Employee Surveys
8 min read

Encouraging participation in engagement surveys: Do’s & don’ts for managers


Jessica Brannigan

Senior People Scientist, Culture Amp

Reading Time: 8 minutes

In order to get the most from your organization’s engagement survey, as a manager, you want to get as many responses from your team as possible.  A high participation rate ensures that results are truly representative of the department or organization. It also provides the best opportunity for actionable insight.

What is a “good” participation rate for an engagement survey? We would typically suggest 65-85%. Read more on that topic here.

In order to encourage participation in an engagement survey, you should have a plan in place.  Even with the best intentions, you could end up saying things that have an unintended impact on people’s participation.

With this in mind, we’ve gathered ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ for encouraging participation from your teams. 


Do:

  1. Emphasize confidentiality and data security in the survey process
  2. Outline how feedback will be reviewed and the approach for taking action
  3. Emphasize the (short!) time commitment needed to complete the survey
  4. Explain features important to your team’s willingness to participate 
  5. Role model the behavior you’re seeking

Don’t:

  1. Ask people directly if they’ve taken the survey yet
  2. Inadvertently reference how you would like participants to respond
  3. Suggest that the survey is all about you as the manager
  4. Forget to remind your team when the survey closes

Let’s look at each do and don’t in detail.

1. Do: Emphasize confidentiality and data security in the survey process

Your survey launch communications should explain how data will be processed, stored and shared. However, when reminding your team that the survey is open and ready for their feedback, it’s helpful to emphasize what measures have been taken around confidentiality.

In order for people to feel secure giving their honest feedback, they need to know that their responses are confidential. They must trust that their data will be handled responsibly and that you as a manager are not going to be able to see their individual responses. 

Reassure people that you’re not looking to single out their feedback individually by sharing that:

  • Only aggregated data will be received by their manager
  • Groups will only be identifiable down to your organization’s agreed minimum group size

It can help to show people what level of results you will be able to see in the system if this is possible, as it is within Culture Amp.


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2. Do: Outline how feedback will be reviewed and the approach for taking action

Research shows that people’s willingness to give feedback in engagement surveys is impacted by their confidence that action will be taken. It’s important that your team knows how data will be used and how actions will be taken after the survey. If you’ve surveyed before, remind your team of the results and the actions that were taken. Keep in mind the ‘what’s in it for me’ principle, in referencing past actions the team may have benefitted from, and how they stand to benefit in the future. 

If you can emphasize the opportunity for your people to get involved with action planning and improvement initiatives, even better. This will help them to see that their views are welcome and that the organization is planning to take action.

3. Do: Emphasize the (short!) time commitment needed to complete the survey

For most of us, anything that takes up time in a busy day is something to avoid. This is why it’s important to emphasize the average time they will need to invest for the survey.  For example, the standard 57-question Culture Amp engagement survey usually takes less than 10 minutes to complete.

Encourage people to block out 10 minutes during their workday to make a tea or coffee and complete the survey.  

4. Do: Explain features important to your team’s willingness to participate 

If there are things that are likely to significantly impact the response rate for your team, get ahead of them. Usually, things that impact a survey’s ease of use or time for completion can be blockers.  For example, if your team includes people of different nationalities, communicating that they can take the survey in their own language may encourage participation.

5. Do: Role model the behavior you’re seeking

Show your team how easy it is to participate in the engagement survey. Take the survey yourself and share your experience with your team. For example, share that, “It only took me ten minutes and was a welcome distraction from emails on a Friday morning!”, or “I found the survey format really easy to use.”


On the flip side, what things should managers strive to avoid when encouraging participation in their engagement survey?


1. Don’t: Ask people directly if they’ve taken the survey yet

Asking a team member to confirm whether or not they have taken the survey yet may seem like an innocent enough question.  Managers are used to driving performance and results from their teams, which includes holding individuals accountable.

