April 5, 2024

What is a Pulse Survey?

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Tags: HR

Key takeaways

  • Pulse surveys are short lists of focused questions that track fast-moving trends and collect immediate feedback from employees.
  • Pulse survey questions should have clear goals to avoid wasting employees’ time and prevent survey fatigue.

Apr. 5, 2024: Avery Komlofske rewrote the article to provide an overview of pulse surveys and how they should be used to collect employee feedback.

Pulse survey definition

As the name suggests, a pulse survey is a short questionnaire intended to gauge your employees’ thoughts, opinions, and reactions at critical moments. Pulse surveys supplement annual employee engagement surveys with quicker, more targeted responses on a recurring basis.

The ideal length of a pulse survey is relative to its frequency — the more often it’s distributed, the shorter it should be. Sparkbay, an employee engagement platform, recommends no more than five questions for a bi-weekly survey, 10 for a monthly survey, and 15 for a quarterly one.

Pros

  • Higher response rate: An employee is much more likely to find a shorter set of questions to be worth their limited time, so pulse surveys tend to have a higher response rate than other surveys.
  • Shorter response time: A survey of five to 10 questions, most of which involve rating statements on a scale of agreement, takes much less time than your average employee engagement survey.
  • Feedback is immediately relevant: Pulse surveys capture employees’ immediate responses to events and announcements while the information is still fresh in their minds.
  • Promotes trust and transparency: When implemented correctly, pulse surveys offer a reliable channel for employees to provide honest upward feedback.

Cons

  • Survey fatigue: If you administer pulse surveys too frequently, you may receive absentminded responses and fewer total responses over time.
  • Can feel pointless if not acted upon: Employees may become discouraged or disengaged if they feel their survey responses are not taken seriously.
  • Requires thoughtfully crafted questions: When you have a limited number of questions to gauge sentiment, each one must be worded carefully to be effective and efficient.

When should you use a pulse survey?

When your organization rolls out a new initiative, pilots a program, or hosts an event, employees’ immediate reactions provide the clearest evidence of what went well and what could have gone better. A pulse survey measures this response before it’s tempered by time and distance, making it the most valuable insight for future decision-making.

Recurring pulse surveys that ask standardized questions take snapshots of how your employees feel about a particular priority at any given moment. They may be designed to monitor faith in leadership, meaningfulness of work, effectiveness of DEI strategies, work-life balance, and similar metrics. In many cases, a pulse survey acts as an early alarm system; when employee sentiment starts declining, you can take necessary measures to investigate the cause and develop a proactive strategy to course-correct.

If the results of your company’s annual employee survey are surprising, confusing, or inconclusive, a pulse survey is an excellent way to get clarification. For example, if the annual survey asks employees to rank the company’s perks in order of importance, you may discover that the least-popular perk is not the one you anticipated. A pulse survey lets you ask a series of pointed follow-up questions to understand why employees don’t like that perk and whether there is something else that might be more favorable.

Pulse survey best practices

Administer pulse surveys no more frequently than bi-weekly. Consider how often the metric you are tracking with your survey needs to be measured, and adjust the survey’s frequency accordingly.

The more frequently you put out your surveys, the fewer questions they should have; a bi-weekly survey should have no more than 5 questions, or you risk survey fatigue.

Your team wants to know that their feedback matters. No matter how you end up using the survey data, it’s important to share what you learned and explain what impact the results will have on the company.

What questions should be on a pulse survey?

Before crafting any questions, you must determine what kind of information you’re looking to gather from your pulse survey. What metric are you trying to track? What kind of feedback will be most valuable? Once you’ve identified those goals, you can determine whether the combination of questions will provide the right data.

Most often, questions on a pulse survey ask employees to rate a statement or idea on a Likert scale to represent how much they agree or disagree. As long as the questions are worded appropriately, the responses are objective data points that leave little room for bias — employee responses that lean consistently in one direction are difficult to dismiss as outliers or special cases. However, it is good practice to include at least one open-ended question that asks employees to contextualize their quantified responses with qualitative data.

