Have your say

How hard should you ‘encourage’ people to complete your annual staff survey?

Over the years I have tried very hard. Intricate communications plans involving teaser campaigns, beautifully crafted invitations, videos, posters, screensavers, FAQs, emails, intranet, leaderboards, targeted communications to senior leadership, line managers and blanket emails to everyone in the company before, during and after the survey. Was it really necessary?

I’ve worked closely with four specialist employee survey providers over the last decade and have always been lead to believe that the more you can do to ‘encourage’ participation the better.

The higher the response rate the better quality the feedback and data – and a really high response rate is the sign of how engaged your workforce is right?

You’ll notice the use of quotation marks. It’s because I feel a sense of irony in using the word ‘encourage’.  If the literal meaning of ‘encourage’ includes incentivising, cajoling, pleading, shaming and who knows, perhaps even bullying, the quotation marks would not have been necessary.

Looking back I have a sneaking suspicion I tried too hard.

I believe there is a sweet spot, probably somewhere around the 75% to 85% mark, where all those enthusiastic and willing to take the survey have done so.

In the same vein, I suspect that if you took a cut of the engagement score at the halfway point and compared it to the final score, it would be higher. This despite the belief in some quarters that “the least satisfied people, or those with specific issues, tend to respond first.”

I believe that the additional work required to secure the participation of people that don’t really want to is likely to result in a reduction in the quality and reliability of the data, and certainly in the engagement score (if that is important to you).

It’s human nature. If you are pushed into doing something you don’t really want to do your heart won’t be in it. You won’t do it properly – you’ll just be going through the motions. And if you are seriously miffed at being boxed into a corner, you may even decide to punish the person who has been ‘encouraging’ you through your survey responses.

Naturally I went looking for evidence to support my thinking on this. Whilst I believe gut instinct is a much under-rated attribute in business, I also value the importance of hard fact and empirical evidence. Guess what. I found nothing.

I found plenty of evidence of my earlier assertion that the higher the response rate the higher the levels of engagement and satisfaction. I found no real evidence to confirm my suspicion that you can overdo the ‘encouragement’.

The closest I came to it was a piece in HR Magazine a couple of months ago by Samantha Arnold from ETS:

“I have come across managers resorting to all sorts of tactics to make sure they achieve high response rates. The irony is that these managers are often the ones that have little interest in doing anything with the results…  to avoid it becoming a sideshow, we have advised our clients not to share response rate scores with their managers”.

Another interesting angle I came across was:

“… the fact that in some organisations employees choose not to complete the survey is important feedback information in its own right. We often find in organisations where there has historically been a lack of commitment to feedback, poor communications and a lack of resulting action that survey completion rates are the lowest.”

So presumably trying too hard to push participation may mask this natural inclination among some to not bother taking the survey, again rendering the feedback and data less valuable because it is papering over the cracks.

It strikes me that all you need to do is make sure that every member of staff knows about the survey, understands the importance of taking the opportunity to give their feedback, and has the opportunity to participate. Thereafter, if they want to participate they do, if they don’t they don’t.

And that’s fine because you’ll be getting the most reliable, authentic and untarnished feedback possible, and you can be sure when you roll in to action to address areas of concern that you will be focusing on all the right things.

2 thoughts on “Have your say

  1. Agreed Michael, what surprises me is that the Gallups & Towers Watsons of this world don’t seem to have done any research on this with which they can advise their clients. An individual company could test this themselves but it would be little more than a ‘toe dip’ – and you’d have to wait a year until you can re-test the theory. The big employee survey companies could do this with a far greater degree of statistical accuracy. Plus of course, unless a company conducts the survey itself, it wouldn’t have access to the relevant data, as the need to guarantee anonymity is critical in such surveys. Thanks for contributing to the debate!

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