Employee Pulse Surveys, What You Need to Know

Are you considering an employee pulse survey? Few would debate the notion that keeping fingers on the pulse of the organization is critical to business success. At DecisionWise, we’ve been running employee engagement surveys for over 20 years, and never has it been clearer that business results can be directly tied to the employee experience. In fact, we go as far as to say the Customer Experience (CX) is a direct result of the Employee Experience (EX). In other words, CX = EX. Understanding that experience, then, becomes an important priority in business success.

Download: Employee Pulse Survey Sample

DecisionWise research of over 200 global companies shows that two-thirds of organizations claim to formally measure employee engagement on a regular basis and have specific initiatives to address their findings. 85% of organizations indicate that they are either currently measuring employee engagement or have plans to do so in the near future. The question is no longer one of if an organization should gather feedback, but how that feedback should be gathered.
Employee Pulse Survey

What is an Employee Pulse Survey?

Called pulse surveys because they frequently measure the employee engagement levels or, “take the pulse” of an organization or group. Employee pulse surveys are helpful tools in gauging progress, warning of potential dangers, understanding trends in the employee experience, and promoting action. Pulse surveys share many similarities with spot surveys, but with two key differentiators:
1. They occur at regular or planned intervals, or with planned groups, and generally involve large pockets of the organization’s population (if not all employees).
2. Employee pulse surveys are often intentional follow-ups or supplements to other employee surveys. Pulses surveys sometimes ride the coattails of annual employee engagement anchor surveys or other employee pulse surveys, in that they serve as a great way to quickly drill down for more specific information or follow up on areas that need to be addressed.

Using Employee Pulse Surveys in the Feedback Journey

In the quest to provide more frequent and valuable employee feedback, DecisionWise recommends supplementing an annual employee engagement survey with more frequent employee pulse surveys. Pulse surveys are helpful tools in gauging progress, understanding trends in the employee experience and promoting action.

Employee pulse surveys often ride the coattails of an annual employee survey (we call these “anchor surveys”), in that they serve as a great way to drill down for more specific information. Pulse surveys occur at regular or planned intervals, with planned groups, and generally, involve large segments of the organization’s population.

For example, if an employee engagement survey occurs each year, and results clearly show managers aren’t taking the time to give employees feedback about their performance, the organization may implement processes that encourage (or demand) managers to provide feedback more often. Rather than waiting for the next annual or semi-annual employee survey to understand whether these actions have been effective, an employee pulse survey could be administered more frequently to address a specific question, as well as other critical items identified by the annual employee survey.

Download Guide: Best Practices to Measuring Employee Engagement

We know that highly engaged organizations use annual employee engagement surveys to identify three to five specific actions that need to be taken to improve the overall employee experience. They create and execute action plans and follow up with an employee pulse survey to gauge progress. Pulse surveys take the value obtained from the annual employee engagement survey and break it into smaller, more actionable chunks. However, due to their limited length, employee pulse surveys may not provide the comprehensive insight that an organization desires.

Are Employee Pulse Surveys Right for Your Organization?

Employee pulse surveys are effective tools for determining progress on specific initiatives undertaken as a result of a larger survey. By comparing the results of one employee survey to another, an organization can effectively measure whether change has occurred and whether the actions taken are getting results. Employee pulse surveys are designed to get very specific about items identified by the annual employee engagement survey. Because they are surveying the same general population (or sub-sets of that population), you can identify changes or trends for specific manager groups, teams, functions, or divisions.

Employee pulse surveys can be tremendously effective in your feedback arsenal. Here are 2 questions to ask before rolling out employee pulse surveys in your organization:

  1. Are we prepared to act on the employee feedback?

  2. Is the employee pulse survey positioned as a supplement or a replacement survey?

Are We Prepared to Act On the Employee Feedback?

Perhaps the greatest advantage of pulse surveys is also its greatest disadvantage—frequency. Through pulsing, an organization is asking for employee feedback, while telling its employees, “We heard what you said and care enough to see how we’re doing.” Employees hear, “The company intends to act on the feedback we provide, so we can expect to see some changes.”

While this is all very positive for an organization inclined to act on the feedback, a company that continues to survey on issues previously identified, but does little to create change, might be doing more harm than good. Surveying too frequently, particularly with little or no action, is more detrimental than not surveying at all. Employee pulse surveys should not be administered any more frequently than you have the ability to implement action plans.

Is the Employee Pulse Survey Positioned As a Supplement or a Replacement Survey?DecisionWise Employee Engagement Survey on Mobile Phone

Some companies have proposed replacing the annual employee engagement survey with a more frequent employee pulse survey. Can this strategy work? Sure, but while pulse surveys have gained increasing popularity, there are limitations. Remember, employee pulse surveys are not comprehensive, in that they are limited in the number of questions/items addressed, or the groups being surveyed. The response data should be considered as additional insight into understanding the overall employee experience.

DecisionWise recommends that a pulse survey “supplement” the annual employee engagement survey, in order to gauge progress on engagement initiatives. Although regular employee pulse surveys address the need for more frequent feedback, organizations who replace the annual employee engagement survey with more frequent employee pulse surveys sacrifice data quality and lack the ability to completely understand the employee experience.

Employee Engagement Survey Balance

When implementing your employee engagement strategy, remember that balance is key. Your employees want to be heard, and employee pulse surveys provide necessary frequency while the annual employee engagement survey provides the depth. Be strategic in your strategy and never survey any more frequently than you can take action. Remember, your employee experience will drive your customer experience. That makes understanding the employee experience all the more important.
Employee Pulse Survey

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