24 February 2021

Our survey said… not a lot

Low response rates? Here's five tips and tricks to get the best out of your employee surveys.

HR and IC people know the value of a good employee survey, and value them highly. Unfortunately, employees don’t always feel the same.

Despite 75% of companies running regular employee surveys, the average response rate is just 30%. But why so low?

Simple: if colleagues don’t think their dutifully completed questionnaire will have any impact, they’re unlikely to bother. In fact, only 20% believe their managers will take action on survey results, and nearly a third think surveys are useless!

It sounds like an impossible task, doesn’t it? But all is not lost: here are five tricks that will help you get the best out of your employee surveys.


1. Make it all about the action

If you only take one thing away from this article, make it this: don’t run a survey unless it’s going to result in action that you can – and do – shout about. How will you analyse and action-plan from the results? Who will use the stats? What changes are actually on the table? Use this info in your survey comms.

Try this

Sometimes, just seeing the word ‘survey’ in an email subject line is enough to put people off. Focus instead on the action and purpose. Use phrases like “Help us shape our organisation”, or “Let’s design the future”.


2. Make it quick, if you can

Ideally, annual employee engagement surveys should take no longer than 20 – 30 minutes to complete, while pulse surveys should take no more than five minutes. But, of course, that doesn’t mean you should confine people. Always offer colleagues space to share their thoughts so they don’t feel frustrated – it’s often in the qualitative data that you find the gems.

Try this

Swap out your next online pulse survey for a simple yes/no question for line managers to ask teams in their weekly catch-ups and report back on.


3. Make it feel valuable

When it comes to your survey comms, put yourself in the employees’ shoes. Why would they want to fill out the survey? What action might they want to help create? Use this thinking to develop a mini messaging hierarchy:

  1. Because my opinion is valued: “We need your help to help make things better”
  2. Because it will be quick: “Take this 2-minute survey”
  3. Because they take action: “Last time you told us X, and we did Y”

Try this

An incredible 75% of colleagues say a simple thank you from managers is all it takes to boost motivation. Ask the most relevant leader to thank employees for completing the survey – using video if possible to add the human touch.


4. Make it stand out

Employees often feel bombarded by comms, with communication overload being a real issue. It’s easy for your people to simply miss – or ignore! – your survey. Boost that all-important response rate by:

  • Sending the survey in an email on its own to highlight its importance/purpose
  • Using other channels as a reminder, such as Town Halls or internal email signatures
  • Getting managers to signpost their teams (and encourage them by sharing response data)

Try this

Surveys have a reputation for being, well, a little dull. Use creative visuals, instant feedback or even an element of competition – such as a prize draw or award for the best suggestion that’s implemented – to make yours more exciting.


5. Make it HAPPEN

And we’ve come full circle to the actions: make sure you really do shout about the changes and activity that happens as a result of the survey. Communicate plans regularly, and share a timely reminder of everything that’s been done since the last survey before issuing the next.

Try this

Why not use your regular pulse surveys to update everyone on actions and take a measure on the effect any changes have had on colleagues? This will set you up for continuous improvement and make the feedback-action loop even tighter.


Got the data, but unsure what to focus on?

For help turning your employee engagement survey results into an achievable action plan, get in touch with McCann Synergy’s Lucy McKerron for fresh thinking and insight.






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