Boosting Employee Survey Response Rates

About the author

Leisha DeHart-Davis

Leisha DeHart-Davis is an Albert and Gladys Coates Distinguished Associate Professor of Public Administration in the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government. She studies workplace dynamics, including employee voice and empowerment, organizational structure, diversity and gender in public organizations. Her book, Creating Effective Rules in Public Sector Organizations, is forthcoming from Georgetown University Press in 2017. She holds a PhD in public policy from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

View Other Posts

Download PDF

Response rates are one of the most important criteria for evaluating employee survey results. The higher the response rate, the more confident you can be that your survey results apply to the workforce as a whole. That makes sense: a survey that yields a 60% response rate is more likely to accurately reflect the perspectives of employees across an organization than one that yields a 25% response rate.

Given the importance of response rates, how can local government organizations encourage survey participation? The Town of Cary Employee Survey, which served as the pilot for the Local Government Workplaces Project, provides some ideas:

**By partnering with the School of Government, the Town of Cary provided employees with an independent third-party for gathering and analyzing the data. Using a legitimate and credible third-party to conduct the survey helps employees to know that their data will be reported confidentially and without bias;

**The Town of Cary used a wide range of methods to promote survey participation. In twelve years of organizational surveys, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Posters with ‘Make Your Opinion Count’ in big bold letters dotted the Town of Cary campus; HR Director Renee Poole and her amazing team worked tirelessly to encourage employee participation; Public Information Director Susan Moran’s staff shot a video of me explaining how the survey worked; and we created a website just for Town of Cary employees, giving them the basics of the survey and how the data would be used. It was an incredible organizational effort, one that yielded responses from 83% of the employees surveyed;

**The Town of Cary developed a consistent message to employees: your opinion counts. And having worked with their senior management team, I can tell you without a doubt they mean it. This type of sincerity is hard to fake;

**The Town of Cary conveyed to employees legitimacy, trust, respect, and a sense of importance to survey participation. My favorite research design scholar, Professor Don Dillman of University of Washington, suggests that these are the critical drivers of response rates, those that speak to the relationship between the survey taker and survey giver. (One a related subject, survey length matters far less than these intangible attributes for achieving organizational survey response rates.)

One more comment, about the Local Government Workplaces Project. This is a cross-organizational research initiative that I am working on with a network of fellow public organizational behavior scholars in the U.S and around the world. Our goal is to apply the best social science research methods to help local government managers understand how their employees experience the workplace. For more information, click here. And, as always, email me at ldd@unc.edu if you have questions or want to see the Town of Cary Employee Survey. As always, I enjoy hearing from you.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.