However, if people are required to share their participation status with you this could compromise anonymity in small teams.  Also, if they’ve chosen not to take part, they may feel uncomfortable explaining their reasons why.

Engagement survey participation is not mandatory. Remember, you’re not aiming for enforcement, but rather encouragement! Forcing participation is dangerous for two reasons:

  1. It compromises the validity of responses. People who are forced to take part will be inclined to ‘click-through’ rather than actively participating, which would skew results. 
  2. The participation rate itself can often tell us something meaningful about the level of engagement, particularly when re-surveying or pulsing over time.

What should I do instead?

Encourage your team to take part when the survey launches. Ongoing, don’t ask about individual completion status, but rather share a general reminder and encouragement for everyone during meetings.  

For example, at your regular team meetings you could have a standing item that states:

“The engagement survey has been launched and closes on X Date. We would be most appreciative if you’re willing to take part, as everyone’s voice is important. We’re keen to understand everyone’s thoughts so that we can both celebrate success and identify areas of opportunity for improvement.” 

For people working shifts or to very tight deadlines, it’s worth proactively carving out time for them to be able to complete the survey.

Additionally, trust the system reminders to go out to those who have not participated to chase individuals on your behalf. The Culture Amp platform, for example, sends reminders to those who have not yet participated.

2. Don’t: Inadvertently reference how you would like participants to respond

As managers, we often want to emphasize why taking part in an engagement survey is important. In our efforts to be persuasive and encouraging we may inadvertently bias responses in a negative or positive direction. 

For example, asking your team to be ‘brutally honest’ in their feedback may be done with good intent (i.e. to demonstrate an encouragement of constructive criticism). However, it suggests that you’re looking for negative feedback. It can also imply the assumption that there are negative themes which they should uncover.  This has the potential to skew your team’s responses towards the negative end of the spectrum. On the other hand, asking your team to ‘show everyone how good we are’ primes your team to demonstrate positivity to the rest of the organization.  

What should I do instead?

You should keep your language neutral and avoid referencing anything about how people should respond. You want to ensure that people respond in the manner which most accurately reflects their personal views and interpretations.  A good rule of thumb to apply when selecting your language is to use words which can apply to both good or bad news. For example, “honest” as opposed to words which evoke emotion, such as “brutal.”

3. Don’t: Suggest that the survey is all about you as the manager

As managers, we’re all keen that the teams we lead are engaged. However, it’s important that you don’t over-emphasize the survey in relation to yourself.  After all, the engagement survey is a means of collecting feedback on overall engagement, covering a wide range of factors; it is not 360 feedback on your own performance.

That said, there will likely be feedback for all team managers to take on board when it comes to improvement. However, the process is about participants’ views on engagement overall, so try to encourage participation impartially. Referencing the impact of the survey on you personally could influence willingness to participate, and the extent to which people will provide commentary.

What should I do instead?

Present the opportunity to participate factually and non-emotionally.  Remind your team that this is an opportunity to provide feedback on all aspects of the organization. Encourage active participation without reference to yourself or your own needs.

4. Don’t: – Forget to remind your team when the survey closes

Don’t just tell your team when the survey opens and expect them to take note of the closing date.  Equally, don’t over-rely on one method of communication to ensure your team has got the message. Email is great for sharing links but don’t miss the opportunity to remind your team at your regular meetings.

What should I do instead?

Communicate consistently by repeating information about the status of the survey and how long they have left to participate, via multiple communication channels.  Think about communicating in a way which makes sense for your team; if you make use of whatsapp or slack for example you might want to use a funny picture or gif as little visual reminders to participate.


Jessica Brannigan

Senior People Scientist, Culture Amp
Jess is a Senior People Scientist for our EMEA region. She provides clients with actionable advice on collecting, understanding, and acting on employee feedback through evidence-based methodologies. A business psychologist (MSc), with a background in leadership and learning, she is passionate about helping organisations develop their culture.