3 Ways to Increase Employee Survey Response Rates and Minimize Bias
Samantha McLaren

By: Samantha McLaren on September 3rd, 2020

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3 Ways to Increase Employee Survey Response Rates and Minimize Bias

Talent and Culture

Est. Read Time: 3 min.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for robust, nuanced, and responsive employee engagement surveys. With employee needs changing rapidly, it’s critical for HR professionals to understand how their workforce is feeling in the moment and over time. But while employee surveys can provide these answers and more, the quality of the data obtained is often directly proportional to the quality of the surveys themselves.


Surveys that are poorly worded or not fully thought through can be more susceptible to a range of response biases, such as the desire to present oneself in a positive light or the tendency to gravitate toward categories expressing disagreement. These biases can skew the survey results, presenting an inaccurate picture of life at the company. But even if every response obtained is truthful and balanced, if few employees actually finish the survey, that picture will always be incomplete.  


Taking small steps to optimize your employee engagement surveys can dramatically increase return on investment. So, whether you’re adopting these surveys for the first time or are looking to refine your existing approach, here are a few simple ways to minimize response bias, boost your response rates—and gather higher-quality data that drives meaningful change. 


1. Be transparent about the things that matter

Understandably, employees like to know what their data is being used for. If a survey appears in their inbox with little explanation, they may be concerned that their responses will get back to their manager—increasing the likelihood that they’ll answer in the way they think they’re supposed to, or that they won’t answer at all. 


Set the right expectations upfront by providing clear communication around factors like anonymity, data security, and the overarching reasons for conducting surveys in the first place. Over time, be sure to highlight ways the company has made improvements based on the results, as this can boost employee confidence in the surveys and encourage thoughtful participation.


button to download the whitepaper the employee engagement survey needs a rewrite


2. Keep the survey and individual questions succinct and straightforward

Overly long surveys don’t encourage attentive participation. The more questions there are (particularly open-ended questions that take longer to fill out), the greater chance there is that employees will grow weary with the survey and click away—or feel compelled to rush through it to get back to work.


The length and complexity of the questions themselves can also contribute to drop-out rates and response bias. If questions are long-winded or difficult to understand, employees may get confused and answer inaccurately, or just click random answers in order to move on. 


You can avoid these reactions by keeping your questions succinct and limiting the number you include in each survey. Don’t eliminate open-ended questions, as these can provide some of the richest data, but don’t overwhelm employees with them either. It’s also a good idea to position the most important questions at the beginning, since survey fatigue tends to set in toward the end.


3. Limit redundancy and increase personal relevance

Repetitive and redundant questions can make surveys feel longer than they are. Cut questions that feel too similar to one another and use random ordering to make surveys feel varied and fresh. Breaking up related questions also prevents clear narratives from forming, helping to mitigate bias.


Additionally, keep in mind that not every question you ask is going to apply to every participant. Use branching logic to ensure participants are only asked questions that are applicable to their experience. Otherwise, stretches of the survey may feel irrelevant to some employees, encouraging random answering that may potentially obscure important insights.


To find more tips and strategies for optimizing your employee engagement surveys, download the whitepaper, The Employee Engagement Survey Needs a Rewrite: How to Get Feedback that Moves the Business Forward.

Button to download the whitepaper the employee engagement survey needs a rewrite
Button to download the whitepaper the employee engagement survey needs a rewrite

About Samantha McLaren

Scottish-born Samantha McLaren is a copywriter and editor with a specialty for the recruiting and HR space. She has written dozens of articles on topics ranging from employee retention and engagement to employer branding, company culture, and management strategies.