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The People & Culture Platform | Culture Amp
Woman in yellow dress on a computer thinking about employee survey response rates
Jason McPherson, founding scientist at Culture Amp

Jason McPherson

Founding Scientist, Culture Amp

Survey response rates (or participation rates as we prefer to call them) are themselves often a measure of engagement. In other words, they are a measure of how engaged employees are with the survey and feedback process.

At Culture Amp, we have also done some analyses and found a moderate relationship between participation rates and employee engagement levels. However, the relationship is nowhere near perfect and there does appear to be a trade-off effect above the 85-90% mark.

Is 100% participation in a staff survey good?

We recently realized that one of the companies with the lowest engagement scores (in the last 12 months) in our platform had a 100% participation rate. In fact, a 100% participation rate can be a bad sign, as it's usually accompanied by comments about coercion and a large number of missing responses or unmeaningful responses (e.g. all ‘strongly agree’ or ‘strongly disagree’). So, having a 100% response rate is sometimes associated with poorer quality data – and it is the quality of data that we should be focused on, not the quantity.

In employee surveys, we are not trying to generalize from a relatively small sample to a much larger population like we often are in customer or political research. In employee surveys, we are mostly talking about participation rates well above 50% (which is about the rate achieved in US elections). Generally, employee survey participation rates fall between the 65-85% range. These are rates that political scientists and market researchers can only dream of.

What is a good participation rate?

In small companies or teams (< 50) we should be aiming a little higher than the 65-85% range. At Culture Amp, we usually recommend an 80-90% rate to be a good minimum benchmark, as it allows us to hear from 4 out of 5 people on average. As we move to larger companies we can scale our expectations down – with 500 employees we will probably get a good sense of where we’re at with a 70% rate of participation, so 70-80% is a good benchmark. Companies of 1000+ can probably aim for a participation rate of around 65% as their lower bound – even though higher rates allow a stronger sense of involvement psychologically.

Company Size Ideal survey participation rate
<50  80-90%
500+ 70-80%
1000+ 65-80%

Sometimes there will be reasons for even the above participation rates to be difficult, and one can certainly still get a good statistical estimate from smaller samples in large companies.

How to increase employee survey participation rates

Putting participation rates into perspective is often one of the first steps towards a healthier attitude to employee feedback that your organization can make. In both the short and long run, the best way to increase survey participation rates is to share results quickly and openly. Just as importantly, be sure to demonstrate a genuine intent to make practical changes based on feedback. If you do that, employees who didn’t respond to the previous survey may just be ready to join in next time.

You should also be sure to talk about the importance of participation in pre-survey communications. Great participation leads to great data, which leads to great results.

Managers are another great resource for improving employee survey participation rates. Andrea Reyes, Director of Field Training at Journeys, found that opening up live participation results for managers made an impact. "This helped leaders to encourage their team to participate and it did lead to an increase in participation for us," she says. At Vend, an organization that generally experiences participation rates above 90% on their engagement surveys, the same is true. There is a high level of buy-in on the feedback process from managers, who are always happy to try to increase their team’s participation.

Why survey design matters

If one of your goals is to increase your employee survey participation rate, consider the following survey design factors:

  • Survey user experience (UX) If your survey is easy to take, more people will take it - simple. A good way to improve the UX of your survey is to pick and choose the right rating scale.
  • Survey length. Your employees are busy. We've found that keeping surveys under 10 minutes is best. We've found that longer surveys often decrease the quality of data and participation rates.

Improving employee survey participation

Although 100% participation isn't necessary, it is true that a high participation rate is important for ensuring that results are truly representative of a given team, department, or organization. More responses also provide more data and insights that your organization can use to drive meaningful outcomes to engagement, performance, retention, and more.

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