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What Is an Employee Pulse Survey and How Do You Use Them?

Hearing what your employees think about important workplace issues helps you make decisions and improvements. An employee pulse survey is a quick way to get the targeted feedback you can use to make decisions. Understanding what employee pulse surveys are and how to do them well makes them a potentially powerful tool for your organization.

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What is an employee pulse survey?

A pulse survey is a quick, targeted survey for employees to share their opinions. Organizations typically repeat employee pulse surveys regularly, often multiple times per year.

The idea is to track fluctuating opinions from your employees on the topics covered by the surveys. They can help you decide where you focus your attention and resources to best meet your employees’ needs.

Benefits of using employee pulse surveys

Gathering feedback from employees helps you better understand the workplace environment, including where you need to make changes to improve. The increased frequency of pulse surveys gives them an advantage. Assessing employee opinions once per year isn’t as effective and can cause you to miss opportunities for improvement.

Using pulse surveys offers many benefits, including:

  • Quick measurements: The brief format of pulse surveys makes them easy to perform. They don’t consume a lot of your employees’ time, but they still offer useful data.
  • Analysis of changes: When you implement an organizational change, getting feedback from employees helps you assess how it’s affecting their satisfaction. Because pulse surveys are easy to perform regularly, you can monitor how your workers adapt to the changes.
  • Identify issues early: Pulse surveys let you check in with employees regularly, so you might notice early warning signs of a problem before it gets out of control. It could alert you to an issue that’s slowing down production or a potential safety issue. This allows you to address those issues early.
  • Improved engagement: Doing pulse surveys and acting on the feedback can increase employee engagement. Workers respond well when they see that their employer cares about their opinion and uses it to make the workplace better.
  • Gather meaningful data: These surveys let you get real feedback directly from employees. It’s an organized way to find out how your employees feel about various topics.
  • Encourage communication: Pulse surveys give you concrete data, but they might also help you gather more information in the future. They help establish open communication with staff, which can encourage employees to feel comfortable sharing with you.
  • Establish a positive feedback loop: Gathering opinions from employees and using them to make changes establishes a positive feedback loop. Pulse surveys are an easy way to do that.

Data pulse surveys can measure

Employee pulse surveys can measure any issues you want to understand better. They don’t cover a specific topic and can be tailored to anything in the workplace. Some examples include:

  • Recent changes
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Safety
  • Customer service
  • Company values
  • Engagement
  • Communication
  • Work environment or company culture
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Training
  • Leadership
  • Overall performance
  • Development opportunities

The most effective pulse surveys cover areas that you’re changing or want to improve on, as well as those that will have an impact on your organization. The survey data serves as a guide for those areas.

Types of questions to ask

You can use a variety of question types in your surveys, as long as they fit the goal of the survey. You can include open-ended questions if you want more input from employees, or you can use multiple choice and rating scales. These options are easier to calculate and take less time to evaluate, but open-ended questions can give you more depth in the information you gather.

Creating a pulse survey

The purpose of your survey and the specific data you want to collect need to be clear before you create your survey. This allows you to create questions that accurately gather that information. Pulse surveys should be short—typically less than 10 questions, and often closer to five.

Every question needs to be targeted to gather specific data to ensure it’s valuable. Determine how frequently you plan to do the pulse survey and how you’ll distribute it. Then, create a plan for collecting, evaluating and using the data.

Best practices for pulse surveys

The following employee pulse survey best practices help you use this tool effectively.

Keep surveys short

The point of a pulse survey is to be a short, quick check-in with employees. If the survey is longer than 10 to 15 questions, your employees will likely get sick of doing the surveys regularly. Longer surveys also take more work for you to gather and analyze the data.

Stick to relevant questions

Stick to questions that directly address the topic, and avoid adding extra questions that you might also want to know the answers to. Pulse surveys are designed to assess one specific topic, not every aspect of the workplace. After creating the questions, review them to ensure they relate well to the topic and will provide useful data.

Use pulse survey tools

Pulse survey software makes the task of performing the routine polls easier. The features vary, but these tools can help you create the survey and allow employees to complete it online. The software collects the data for you, making it easier to analyze the results.

Communicate the purpose

Employees are more willing to participate in pulse surveys when they understand why you’re doing them. They might be suspicious of why you’re gathering their feedback if you’re not upfront. Some employees might think you want to get the dirt on other employees or use the information to crack down on the staff.

Let them know you’re doing the surveys to improve the work environment. Tell them whether the survey is anonymous or confidential, so they understand how their responses will be viewed. Give them an idea of how often they can expect the surveys, so they’re not surprised when they get the same survey again.

If you use the feedback to make changes, let your employees know the decision was made based on their feedback. This shows them that you’re listening to what they say.

Be prepared to act

Ensure you have the time and resources to dedicate to analyzing each employee pulse survey before you do one. It’s a waste of everyone’s time if you don’t follow up on the data you collect.

Employees might not take the surveys seriously if you never take action. Since the surveys happen more frequently, you need to act fast to implement the ideas before the next pulse survey.

Align them with company goals

Effective pulse surveys align with your company goals in some way. They should support the direction of your company to help you grow and become more competitive. For example, if one of your goals is to improve your recruitment processes, pulse surveys on company culture can help guide you on perfecting the work environment to attract more applicants.

FAQs about employee pulse surveys

How often should you do pulse surveys?

Pulse surveys typically happen multiple times per year, with monthly and quarterly timing being common. The exact timing varies based on what you’re measuring. You might do pulse surveys throughout the year for different topics. Consider how frequently your employees’ opinions might change on the topic you’re measuring. If the opinions don’t change often, you can space the surveys out longer. For example, an employee’s opinion on their pay might not change from month to month, but it might fluctuate around employee review time when they find out whether or not they get a raise. Opinions on the workload or interactions with coworkers might change more often since those things are dynamic.

How do you use pulse survey results?

Your first pulse survey establishes your baseline data. It helps you determine the current state and identify areas for improvement. Once you start gathering data, determine how you can improve the answers to those questions. For example, if you get low scores on a question asking them to rate how transparent and supportive the management team is with employees, you know you need to focus on improving manager and employee relationships. Look for common themes or trends in the results to identify company-wide concerns.

Are employee pulse surveys anonymous?

You can decide whether you want the pulse surveys to be anonymous. Making them anonymous can get more honest feedback. Some employees are nervous about being completely honest if the answers can be traced back to them. However, anonymous surveys make it impossible to see how the opinions of individuals change over time, and you can’t follow up with individuals to gather more information or clarify issues with them. Whatever you decide, ensure employees know if you’ll connect their personal information to their survey.

How are pulse surveys different from other employee surveys?

An employee pulse survey is usually shorter and happens more frequently than other types of employee surveys. They tend to target a specific topic related to a specific objective or initiative you’re working on as a company. They can also help you gauge reactions to recent changes, while more involved employee surveys often focus on overall opinions.

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