What is an Employee Pulse Survey?

4 min read
Pulse surveys are becoming increasingly popular in the realm of employee feedback. Most people associate them with being shorter and more frequent than an annual engagement survey, but a lot of confusion still exists about what the term “pulse survey” exactly means.

Pulse Survey Is An Ambiguous Term

In our experience, the term “pulse” is often used to refer to everything that’s not an annual or bi-annual engagement survey. This can lead to confusion about what this survey type actually is and when to effectively use it as part of an employee listening program.

Pulse surveys are just one of a number of different employee feedback mechanisms you could choose to use outside of an engagement survey. Through our years of experience working with organisations on their survey programs, we’ve come up with a checklist to help companies define whether pulses should be their best-fitting approach.

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Shorter, More Frequent Check-Ins

It’s a pulse survey if it:

  • Tracks the same item over time (for example, “How likely are you to recommend your company as a place to work to people you know?”)
  • Is considerably shorter than an engagement survey and easier to complete
  • Is more frequent than traditional measures surveys (i.e., more than once a year)
  • Happens at a regular time interval (most organisations use them quarterly or monthly)

Pulse surveys are growing in popularity, not only because they are shorter and reduce the amount of time it takes employees to give their feedback, but also because they introduce a new dimension to results analysis: time.

Where an annual engagement survey is a once-a-year snapshot of your employees’ engagement, pulses allow you to track items month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter so you can check in (and react) more regularly, plot trends over time, and start to link improvements back to actions you’ve taken in the organisation.

FIND OUT MORE: Why run a pulse survey?

What Can a Pulse Survey Measure?

The short answer is anything! Pulse surveys are a feedback method that is not content-specific. What you ask should be tailored to your organisation’s priorities, goals, and what you need to track.

In fact, the only content-related mandate for a pulse is to have some consistency, so you’re able to track the same item over a period of time and see how it changes from one month or quarter to the next.

With that said, we do see synergies in the types of content organisations choose to measure with their employee pulse surveys.

Below are a couple of the more common uses we see:

  • Engagement Pulse (completely replacing the annual engagement survey): a pulse survey that includes a shorter (maybe only 2-3 items) measure of employee engagement, along with measures of the core drivers of engagement (autonomy, career progression, alignment to strategy)
  • Action Planning Follow-Up Pulse (run in conjunction with the annual Engagement survey): A pulse to monitor the action plans set after your annual engagement survey with structured, regular feedback to help you measure progress and make changes to your plans, should you need to.

In addition to the above, some organisations choose to track whether their company values are truly being “lived” in the organisation (sometimes forming part of a broader culture initiative), or check in on employee sentiment more regularly through an organisational change program.

Once a need for pulse surveys has been identified, they can be a valuable tool to bring the voice of employees into business decisions more regularly which will enhance the overall employee experience.

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