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Susie May is a communications manager with Network Rail and the founder of the Milton Keynes IC networking group (#mkicomms). Here she details a systematic approach to getting the response level you want on employee surveys.

The field of employee research is shifting. You may believe the employee survey is dead. I prefer to think it is evolving and believe quantitative data combined with qualitative insight creates a resonating employee voice.

The focus here is how to maximise response rates for employee surveys; looking specifically at the nuts and bolts of implementation. Whether you are planning an annual survey or a more frequent pulse check, my two main tips are:

  • Act on previous research quickly
  • Use every stage of the survey process to maximise response

1) Act on previous research quickly

Employee surveys fall down due to a lack of action. All too often I have been asked why response rates are low, only to find out that the company has been asking the same questions year after year and doing nothing, or very little with the responses. And the culprits wonder why people stop responding.

Acting on the results is the hard part to which you should give most attention. So instead of high fives all round for a high response rate, it’s time to get on with the real work and make visible changes based on the results. This will inspire confidence and trust; the by-product of which will be increased response rates next time round.

2) Use every stage of the survey process to maximise response

Here are five ideas for effective implementation. While you should adapt your approach to suit your organisation’s style, these basic ideas can be adopted by everyone.

2.1) Planning

- Gain commitment from the top to taking action and allocating the resources required to implement changes at the start

- Create clear communications and key messages – why are you doing the survey, what will happen with the results, how and when can people get involved?

- Keep an up-to-date database of employees ideally with preferred survey method (e.g. paper, telephone, online, mobile, audio, special requirements)

- Agree and communicate how you will manage transparency, confidentiality and anonymity

- Consider which technology, frequency and methodology suit your organisation now and in the future

2.2) Design

- Keep it brief. Only ask questions if you are prepared to act on the answers

- Pose questions carefully without bias (e.g. well balanced scales, single elements)

- Test your questions with a pilot group of employees

- Balance your quantitative and qualitative questions carefully so you generate meaningful insight. New technology allows easy analysis of free text

- Order your questions in a logical flow starting with the easy stuff. You may report in a different order

2.3) Collection

- Use the collection methods your employees would like to use

- Ask your managers to support the survey by encouraging their people to participate (via several channels such as meetings, presentations, walking about the office)

- Set clear deadlines

- Send reminders (only to those who haven’t yet completed the survey)

- Use champions and incentives that suit your culture

2.4) Analysis

- Soon after the survey has closed thank everyone for their time and feedback. Let them know how many took part, top-level findings and when to expect an action plan resulting from their feedback

- Complete analysis quickly – real-time feedback is available!

- Share the results (good and bad) with participants

- Supply separate analyses to each sub-group (office location, department etc) so that they can create their own action plans

- Look behind the stats and plan further research if required

2.5) Reporting and, most importantly, ACTING

- Cascade the results very quickly with clear responsibilities for creating action plans

- Involve managers and teams with finding solutions to the issues raised

- Share the action plans by communicating simply “you said, we are doing”

- Check your plans with a test group

- After a few weeks have passed, remind people of the actions taken due to their feedback – and thank them again for participating

Don’t get too hung up on response rates

Whilst statistical significance and rising response rates are important, improving response rates is not the end goal. Ultimately, the actions that take place as a result of the findings are the most important aspect of a survey.

The future of employee research

Social, digital and mobile trends are influencing the way employees give feedback; making it more open, real time, interactive, transparent and constant. The impact of research like Engage for Success’s ‘Nailing the Evidence’ has brought employee voice to the forefront of leaders’ minds. Listening to our people is not something that should be left to the annual survey.

Having started her career managing customer and employee research projects, Susie’s experience cuts across research, marketing and internal communications; both agency and in house.



Keep an eye on our LinkedIn company page for notifications of new 'nuts and bolts' pieces - designed to assist practitioners with some of the most common practical implementation issues.
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