Pulse surveys seem to be everywhere these days; think of how many times you’ve been asked to take a short survey online. Pulse surveys have become an integral part of the employee experience and an organizational must-have. Most HR professionals agree that pulse surveys are an increasingly valuable tool used for gathering timely, relevant feedback and tracking employee engagement.

This article defines employee pulse surveys, explores their importance to engaging employees, and provides direction on how to use them most effectively in your organization.

What is an employee pulse survey?

A pulse survey is a short series of questions conducted on a relatively frequent basis, designed to track responses to an issue or topic over a period of time. Usually conducted online, employee pulse surveys offer participants the choice of answering questions on a computer or mobile device. Making surveys quick and easy for employees to complete leads to greater participation and stronger, more reliable results. Pulse surveys also allow for streamlined data collection and timely analysis of results, so organizations can respond to feedback quickly.

Employee pulse surveys are an essential supplement to annual engagement surveys. An annual questionnaire is an excellent tool for assessing multiple aspects of an organization and identifying underlying issues, including employee satisfaction. However, it’s important to remember that an annual engagement survey is a “look-back” tool and collects feedback only once a year. Because of the depth of information collected, it takes a long time to analyze the results and even longer to implement changes. And if an employee has important feedback to share midyear, it can be frustrating to have to wait months to provide input and see actionable results. Pulse surveys can help your organization listen to employees throughout the entire year and on a regular basis, not just annually.

A pulse survey can be designed and implemented in short order and customized to a particular employee group, division, or audience. When issues surface in an annual survey, a follow-up pulse survey can monitor progress. Taking a regular “pulse” on a topic or problem allows you to identify issues, react quickly if needed, and link improved survey results to organizational changes.

You can use pulse surveys to track progress on almost any goal. Tailor questions to track topics that are most critical to your organization’s objectives and priorities. Be sure to ask the same or similar items so you can track progress on a particular topic on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.

employee pulse survey

Why are pulse surveys important?

Pulse surveys can track any number of key business drivers, but their most critical function is measuring and enhancing employee engagement. Pulse surveys provide real-time feedback and insights that allow for quick identification and resolution of employee issues. Employees know their voices are heard when changes happen rapidly.

This communication between leadership and employees, facilitated by pulse surveys, is key to building a culture of listening, transparency, and trust. Achievers’ Engagement and Retention Report shows there is an alarmingly high level of disengagement among workers in North America. This lack of employee engagement is often due to company culture. Employees’ view of management’s involvement in corporate culture has declined, with nearly half of employees saying that leadership is “minimally” or “not at all” committed to improving company culture. By conducting pulse surveys and taking action on feedback, employees will feel heard by leadership and empowered to share their ideas and input.

Employers who don’t make efforts to build a culture where employees feel heard and their feedback is valued may face a significant exodus of talent. In fact, 90 percent of workers said that they are more likely to stay at a company that asks for and acts on feedback. Leaders need to communicate with employees frequently and transparently. Pulse surveys help to facilitate this communication by soliciting input and encouraging employee voice. Naturally, the design, analysis, and action steps following a pulse survey are essential factors for success.

How to get the most out of pulse surveys

Pulse surveys can be used to measure almost anything, which can make it hard to know where to begin. Start by focusing on questions that are most relevant to your business needs. Keep organizational goals and priorities in mind, but also consider the overall employee experience. What is good about your job and what could be better? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep your question format consistent. As you administer pulse surveys overtime, this allows for a reliable and repeated measure for seeing overall trends in engagement and if effective action has been taken to improve results.
  • Have a specific purpose. Be clear and transparent about the reason for the survey. For example, let employees know if you are looking for feedback on recently implemented changes, or general input on job satisfaction.
  • Make sure your questions are audience appropriate. If employees don’t understand a question, they may skip it, or randomly select an answer, which will produce inaccurate results.
  • Ask action-oriented questions. These questions will help you understand if employees see action being taken as a result of their previous participation in a survey. For example, you can gather agreement levels to the question, “I have seen positive changes take place on basis of our previous survey results.”
  • Keep the survey length short (5-15 questions max) and easy to answer. Pulse surveys are supposed to be quick and easy to complete. Adding a few more questions to it can decrease the quality and number of responses.

