What Is an Employee Pulse Survey? (+6 Benefits for Your Company)

Elizabeth Klinetobe
Elizabeth Klinetobe  |  September 16, 2019

People tend to wait until their exit interview to reveal what they really think and why they're leaving their company for somewhere new. 

Employee dissatisfaction can be chalked up to missed opportunities on the part of supervisors or factors outside anyone’s control. However, if there was a way for organizations to build an automated blind spot detection process, would you be interested?

Employee pulse surveys

Enter the Employee Pulse Survey. It serves as a beautiful complement to all things employee engagement, including talent management, employee engagement activities, and even traditional employee satisfaction surveys. 

While traditional employee engagement or satisfaction surveys are longer and often conducted annually, employee pulse surveys are shorter, more focused, and administered more frequently. 

Pulse surveys are a single tool in the ongoing study and improvement of employee experience, and they can make a big difference in directing strategy. 

Why businesses aren't using employee pulse surveys

Despite today’s progressive and adaptive professional environments, employee surveys are sometimes neglected in favor of higher priorities -- or a lack of time. Surprisingly, even large organizations have been known to shy away from employee pulse surveys due to misconceptions about execution or the degree to which they can be automated. 

6 benefits of employee pulse surveys

Even if they’re already conducting employee satisfaction surveys, companies who supplement with employee pulse surveys see many (sometimes unexpected) benefits.

Below are six benefits that using employee pulse surveys can have on your organization.

1. Improvement in company culture

Company culture gains have a direct impact on enhanced productivity and employee retention. Not to mention that company culture and employee engagement can make or break customer experience.

One of the most common complaints among employees is that they don’t have a truly anonymous way to share their concerns, suggestions, and ideas. Pulse surveys can be conducted completely anonymously, and their frequency empowers employees to share their candid feedback on an ongoing basis.

As a result, employees feel more connected and engaged. Sometimes, simply offering the opportunity to air grievances does wonders for an individual’s — and, in turn, a company’s — morale.

We often recommend including an employee Net Promoter Score (NPS or eNPS) question in pulse surveys. eNPS can serve as the simple starting point or even a bellwether for the tracking of company culture. The use of a single consistent metric helps to focus leadership – driving the meaningful conversations and decisions that improve culture.

company culture

2. Increase in engagement rates and better data

A clear and systematic employee feedback plan can have a considerable impact on survey engagement. With a minimal number of questions and a simple, pleasing format, pulse surveys usually generate more responses than typical extended employee engagement surveys.

Time is a valuable commodity, and longer surveys see lower response rates. Plus, when there’s only one employee survey a year, survey designers sometimes try to stuff in a lot of  content, which makes things a bit messy.

If you open a survey and find a confusing format, unfocused content, and complex question types, you’re likely to drop out. Simply put: bad surveys get low response rates.

Pulse surveys, however, show up on a regular schedule, focus on a targeted topic, and get straight to the point with the right audience. These surveys work especially well when they’re integrated with an organization’s existing processes. For example, organizations might build a quick daily check-in question on their login screens.

Taking advantage of employees’ routines helps to integrate and normalize feedback collection, leading to strong response rates.

3. Minimize or prevent significant culture issues

The frequency of employee pulse surveys offers organizations a chance to keep up with any trends — and even get ahead of issues before they explode. Whether it’s survey analytics that are beginning to trend negative or concerning employee comments, frequent tidbits of insight can help uncover inner rumblings while there’s still time to take action.

Organizations that are flexible and willing to proactively seek and address concerns are likely to prevent issues that could have immeasurable damage. 

Reports from your survey platform should be smart enough that you don’t need to be a mind reader or get a PhD in Psychology. Robust platforms generate analytics and provide data nuggets that not only identify issues, but help decision-makers identify the best opportunities for improvement.

Resources are often tight, so it’s critical to know how to allocate budget. It might be nice to have cake for every birthday, but results may show that employees would be happier with a monthly or quarterly day of celebration.

Say a company with a higher-than-average churn rate is unable to figure out what the problem is, despite conducting exit interviews and yearly employee engagement surveys. Once the company introduces a weekly pulse survey to ask employees about recent challenges, a trend emerges: poor interdepartmental communication.

Because these surveys were more focused, they captured recent experiences that weren’t necessarily remembered during the annual surveys. Results led to a better real-time understanding, rather than waiting until it was too late.

Collecting suggestions from those impacted allows the company to take action and reduce turnover.

4. Boost in employee trust

A frequent request for feedback can instill a sense of trust in employees by conveying that leadership cares, is listening, and is prepared to adapt.

Beware: Asking for feedback without taking action on the results will backfire. At the least, response rates will drop, and, at worst, trust will be lost. Trust is built over time, and merely sending a regular survey won’t cover all of your bases. 

Pulse surveys should be a part of an ongoing conversation between employees and company leaders that is based on respect, shared vision, and genuine engagement.

TIP: Need help ideating questions to pose in your pulse surveys? Download our free employee satisfaction questions as a jumping-off point for your survey. 

Get free employee satisfaction survey questions Download Now, FREE →

If trust seems to be missing, that’s an important place to start. Listening to team members through formal and informal opportunities can provide plenty of clues about what’s going on. Much of the value from online pulse surveys comes from adhering to the same core tenets of successful in-person employee activities. As silly as some of these activities might seem on the surface, they generally incorporate a wide range of benefits at multiple levels.

