What influences employee survey response rates?

by | Oct 23, 2013 | Insights

The response rate of an employee survey determines the validity of the results, the higher an organization’s response rate, the more likely the results will be representative of the population.  This provides greater confidence that the results are truly representative of the attitudes and perceptions of the total population of employees.

Many factors affect response rates to employee surveys.  Some of these may be within the organization’s control, while others are not.  The exact impact of each factor can be extremely difficult to quantify, primarily because the quality of survey implementation is rarely consistent across organizations, or across units within a given organization.  In addition, the various factors are likely to interact to affect response rate.  For example, efforts to allay concerns regarding confidentiality of responses is likely to be more successful in improving response rates within an organization characterized by high trust in management than one where trust is low.

Another consideration is the natural limit to survey response rates for organizations of any size.  For an organization larger than a few thousand, that limit is typically in the low 90-percent range.  This means efforts to improve survey response rates may have less impact as organizations approach their natural limit; that is, it will be much easier to improve the response rate from 45 percent to 55 percent than it will be to increase it from 75 percent to 85 percent.

Ten factors that can affect employee response and survey validity:
  1. Administration Method: When, where and how?
  2. Length of Administration Period: What’s the deadline?
  3. Communication: Before, during and after the survey
  4. Management Support: Are we taking this seriously?
  5. Trust in Management: How are the results being used?
  6. Response to Prior Surveys: If you’ve never listened to my feedback before, why should I bother?
  7. Incentives and Accountability: The “carrot” and the “stick”
  8. Questionnaire Length: Shorter is better in most cases
  9. Database Accuracy: Have the right contact information
10. Mobile Technology: Test compatibility over all platforms

For more information, click here to download my white paper on this subject.


Jack Kennedy

John (Jack) Kennedy, PhD, has extensive expertise in the areas of attitude and climate survey research, organizational assessment, leadership effectiveness, organizational change, and internal brand engagement.

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