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The Dangers of Incentivizing Survey Participation

In order to get the most representative feedback from your employee engagement survey, you want as many employees taking it as you can. You can’t force them to participate, so many companies have taken measures to incentivize participation.

It might seem like a good idea on the surface, but we highly encourage organizations to avoid this practice.

We get why organizations do it, and their intentions are pure. They want to hear from as many employees as possible so the feedback is representative and every employee is given a voice. The more participants, the more accurately the data will reflect the reality of the organization.

But there are a few problems caused by incentivization...

It doesn’t celebrate the right behavior. The survey’s main goal is simply to measure employee engagement. Instead of celebrating participation, celebrate meaningful efforts to improve and sustain engagement throughout the year.

It overemphasizes the survey. The survey itself does not equal employee engagement. It provides an overview of the workplace that then allows the organization to make changes to improve engagement. The survey is not the end goal, and putting too much emphasis on it encourages employees to take the survey and forget about engagement until the next one.

It can lead to gaming. Some employees will try to find ways to increase their odds at winning the prize or fudge their team’s level of participation.

It can cause debate or frustration. Imagine a department that misses out on a prize because one employee chose not to participate. What if everyone on that team claims they participated? Acting on employee feedback to make positive changes is now derailed by team frustration.

How do you increase participation numbers over time? 

The survey should be voluntary. Employees should be encouraged to take it not to win some short-term reward, but to help transfer the organization into a better place to work for themselves and their coworkers.

First, show the employees how their feedback is used so they feel heard and are more inspired to participate. 

Second, communicate about engagement year-round. If employees only hear about engagement at survey time, they’re not going to think it’s important.

When engagement is part of the day-to-day culture, participation is an expectation. It shouldn’t be about winning a prize, but improving the workplace for everyone involved.