As part of a team-building activity, one organization asks employees to indicate their mood for the day by placing a marker on a designated wall of colors. The color they chose indicated their mood, offering employees the chance to (literally) show their true colors.

While the activity is designed as an opportunity for employees to interact and discuss ongoing or upcoming projects, the outcome offers additional benefits for company leaders: a quick walk past the wall provided insights into the mood of the day.

Ideally, an online pulse survey offers the same collaborative benefits as this in-person version while including a remote workforce and improving analytics. Fundamentally, these activities are based on a shared commitment to improvement and feeling that everyone is part of the same ongoing conversation.

Brainstorming sessions with experienced employee engagement partners can generate incredibly innovative and engaging ways to build employee trust through pulse surveys.

5. Cost savings

While it might seem like an extra step to implement, there are also hidden financial benefits in conducting pulse surveys.

Imagine an employee takes one minute to respond to a weekly pulse survey. Through the year, that’s less than an hour of the employee’s time.

Meanwhile, consider all of the (hopefully metaphorical) fires that can devour the time and energy of multiple teams and management layers within an organization. By the time they’ve hit their peak, employees can easily be pulled off their intended course for hours or days.

Taking the time to ask the right people the right questions saves time, money, and resources. It might seem simplistic, but we rarely get answers to questions we don’t ask.

Employee pulse surveys help turn “shoulda known” to “known” in time for company leaders to take action and avoid productivity-crushing disasters. Plus, consider the cost of disengaged employees. Low engagement and motivation lead to decreased productivity and increased churn, which means more time and money spent on recruiting, hiring, training, etc.

6. Measure impact of changes over time

With a commitment to consistent feedback collection, pulse surveys can uncover invaluable insights from trends in employee experience over time.

Consider an employee engagement survey to be a deep dive, for example, including questions about several different dimensions: communication, leadership, work environment, and so on.

Separating these elements into regular pulse surveys allows for a more real-time understanding of how organizational changes are impacting critical items like employee dedication, morale, and productivity.

Pulse surveys are an essential monitoring tool and help to proactively uncover factors previously unknown to leadership. The longer the commitment, the more data points to evaluate. Like someone – or a lot of people – once said: knowledge is power. 

TIP: It's time to find the best survey software to help you thoughtfully engage your employees. See the top-rated solutions on G2. 

See the best FREE survey software →

Checklist for optimal execution 

The following checklist will help you with executing your employee pulse surveys. 

Don’t ditch employee engagement surveys

Pulse surveys should complement, not replace, your annual surveys. They should be more narrowly focused, while annual check-ins can address a wider variety of related topics. 

Identify participants

Determine who you need to hear from based upon the information you want, not the other way around.

Identify participants’ demographics 

Consider whether you’ll need to be able to break down your reports into specific groups (by location, department, tenure, etc.). If your surveys are not anonymous, you can pre-fill some of these fields, but be careful not to get too carried away. Whether or not you pre-populate demographics information, be sure to prioritize participants’ comfort level to minimize trust issues and ensure candid responses.

Plan effectively

Identify the purpose of your survey and build your questions around the topic, not the other way around.

Hone in

Keep questions focused on your topic – whether it’s benefits, communication, or work-life balance.

Clarity is king

Ensure questions are clear, direct, and unbiased. 

Short and sweet

Include fewer than five questions.

Customize audience experience

For the employees you’ll be surveying, consider their availability, preferred communication channels, language(s), and priorities. Customize their experience accordingly to boost responses.

Timing

Ensure fresh data by automatically expiring pulse surveys on the same day they’re sent. 

Frequency

Whether it’s weekly, monthly, or something in between, find what works best for your organization and stick with it.

Consistency

Plenty of variables can impact your findings (Are you happier on Mondays or Fridays?), so be sure to set a regular schedule to minimize the impact. There might not be anything special about the second Wednesday of the month, but that might mean it’s the perfect time to launch.

Let it be known

Announce your survey endeavors in advance of kick-off and be sure to answer the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) question to proactively and positively impact employee participation.

Analyze responses

Pulse surveys provide a unique look under the hood of the car (if you will), so be sure to take advantage of all the data available. If you’ve engaged with a true feedback management partner, you’ll benefit from reports that help you understand the relationship between individual drivers and overall engagement. 

Act on it

Begin a deeper conversation by rolling out employee pulse surveys, but don’t stop there. If findings don’t lead to results, employee participation, motivation, and engagement will plummet. Not acting on answers received is worse than not asking in the first place.

Takeaways

The concept of employee pulse surveys is not a new idea, but it is only recently that there has there been adaptation as a regular practice. It’s the combination of employers who recognize the need for ongoing feedback coupled with technology evolution that has enabled consistent implementation.

As organizations compete for top talent, those that prioritize and adapt to employee experience-centric activities will surely have a leg up.

With a few best practices, smart technology, and strong partners, employee pulse surveys are an ideal place to start.

Discover the highest-rated employee engagement software solutions to get your company on track to best keep your employees' feelings and thoughts in consideration. Want more related content? Learn how to create a core values list for your company and why it's so important to do so. 

Elizabeth Klinetobe
Author

Elizabeth Klinetobe

Elizabeth is the Director of Product Marketing at SoGoSurvey, a survey and enterprise feedback management platform. She has lived in Northern Virginia for more than 15 years, where her work has covered the full marketing spectrum. Her thirst for variety is also reflected in her eclectic taste in candy, appreciation of NoVa's seasons, and passion for SoGoSurvey’s ever-expanding array of business solutions.