No Responses? Common Reasons Why Employee Surveys Fail

February 10, 2022
No Responses? Common Reasons Why Employee Surveys Fail

According to a survey of 3,000 HR executives, a surprising amount of companies (a whopping 78%) aren’t getting good results from their employee surveys. Results like this can be enough to entice many HR folks and managers to simply abandon the practice altogether, chalking it up as a failure and moving on. But if you do, it means that your employees and your company miss out. There’s a good reason why employee surveys are worth it. Employee surveys can:

  • Measure everything from engagement to happiness and satisfaction
  • Be used as a signal that the work your employees are doing not only suits them well but that their desires for meaningfully contributing to a company’s mission are also being met

This is particularly the case with younger generations of talent like Gen Z.

Unengaged, unhappy, and dissatisfied employees are more likely to look for more meaningful work somewhere else.

You could soon have an attrition problem on your hands if you’re not careful. So, what are the most common reasons why employee surveys fail, and how can you improve them?

What makes an employee survey a “failure?”

Like many things involved in small business, there are no one-size-fits-all answers to why employee surveys fail. Determining whether or not an employee survey was a failure has a lot to do with the goals you have for administering the survey in the first place. If your questions didn’t target what you were trying to measure, your survey is set up to fail. However, a survey can also fail if you get:

  • Few to no responses
  • Responses, but they aren’t relevant to what you’re trying to measure

6 common reasons why employee surveys fail

The reasons your company’s specific surveys are failing can be as unique as your company. But, here are a few common reasons that you can look at and see if something similar might be the reason you’re getting so few responses to your surveys:

  1. Lack of communication. It’s essential that you are clear so your employees understand both the survey they’re being given and the reason for giving it. While they might sound so similar that they seem the same, happiness, satisfaction, and engagement surveys are all different and designed to measure different things. So, ensure that you’re communicating the purpose of the survey to your employees. Be sure you give clear directions as to how and by when the survey should be completed and who to go to if employees have questions.
  2. You’re requiring respondents to identify themselves. Anyone who has administered an employee survey knows that people can really unload — especially if they’re unhappy — when they’re anonymous. This might require taking answers with a grain of salt, but you’re more likely to get responses (and honest ones, too) if your workers don’t have to attach their names to their feedback.
  3. Leadership isn’t bought into the process. Sometimes leaders simply don’t understand the importance of employee surveys. Or it could be that teams are swamped, and a survey seems like a strong candidate for the bottom of the to-do list. If you want the survey to be taken seriously, leadership needs to buy-in to the process in order to both communicate and demonstrate the importance of taking the survey.
  4. You didn’t ask the right questions. One reason your survey isn’t garnering the response you wanted could be that your survey is filled with a bunch of “yes or no” questions or is made up of questions that you copied and pasted from the internet. If that's the case, employees will see how little effort was put into the survey and interpret it as an unimportant box to check as a result.
  5. Your survey was too long. This one is pretty simple. People are busy. If you’re asking employees to take a major chunk of time out of their day to respond to a 15-page employee survey, most people won’t be able to, and likely won’t want to, do that. Rather than send out one massive survey once or twice a year, consider doing smaller, more frequent ones instead (more on that later).
  6. You haven’t taken action on previous survey results. If you’ve handed out surveys before and received great responses but didn’t do any follow-up or make any changes as a result, it’s easy to see why employees would stop making an effort to complete the survey.

If your workers take the time to meaningfully fill out surveys, put the information you get to work. Ideally, survey responses should be used for decision-making at the company.

If you got good information but aren’t able to make changes right now, you should clearly communicate that to the staff. This ensures they at least know their words have been heard.

7 ways to get better responses on your employee surveys

Before you can get better responses, you have to first understand why your surveys are failing. Once you have a solid understanding of that, take a look at some of these tips for increasing response rates. Pay special attention to those items that relate to the particular reasons that you’re not getting the responses you want and adapt them to meet the needs of your unique business.

  1. Try using pulse surveys. Rather than one or two long surveys each year, pulse surveys rely on shorter, more frequent surveys to get the job done. This distributes the work of filling out a survey throughout the year. As the name suggests, pulse surveys also make it easier to keep a pulse on things throughout the year. Ideally, this will help you get more immediate insights as a result.
  2. Opt for anonymity (and guarantee it). If a survey is said to be anonymous, make sure that it actually is and that it stays that way. If someone fills out a survey that they think is anonymous and their managers bring up their responses to them a week later, they’re not going to want to fill out another survey (at least honestly) ever again.
  3. Use reminders. Sometimes surveys slip through the cracks because people are busy, and they forget — so use reminders! Let employees know when a survey is coming so they can plan for it. Then, send frequent (but not overwhelming) reminders about it before, during, and nearing the end of the survey period.
  4. Incentivize completion. You can do this even with anonymous surveys. Simply have employees send you a screenshot of their completed survey or forward any email they get as a “receipt” for submitting it. Then you can enter them in a drawing for a prize for something like an additional PTO day or reward everyone with a small gift card at a local coffee shop. If you use incentives as part of your survey submission process, make sure you mention them in the reminders!
  5. Use an easy and accessible format. Sometimes people don’t finish surveys because the process is too clunky or complicated. Make sure you use an easy, simple, and glitch-free format so no one drops out because they can’t get the platform to work right.
  6. Strive for using new questions every time. This doesn’t mean that every single question needs to be new. However, there should be a few new ones every time. This is a great way to show that you’ve been listening to previous survey responses, too, if new questions reflect previous feedback.
  7. Follow up, follow up, follow up. Employees will give you their time if they feel like it actually matters and has an impact. Ideally, you should use survey feedback for decision-making around changes at the company. Explain the role that employee feedback played. After you've done that, it's also a good idea to share the survey results with employees so that they can clearly see you’re taking it seriously.

When it comes to getting more (or better!) survey responses, don’t try to change everything at once. Try making one or two tweaks at a time and seeing if those revisions make a difference. By doing that, you don’t waste time making changes you don’t need and you still hone in on what the key is for better survey responses at your unique company.

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