Pulse surveys: a quickfire guide for HR professionals

Performance Management

With every business looking for effective ways to retain their best staff and attract the brightest talent, pulse surveys have proven a simple yet vital method of collecting targeted employee feedback.

The best thing about them is that they are quick and easy to run, and the feedback can be about virtually anything, from overall job satisfaction, to communications, workplace relationships, the working environment… the sky’s the limit!

pulse survey online tablet

In short, they help HR teams keep their finger on the pulse of what’s going on within an organisation; helping you to identify and address any issues or concerns before they become a major problem.

What is an employee pulse survey?

Employee pulse surveys help HR teams and businesses get quick, targeted feedback from employees about specific issues. They’re short questionnaires – often only between 5-15 questions – that are sent to employees on a regular basis and contain a consistent set of questions. They can be extremely useful in helping track employee engagement and sentiment throughout a year.

What’s so good about a pulse survey?

Because of their short, sharp nature, a pulse survey provides timely, accurate information to HR teams. They can make employees feel more valued and allow HR to identify trends and act more rapidly on feedback.

Pulse surveys also tend to have a much higher employee response rate compared to engagement surveys, with response rates typically around 85% compared to 30-40% for a longer engagement survey. These higher response rates mean data will be more representative, so can provide a better understanding of employee sentiment throughout the year and can foster a more cohesive company culture.

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What are the key advantages of a pulse survey?

  • Quick for staff to complete

Because a pulse survey is very short and simple, employees don’t need to set aside a great deal of time to complete them. This means they’ll not only be inclined to take part in them, but they’ll also be likely to provide more honest answers.

  • More meaningful staff insights

Regular pulse surveys help you to get a better understanding of what motivates your employees throughout the year. Your engagement surveys may give you an overarching view as to your employee’s thoughts on a certain subject, but a pulse survey can let you investigate whether their opinions change over a period of time (for instance, in spring compared to winter).

  • More relevant employee feedback

As employee pulse surveys are sent out regularly, you’ll receive a ‘real time’ insight into what employees are thinking…

  • A more engaged workforce

Frequent short pulse surveys show your staff that you value their opinions and want to engage with them. Of course, it’s not just enough to collect feedback – it has to be acted on, too!

  • More open communications

Lastly, a pulse survey can be anonymous. By demonstrating to your employees that you want to hear what they think, even if you don’t know their identity, they’ll be more comfortable giving you their honest feedback.

What should I avoid when running pulse surveys?

Although there can be fantastic benefits to carrying out regular pulse surveys, you need to be aware of the following:

  • Too many will dampen their effectiveness

There is no blanket answer as to how many pulse surveys an organisation should do over the course of the year – after all, every company is different! Having said that, too many too often can water down their effectiveness or even lead to survey apathy.

  • Too many questions can reduce engagement

It can be tempting to add more questions to gain more feedback. However, pulse surveys work best when they’re short, to the point and easy for the user to complete.

  • Keep your questions consistent

Pulse surveys are designed to measure employee sentiment over time, so you can see what changes from one month or one quarter to the next. This only works if you stick with the same set of questions. Of course, that doesn’t mean your surveys are set in stone forever, but think carefully before you make changes.

  • They’re meaningless without actions

If the survey results suggest that something has to change, you must act. Ignoring this kind of feedback or opinions may discourage employees from taking part in any future surveys.

  • The wrong questions will fail to provide the insights you want

Pulse surveys may be simple in principle, but you’ll need to ensure their questions are goal-focused and completely relevant to what you’re looking to learn more about.

Can pulse surveys help measure an organisation’s employee Net Promoter Score?

Pulse surveys are invaluable when it comes to measuring employee Net Promoter Score (or eNPS).

All you need to do is include a question, such as “How likely are you to recommend our company as a good place to work”, and ask employees to respond using a scale of 0-10, with 0 the least likely to recommend.

The eNPS score is worked out by first grouping the responses into three categories, Detractors (0-6), Passives (7-8) and Promoters (9-10), and then subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. A score higher than 30 is generally considered to be good. Less than 30, and you’ve some work to do.

Ideally, you also want to ask employees why they gave the answer they did, so that it’s easier to identify what you are doing right, and what needs improving.

How do I run a successful pulse survey?

In order to run a successful pulse survey, you should take the following steps:

  1. Define the goal and desired outcome of the survey
    Give careful consideration as to what you’re looking to achieve with your survey and how the questions can help you to reach your goal. And don’t forget this is intended as a quick and easy survey, so don’t exceed more than 15 questions in total.
  1. Announce the survey
    It’s essential to raise awareness of the survey, why you’re doing it and how it will benefit your employees. This will encourage participation and maximise employee engagement. A good way to do this can be through an HR portal or shared workspace. Follow this link to learn more about HR portals.
  1. Start the survey
    Make sure you send your survey to all your recipients at the same time. Using an HR software solution with pulse survey functionality can make this process incredibly easy – as it should let you can build the survey within your HR software, select the employees you want to take your survey and then send the survey directly to them all without having to leave the HR platform.
  1. Review your responses
    Once you have received responses to your survey, you can begin analysing the data and responses you’ve received. Ideally, your HR system or pulse survey tool will do the work for you, generating charts and letting you drill down into the data behind your respondent’s answers while measuring engagement over time.
  1. Act on the insights you receive
    Use the data you collect to refine any of your organisation’s associated workforce strategies. Remember that pulse surveys are only ever truly effective when the results are acknowledged and, if needed, acted upon by employers .
  1. Evaluate the success of your survey
    Did you get the engagement you expected? What could be done to improve the number of responses? Did the answers lead to demonstrable actions?
  1. Refine, repeat, and don’t stop!
    Always aim to build on your engagement with each survey you implement. While you should always keep the same questions, you can apply small, incremental changes to other areas, such as the answer types (for example, do questions that have sliding scales receive better answer engagement than ones with star ratings?), when you send them, or the communications you use to announce them.

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