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5 reasons why your internal surveys are returning a poor response rate

We’re fast approaching the time of year when many companies launch their annual employee surveys. We at Guru HQ are big advocates of a meaningful survey and absolutely believe that they should be a part of your Internal Comms Strategy. The benefits are multiple and varied, from improved employee engagement to increased insights for leaders into the thoughts and feelings of their people. But all too often we hear from companies that surveys just “don’t work for them” or “generate such a low response rate, that they’re not worth doing”.

It’s a fair question: why bother to launch a survey if it doesn’t land with your people?

First up, if you think your employees don’t want to have a say on their working conditions, the direction of the business, on what they enjoy and what they find most challenging, then you are kidding yourself. They do. If they are not completing your survey, then there is something that is stopping them. And that something is fixable or removable.

I’ll bet you a Mars Bar it’s for one of these reasons…

1. Your people don’t believe that you’re taking any notice

Have you communicated about the findings of previous surveys and what you have done about those findings? This is so important. As with any internal comms piece, if you ask a question, you need to show that you’re listening. Otherwise, you are simply asking for a rousing chorus of “What’s the Point?”. The Extended Remix. With adlibs unsuitable for your young IP students.

If your people told you that they are unhappy with the vending machines being continuously stocked with just a banana that traded yellow for brown last Bank Holiday Monday and a Pot Noodle boasting a flavour that was discontinued by Golden Wonder in the mid-90s, then do something about it. And tell them what you did.

A “You Said, We Listened” or, even better, a “You Said, We Did” video released to your population in the lead-up to your next survey will show them that their responses matter and that changes will be made off the back of their feedback.

2. You don’t announce and promote it properly

As well as using the above to lead up to your survey with some evidence of how you listen and act, let your people know in advance when the survey will open, when it will close and when and how you plan to share the initial findings.

Whilst the hope is that you wouldn’t need to, don’t be afraid to use incentives and advertise them at this stage. Especially if you have previously made some of the mistakes we’re discussing here and are trying to crawl back from a response rate lower than the morals of a Love Island contestant. We draw the line at blackmail, but gentle bribery is fine with us. A prize draw for respondents with the chance to win a voucher, an extra day’s leave or a furry recreation of your company mascot could work wonders. Just make sure that any prize or voucher would be attractive to all (Bargain Booze vouchers are not great for teetotallers – be that for health, recovery or religious reasons – unless they want an unhealthy quantity of Pork Scratchings and Quavers in the house) and make sure that everyone knows that entering their name into the prize draw will not link them to their answers and kill the anonymity of responses.

Actively promote the survey in the lead up to its launch, as it opens and shortly before the closing deadline.

3. Your managers aren’t on board

If your people feel in any way discouraged from completing the survey by their managers, or the survey is otherwise devalued by them, they are less likely to take the time to complete it. “If you insist on doing that, do it in your own time” is not going to encourage your timid payroll assistant to vent about the extended ban on purchasing staples (or about her rather unsupportive manager)! Managers should encourage timely completion, promote the survey at team meetings and could even assign or facilitate some time for their people to sit down quietly and do the deed over a Frappuccino and Bakewell Slice.

If your managers don’t see the point in the survey, then they need educating. And fast.

4. All of the survey isn’t relevant to all of the people

Your survey needs to be planned carefully and with consideration. Can everyone on the recipient list understand and answer every question? If not, you either need to edit your recipient list, edit the questions, or have a more carefully tailored survey with a few questions or sections available only to certain populations. (This last option takes a little more work and is only advisable for much larger organisations that require such a process.)

No one outside of Accounts wants to be asked how they feel about the colour scheme of the interface on the new Credit Control management software. And asking 1000 employees how they rate the new covered walkway from the five CEO parking spaces is just cruel.

5. Your surveys are too long

Thoroughness and detail are good. Up to a point! 173 questions covering absolutely everything in minute detail is not.

You can always drill down on areas of key interest or that returned surprising results afterwards, if needs be, with select focus groups or separate pulse surveys. Meetings with interactive Q&As (perhaps to share the survey’s top-level results) or quick polls-by-smartphone could be a great alternative to an overly lengthy survey and a way to show how keenly you are listening and wanting to make changes.

Ask yourself this about each question: “What will I do with the answers I receive?” If you don’t know, then you probably want to ask the question.

Don’t be afraid to use some colour or images within your survey. If you can get creative without undermining the gravitas of the survey or your company’s tone of voice, then do! Most people find text easier to read if it’s broken up with a few carefully chosen images.

Finally, set the scene for your “surveyees” (it’s a word now!) by introducing your survey with roughly how long it’s likely to take to complete. This should reduce the number of people who start-but-don’t-finish because they think they can squeeze it in between neighbouring Teams calls when they should be blocking out fifteen minutes with a “Do Not Disturb” and a flapjack.

The value of the staff survey is undeniable, and you don’t do it very often. So, do it right.

Select the questions carefully according to your population and what you can do with the responses. Announce and promote your survey properly. And, most importantly, keep your people informed about the findings and what you are doing with them.


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