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Pulse survey questions: what should I ask our employees?

9 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.


What are pulse surveys?

Organisations must keep up with the pace of technology and workplace innovations, and to do this, more frequent employee feedback is needed. Cue the emergence of employee pulse surveys, which are a valuable tool for listening to employees and gathering feedback more frequently. They’re not intended to replace the in-depth annual employee engagement survey; rather, use them to sound out smaller, more urgent issues or specific needs. The responses you collect should be both quick and actionable. Pulse surveys are much shorter than engagement surveys. The questions and their length varies, based on the frequency of the pulse; it’s different for weekly, monthly or quarterly pulses.

What kinds of question should I put in a pulse survey?

There are no rules about what you should ask, which makes pulse surveys so versatile. Your questions will depend entirely on the goal you want to achieve. We suggest starting with your organisation’s strategic priorities, then the HR department’s goals.

Every question in your pulse should contribute to your goal in some way – strip out any ‘nice to have’ items and avoid the temptation to throw in unrelated questions.

Make sure your questions apply to all your respondents. People lose patience trying to answer questions that don’t apply to them, and fudge or abandon the survey.

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

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The right question mix

The way to get the best out of your pulse survey is to ensure a balanced mix of the three main types of questions – outcome, driver and open text:

  • Outcome: also known as a ‘tracker item’. This is what you are interested in measuring, e.g. engagement or eNPS – “How likely are you to recommend (your employer) to a colleague or friend?” Usually, you’ll want to see the scores for this trending upwards over time. As a rule, outcome items themselves are not actionable.
  • Driver: These are the company practices or behaviours that have an impact (positive or negative) on the item you’re tracking. For example, drivers of eNPS could be: “Do you believe you have the right level of training?” or “Do you believe your manager supports you in managing your 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. Driver items should always be actionable.

  • Open text – Open text lets employees write in their own responses to open-ended questions, adding valuable depth to your insights. Sticking with the example above, you may follow the outcome and drivers questions with an open-ended question for the respondent to fill in, such as, “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 will be useful in adding context to the quantitative data from your outcome and driver questions. Artificial intelligence, sentiment analysis and text analytics software now make mining insights from open text effortless.

Structuring your pulse surveys

We recommend using the 70:20:10 rule of thumb structure:

  • ~70% Driver/actionable items
  • ~20% Outcome items
  • ~10% Open-text items

Most 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, interesting as outcomes are, you can’t take action on them.

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

Finally, 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.

Categories of pulse survey questions, with examples

Here’s our (non-exhaustive) list of things you can gauge with a pulse survey, with some example questions to get you thinking. You really can ask anything you believe to be important. Structure your survey with the 70:20:10 rule, always leaving an open text box for free comment.

Follow up to the annual employee engagement survey

  1. Were you informed of the results of the survey?
  2. Did you notice that management took positive action as a result of the survey?
  3. Do you have any other comments about the annual survey?

Workplace culture

  1. Do you feel cared for by our company?
  2. Do you feel you have the right work/life balance?
  3. Describe our culture in three words.

Resources (tangible)

  1. Do you have the right environment to complete your work well?
  2. Do you have the right tech, tools, software, equipment to complete your work well?
  3. How can we improve our resources?

Resources (intangible)

  1. Can you access the information you need to complete your work well?
  2. Do you have the skills necessary to complete your work well?
  3. What skills or training do you need?

Management

  1. Is your manager approachable?
  2. Do you feel supported by your manager?
  3. Are there things your manager could do differently?

Growth and development

  1. Do you have enough learning opportunities in your job?
  2. Does your work align with your career goals?
  3. What new responsibilities would you like to take on?

Compliance and legal

  1. Is the workplace safe?
  2. Is your working environment comfortable?
  3. Have you ever been discriminated against at work?

Diversity and inclusion

  1. Do you feel we are welcoming to people of different backgrounds, beliefs and characteristics here?
  2. Do you feel everybody’s opinion is valuable?
  3. How can we be more inclusive?

Training

  1. How useful was the training you received?
  2. How engaging was the trainer?
  3. What other training would you like to be available?

Wellbeing and resilience

  1. How supported do you feel in your mental health?
  2. Do you feel the company takes your wellbeing seriously?
  3. Do you know how to ask for help?

Communication

  1. How well do our company communications keep you informed?
  2. Are you clear about what is expected of you?
  3. How could we communicate better?

Team dynamics

  1. Do you feel connected with your team?
  2. Do you feel the workload is evenly spread across the team?
  3. What could the team do better?

Customer focus

  1. Do you feel able to make on-the-spot decisions to help solve customer issues?
  2. Do you feel you have had the right training to give the best customer service?
  3. Have there been occasions when we haven’t put the customer first?

And just for fun…

  1. Do you like the new logo?
  2. What should we do for our upcoming team events?
  3. Do you think we should offer company swag to people’s pets?

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