leaders and essential for our business. It helps us to know if we are being successful in building our culture and lets us know where improvement is necessary. We look forward to sharing what we've learned and how we plan to use the feedback in the weeks that follow. Your honest perspective is important, so please add your voice to the feedback!"
Ideas for Increasing Participation Over Time
- Communicate the results of the survey out to all employees and share specific ways you will be using the survey results (see sample statement below).
- Not sure what next steps will help the most? Hold listening sessions after the survey to hear employees' thoughts and get their insight on the most important next steps.
- Before re-launching a survey, share examples of what you learned from the last one.
Sample Statement:"On behalf of our leadership team, I would like to thank you for helping us achieve [XX]% participation on our recent survey. This survey is not just about collecting data— it’s about using that data to fuel important conversations about what we are doing well and what we need to improve. It’s all part of making us a better place to work.
I’d like to share some high-level findings. We were grateful to see that [INSERT STRENGTHS (eg., 45% of people rate their willingness to stay with our organization as a 9 or 10)]. We also noted some areas for improvement including [INSERT CHALLENGES (eg., only 33% of employees in our Customer Service department are willing to recommend our products and services at a 9 or 10.)]
We are committed to using your feedback to improve. If you have any ideas for how to create an even better place to work, please share those ideas with your manager! If you'd prefer to share your thoughts directly with leadership you can do so by [INSERT COMMUNICATION ROUTE].
I appreciate your participation and dedication to our company and our customers. Keep up the good work and thank you for your honesty. Your participation in this survey is the best way for us to see the progress we’re making toward creating a better place to work and a better experience for our customers."