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What Questions to Ask on an Employee Pulse Survey

4 min read
Any pulse survey program will represent an investment of time from your employees and your resources, so you should focus on measuring only things that are relevant, and important to your organisation.

Pulse is just another mechanism to listen to employees more frequently. There are no rules about what you should ask, so your questions will depend entirely on your goals. We suggest starting with the organisation’s strategic priorities, then considering the HR department’s goals.

Focus attention on each area with questions that will inform how performance against each is changing over time.

Make sure every question in your pulse contributes to your goal in some way – strip out any ‘nice to have’ items and avoid the temptation to throw in unrelated questions.

And most importantly, keep your survey heavily weighted toward action. If you can’t take action on a specific question, consider whether you really need it.

The best way to achieve this is to get the right mix of outcome, driver and open text questions.

Outcome, Driver and Open Text – The Types of Questions

There are 3 main types of questions in an employee survey:

  • Outcome – also known as a ‘tracker item’, this is the thing you are interested in measuring – for example, engagement or eNPS. Usually, you want to see the scores for this item trending upwards over time.
  • Drivers – These are the company practices or behaviours that have an impact, for better or worse, on the item you’re tracking. For example, a driver of eNPS could be whether employees have the right level of training or whether their manager supports them in managing their workload. Sometimes these can be hard to identify – you may have an idea of what key drivers influence an item, but without statistical analysis, it may just be an assumption.

As a rule, outcome items are not actionable, whereas driver items should always be actionable

  • Open text – Open text allows your employees to write their own responses, adding valuable depth to your insights. Sticking with the example above, you may ask an open-ended question like ‘Why would/wouldn’t you recommend this company to family and friends?’ or ‘What training do you think is missing for your role?’ The qualitative data you get back can be really useful in adding context to the quantitative data from your item and driver questions. In the past, open analyses hard to analyse, but artificial intelligence and natural language processing have come a long way to help mine open text for insights through today’s text analytics software.

Pulse Survey Question Structure

When thinking about the structure of your survey, we recommend using the 70:20:10 rule of thumb

  • ~75% Driver or “Actionable” items
  • ~15% Outcome items
  • ~10% Open-text items

The majority of your pulse should be actionable items. It’s tempting to throw in more ‘outcomes’ so you can report scores back to the organisation, but ultimately, as ‘interesting’ as an outcome is, you can’t take action on it.

For example, if you know a key driver of people recommending the company as a place to work to family and friends is employees’ ability to try out new things that interest them in their role, what’s more useful to you – knowing your score for the outcome, or identifying the improvements you can make to the key driver?

As a final note, when looking at your pulse survey items, you may want to consider anchoring them around a specific time period (e.g. “Last quarter” or “Last month”. This is particularly useful when you are asking employees to respond to a survey item on a regular basis.

FIND OUT MORE: How Often Should I Run My Employee Pulse Survey?

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