For recurring pulse surveys, it’s best to keep the questions as consistent as possible from one iteration to the next. Even small changes in wording can affect a person’s perception of what a question is asking, which inevitably affects how they respond. Avoid unnecessary variables by using the same pulse survey template each time.

Sample questions

  • How often do you receive meaningful recognition from your manager?
  • On a scale of one to five, how satisfied are you with your level of responsibility at work?
  • Does this company value diversity? Please explain your answer.
  • To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “I believe the company is headed in the right direction.”
  • Do you see yourself working here 5 years from now?

Further reading: How to Measure Employee Satisfaction

Top pulse survey tools

Crafting questions and manually delivering surveys to employees every other week would take a lot of time and effort. Even basic free tools like Google Forms and Jotform usually become impractical for anything more than the occasional questionnaire. Thankfully, there are plenty of tools that handle the heavy lifting of designing pulse surveys, distributing them across the company, and interpreting employees’ responses.

Officevibe

Officevibe has a friendly, graphical UI that adds playful elements to the pulse survey experience. Its curated, customizable survey questions provide a jumpstart for a range of scenarios, including options for DEIB pulse surveys. Furthermore, Officevibe’s automated data analysis and eNPS tracking lighten the manual effort involved with monitoring and interpreting results.

Officevibe displays an anonymous survey question that asks the participant how much they agree with the statement "I feel like I am part of a team."
Source: Officevibe

Xoxoday Empuls

Xoxoday Empuls divides its survey questions into four key areas, making it easier to target specific metrics with strategic questions about employees’ connectedness, safety and wellness, growth opportunities, and professional relationships. Then, when the survey window closes, Xoxoday Empuls has built-in recommendations for actions to take based on the insight you receive.

Xoxoday Empuls displays pulse survey questions that ask the reader whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly agree with several statements, including "I can count on my team for any help I require" and "I am satisfied with my appraisal process."
Source: empuls.io

Qualtrics

Qualtrics supports advanced survey techniques like random or stratified sampling and automated touchpoints, but the guided survey setup process is surprisingly simple and fast. Likewise, the software’s flexible analytics dashboards and reporting tools adapt to provide the most relevant and valuable information for each user.

Qualtrics displays a dashboard of pulse survey responses that interprets employee engagement over time.
Source: Qualtrics

TINYpulse

TINYpulse’s cloaked messaging feature allows managers of large teams to communicate with employees about their answers without compromising anonymity. It also has built-in peer recognition opportunities and a real-time dashboard that populates once the number of responses reaches a certain threshold.

TINYpulse displays three dashboard widgets that offer insight based on pulse survey results in real time.
Source: TINYpulse

SurveySparrow

SurveySparrow uses a conversational interface to eliminate friction when developing a pulse survey program. At the outset, you can configure automated distribution schedules and reminder emails to optimize response rates. The best part is that SurveySparrow has a free version that allows for up to 100 responses per month — an excellent option for small businesses that need more functionality than the basic free tools can offer.

SurveySparrow displays a dialogue box to create a pulse survey reminder email for employees who haven't responded after one week and recipients who have partially responded after three days.
Source: SurveySparrow

To discover other options for deploying employee surveys, check out Jessica Dennis’ expert roundup of the 5 Best Employee Survey Tools.

Where do pulse surveys fit in your company?

Pulse surveys are an incredibly useful tool, but they’re not the bottom line of employee engagement. Use them as a piece of the puzzle, rather than assuming they represent the whole picture.

No matter when, how, or why you administer pulse surveys, the most important thing is what you do with the results. For pulse surveys to actually work, you must take the feedback you receive seriously, create actionable plans with clear goals to implement changes, and clearly communicate what you are doing so your employees know they aren’t wasting their breath.

To learn about other tools you can add to your employee engagement tool belt, check out our shortlist of the Best Employee Engagement Software.


Avery Komlofske Avatar

About the author


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1 Deel

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