You might also consider supplementing your pulse survey with a workplace chatbot. Chatbots offer another way for employees to provide ongoing engagement feedback. Powered by AI, chatbots are responsive to employee input and programmed to engage in a two-way dialogue that feels natural. Always available, chatbots are there when employees are ready to talk. Conversations are confidential, and aggregate data provides valuable, real-time information to managers.

measuring employee pulse survey

Measuring the results

After conducting and closing your employee pulse survey, set aside time to measure and analyze the results carefully. What are employees telling you? How do results compare to the last study? What trends are you seeing?

  • Consider the response rate. It’s unlikely that 100% of your employees will participate, but you need a reasonably good response rate for the survey data to be meaningful. If less than 10% of employees are responding, it’s time to change up the survey. Consider different questions that are more relevant and will get employees excited about providing input.
  • Evaluate the data as well as the comments. Scaled responses — like the Likert scale that includes a 5-point continuum from “strongly disagree” and “strongly agree” — provide data that is easy to measure. But also be sure to review the open-ended questions to see how employee comments support or explain the quantitative data. Analyzing the results of pulse surveys to identify the most important engagement drivers for employees in your organization lets you focus your resources on what matters most.
  • Review with managers and leaders. Discuss how the results align with organizational goals and priorities. Is employee engagement on track with expectations? Compare results with benchmarks to see how engagement scores compare with competitors.

After careful analysis of the results, determine your next steps. Draft an action plan for changes, and consider the appropriate cadence for your pulse survey strategy.

Acting on feedback

Taking action on employee feedback is arguably the most critical part of the entire pulse survey process. Taking steps to address employee issues shows that you are listening and that you care.

Actions can include anything from small acknowledgments to more substantial changes. For example, if the results of the survey show that employees feel they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments, you could consider implementing an employee recognition program and direct managers and leaders to express appreciation more frequently. Or if employees feel like your workplace culture is negatively impacting their engagement, you can explore initiatives to build an environment your whole organization can be proud of.

Research shows that taking action on employee feedback is directly related to improved engagement and retention. Employees need to feel that they are not only asked for input, but that it is valued and acted on at the highest levels.

Once you create an action plan and implement changes based on the feedback received, make sure that you communicate back to your employees. This act of sharing will demonstrate to employees that their feedback is valuable, and they’ll be excited about responding to the next pulse survey.

Choose pulse survey software that suits your business needs

Once you’ve decided to implement an employee pulse survey strategy into your business, the next step is to decide on what vendor to use. There are various providers in the marketplace with different solutions and price points. Start by asking some key questions:

  • Is it mobile-friendly? While some employees prefer to use their desktop, more and more employees are choosing to respond to pulse surveys on mobile devices.
  • Is the interface intuitive? The friendlier and more intuitive the survey, the higher the response rate. Take a test run and check it out yourself.
  • Can you customize for different audiences? Some survey providers only offer a one-size-fits-all solution. More flexibility for customization will make it easier to reach a diverse employee audience and ask more detailed, relevant questions.
  • What are the reporting features? Overly complicated, technical reports will be time-consuming to analyze. Reports should be comprehensive but easy to understand.
  • Is the survey software secure? Your provider should offer security certificates to protect your data. Find out what security features they offer.
  • What is the disaster recovery plan? Make sure your provider is capturing data on a dedicated, high-capacity server and running regular backups to ensure your information is safe.

Also consider what additional features or products your vendor provides, so you have the flexibility to expand your employee listening strategy. For example, innovative features and HR chatbots are excellent supplements to pulse surveys and will help drive employee engagement.

Start improving employee engagement with pulse surveys

HR professionals understand how vital employee retention is to running a successful business, and most understand how critical workplace culture and employee engagement is to retaining key talent. But keeping a pulse on how satisfied employees are can be challenging and overwhelming.

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