In the past, we've spoken about the advantages and disadvantages of anonymous surveys. For the projects that Bright Horse support, we tend to find that anonymous surveys often encourage more responses and openness due to the lack of identity, however, with anonymous surveys it can be challenging to make decisions on who feels what. This is why we typically recommend a mix - we don't need to know the respondents name but their location and department are very useful to understand where the issues are.
What is clear though for any survey, we need to maximise the response and unfortunately just having an anonymous or mixed survey isn't enough to ensure a strong response rate. There are many internal and external factors that can help or hinder this.
It begs the question, therefore, how exactly can we influence our chances of obtaining a higher response rate? Let's explore 4 strategies and considerations and how you can work with factors both in and outside of your control to encourage a healthy response rate.
Be concise and granular in your questions. When we ask general questions, we receive general answers. This isn't what we want for surveys, particularly for surveys relating to our field of employee experience. We want to understand what someone is feeling about something. We could simply ask, 'How do you feel about your work laptop?', but this is far too general. A laptop is made up of a myriad of components and we all may use different features and apps for our role. Therefore, break the laptop down into the component pieces. If your business relies on video calls, centre some questions around the employee sentiment of using the laptop webcam or microphone.
The Value of Being Specific
It bears remembering here, we don't want to overload the survey with questions. This can encourage people to abandon it, and thus the response rate goes down. Instead take a look at what you really want to ask your respondents about. In the case of a laptop, ask about the features and apps that the respondents use and the business relies on e.g. performance of specific pieces of hardware and software. Not only does this cut the questions down and encourage more responses, but also works to hone in on what's important to the respondent. Harvard Business Review confirm how valuable questioning can be to exchange ideas, improve performance and identify, hazards, so make your survey questions valuable to the respondent and they will be more likely to respond.
Many organisations today have locations or work with parties from across the globe. With such varying approaches to work, culture is something we should take into account when conducting surveys that are going out to multiple geographical locations. Bright Horse has worked with companies from varying cultures across the World, and have seen the differences between certain areas - for example in East Asia we often see that survey response rates are high , but in other areas such as Western Europe response rates are typically much lower (potentially "survey tiredness" plays a part here). We have also seen differing scores from different geographical regions where expectations might be higher or lower.
A general consideration to take would be to reach out to those teams in other locations to try and grasp an idea of how your survey might be received and set your expectations accordingly. There are of course approaches you can take. If it's reported that one culture takes their roles very seriously, a more plain and formal layout for a survey may appear more official and gel well with the work ethic. More on this later. In another area, you may find that the language of the survey is not well-known, and so local translation would be beneficial. The overall takeaway for culture is to go in understanding the kind of sentiment towards surveys in order to tweak or refine yours accordingly to influence a higher response rate.
Linking culture to our exploration of ambiguity, in situations where the language used for the survey is a second language for respondents, it is a good idea to use a concise manner of questioning. This is because expressions we use in our own cultures may be unfamiliar to others, and we shouldn't assume that because someone knows our language, they'll also understand our cultural expressions. To use a simple example, in the UK the expression, ‘Are you alright?’ is often used as greeting akin to asking someone how they are. However, when I have asked this to people from France and the US, they assumed something looked unhealthy about them. I doubt we'd be making small talk in our surveys, but it goes to show that we want to use a conventional yet concise writing style and avoid local colloquialisms, especially when it comes to writing questions that we know won’t be exclusively sent out to those of our own culture. Plain language is less likely to cause confusion and therefore more likely to encourage responses.
Timing can be a tricky concept to get right. Indeed, this may be a case of trial and error for you. It used to be that Tuesday morning was considered the best time to send a survey out. By this time, it was generally considered that employees would have caught up with the previous week's work by Monday and be refreshed and ready for new tasks come Tuesday. However, this may not necessarily be the case. The amount of productivity we can exude at a given time can vary and many of us work in the new hybrid model, with worktime split between home and the office. Moreover, a study collated by HubSpot showed that Monday was thought to be the best day to send out a survey, whereas other studies showed more of a classic bell curve from Monday to Sunday. What we can confidently say is that you are less likely to get a good response rate from sending out surveys on the weekend.
One way to we can suggest to determine the best time to send out a survey can be to send one out to a sample of people at varying times. For example, you could send it out to 1,000 people who would receive the survey at 9:30 and another 1,000 to receive it at 8:00 in case it could be a popular commuting task. This could be sent out across Tuesday - Thursday to determine the most appropriate time for your business. As we say, different people feel different levels of motivation. Some respondents may prefer to respond early in the morning, before work or beginning their work in earnest; others may want to wait until the afternoon for a dip in their urgent tasks.
We spoke about style in our discussion of culture. When we say style, we mean how the survey is presented. We mention a formal and official layout for those with a strong work ethic, however, particularly in Western and Northern Europe, a more informal style of survey is often appreciated. Tying it back to culture, this may coincide with the growing idea in some regions that work is not the sole purpose of our lives, and therefore having a slightly relaxed approach might gel well with the approach and in turn encourage those respondents more likely to take part. In this case, the more official the survey seems, the more threatening it may seem to some people. Of course, we don't want to make our surveys too casual. A general recommendation is to include your organisation's branding and design the colours of the survey around it in softer hues. This way, the survey would seem official whilst not seeming overly formal.
Ultimately, the recommendations we suggest can vary from business to business. What is right for yours may not be right for others, and implementing different strategies for surveys to align with your respondent base needs is the most optimum way to reach a good response rate. Bright Horse have extensive experience in supporting organisations with their sentiment surveys. Read more about our Sentiment Survey Consulting.
Amaresan, S., 2019. The Best Time to Send a Survey, According to 5 Studies. [online] Blog.hubspot.com. Available at: https://blog.hubspot.com/service/best-time-send-survey. Accessed: August 2022.
Brooks, A. and John, L., 2018. The Surprising Power of Questions. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2018/05/the-surprising-power-of-questions. Accessed: August 2022.