When it comes to Employee Surveys, response rates matter. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about more traditional (annual) employee surveysor pulse solutions, there’s a very simple equation at play. Higher response rates provide more reliable results. This blog will provide you with some advice to help you ‘nudge’ your people to give their feedback that’s rooted in behavioural science, rather than “what’s worked for me”. This is because specific tactics that work in one organisation might not work so well in another.
Many different sources suggest that for an annual survey, above 70% is good (though it still feels kind of arbitrary), but for other forms of employee feedback such as pulse, you should expect less. The truth, however, is rather more nuanced and contextual. I’ve worked in very different large organisations where response rates were typically over 90% and the reasons for that are rooted in culture, past experiences with employee surveys, whether they were perceived as important and, crucially, line manager support.
There’s a lot of debate about whether annual engagement surveys are dead and should be replaced by Pulse or other forms of continuous feedback, but we’re cautious about taking a binary point of view on this. While the trend is towards Pulse, the reliability that comes with higher response rates is a good argument for annual surveys. That’s why - like Josh Bersin - we believe that annual surveys have their place in the ''employee feedback mix’ and shouldn’t be ruled out. At Facebook , where 95% of employees fill out their engagement survey and 61% provide written comments, they believe that the survey is seen as something that’s important and is taken seriously as an opportunity to be heard. That’s certainly food for thought.
How to boost your survey response rates with Behavioural Science Simply put, responding to an employee survey is – and must be – an act of volition. If not, we would fully expect employees to find their own way of exercising autonomy by spoiling the data. So let’s rule out coercion as a viable tactic up front! How can we use behavioural science to encourage people to participate in surveys, without feeling undue pressure?
One of the most widely accepted developments in behavioural science is the COM-B system of behaviour (developed by Michie and colleagues - image below). COM-B which represents the Capability, Opportunity and Motivation behind Behaviour, was originally developed in the health industry but is now having a much broader influence. The COM-B System of Behaviour can be used to improve employee survey response rates with behavioural science.
So how can COM-B help improve survey response rates? Let’s look at each of the components of COM-B in turn. A nice metaphor for COM-B comes from detective stories. We all know that the suspect must have had the means (capability), motive and opportunity to have committed the crime…
The barriers that a dyslexic employee (for example) might experience may be largely physical – for example, fonts that are difficult to process, but that’s not always the case because supportive colleagues, for example, create social opportunity. Physical opportunity might include the ready availability of technology, which might not just mean being provided with access to a device, but with enough proximity or indeed numbers to make it practical to use them. Social opportunity is about building norms, making it acceptable or desirable to respond through modelling. It’s one thing that managers complete the employee survey as individuals, but it’s another that they share with their teams that they’re doing it on company time. If line managers are key to survey response rates, should they be given a completion target for their team? This is a tricky question, to which many HR people would automatically respond “no”, but I’m not sure. There are two things to consider: 1. The potentially negative impact of incentivisation on motivation in the longer-term (which we’ll come to) 2. The potential for (possibly well-meaning) but inappropriate behaviour – hectoring or even worse. I still wouldn’t rule out giving line managers a target, particularly in an environment with very low participation rates, but I also wouldn’t encourage it. There will always be a trade-off between the data gained, possibly the data quality (if people feel that they are being coerced), but more specifically the undermining of motivation to participate.
History Matters COM-B also distinguishes between ‘automatic’ and ‘reflective’ motivation. Automatic motivation is about the immediate emotions and mechanisms such as incentives and rewards that may be intrinsic or extrinsic. Reflective motivation is more nuanced and learned over time – and includes things like our beliefs, values and identities. It’s therefore critical when thinking about all of the factors that might boost employee survey response rates, to consider the historical and cultural context. While it’s easy to advise about what tactics to use to improve response rates, it’s harder to do it, because you have to consider what will work here and now. How might our cultural values impact upon survey responses, for example, our relative openness or desire for privacy? Do our people tend to conform? How individualistic is the culture, and so on… You may have to overcome cynicism and mistrust because of what’s happened in the past, or you might inherit a situation where people are willing to give their views freely because surveys have been well-managed and have demonstrably led to change. That’s why we work closely with our clients to help them develop their plan for maximising participation in their employee survey and, by implication, driving more insightful results and meaningful change for their people.
Check out our guide to running employee surveys