The Ultimate Guide to Employee Pulse Surveys (2021)

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So you’re looking to gather fast, meaningful insights from your people—enter employee pulse surveys! They’re flexible, targeted… and can be difficult to get right.

But as an invaluable resource in your employee voice toolbox, it’s important to know what employee pulse surveys are, understand why they’re used and have plenty of best practices up your sleeve. So we’ve rounded up exactly that with the help of our People Scientists!

What is an employee pulse survey?

Employee pulse surveys are shorter, more frequent versions of the better-known employee engagement surveys.

Organisations typically send out employee pulse surveys multiple times a year to take a temperature check for a range of different reasons. It could be to get a snapshot of your engagement metrics at a point in time, to collect feedback on changes that have happened in the organisation, to dive into more detail on specific themes—like diversity and inclusion or wellbeing—or anything else that requires specific feedback!

The opportunities with employee pulse surveys are endless, but you’ve still got to do them right.

Why use employee pulse surveys?

Employee pulse surveys have a number of benefits that speak for themselves! They help you to:

  • Spot trends that need immediate attention
  • Measure the impact of recent changes and initiatives in the organisation
  • Send targeted campaigns for specific feedback
  • Create a culture powered by employee voice
  • Gather the insights you need to drive meaningful change
  • Drive new employee engagement strategies that work
  • Provide people with the means to feed back more regularly than larger engagement surveys

What do employee pulse surveys measure?

There’s no simple, short answer to this one.

You can measure anything and everything with employee pulse surveys. It would be quite the task to outline every scenario where you can use a pulse survey, but we can certainly name a few! Here are some of the most popular opportunities employee pulse surveys present:

  • Shape new initiatives: many pulse surveys are focused on specific themes, like diversity and inclusion, employee wellbeing, or ways of working. That’s because those employee insights help to shape new initiatives—whether strictly HR or otherwise!—that are unique to your organisation and your people. It could be a new health and wellbeing strategy, a new hybrid-working policy, a review of employee benefits… there really are so many options.
  • Measure employee experience and engagement: you can use pulse surveys to send out your key measures of employee engagement and employee experience to get a snapshot of that data at a certain point in time. A great use of this is to run quarterly temperature checks to measure how engagement fluctuates over the year to highlight pinch points for your people.
  • Measure the impact of change: we know this sounds broad; change comes in many forms! But with any change happening in your organisation, it’s important to create a tailored question set that helps you to gather feedback from your people on how well the change management process went, as well as checking up on key metrics that help you put measurable numbers to the insights.
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But, as we said, there are so many opportunities with employee pulse surveys that you’re not limited to the above! You can also use them to run targeted campaigns, like a specific group of people who recently went through a new training programme or checking in on new starters.

How to track employee engagement with pulse surveys

One thing most organisations want to do with their employee pulse surveys is track employee engagement. And that’s no surprise! 

We always recommend starting with a larger, baseline measure of first. That measure shows you 1) where your employee engagement metrics are sitting right now, and 2) what an engaged employee really looks like, giving you the main drivers of engagement to focus on.

At Hive, our People Scientists measure employee engagement based on three key metrics: loyalty, pride and advocacy. But because engagement represents something slightly different for different organisations, some choose to add in other measures as well. So it’s important to take the time to figure out exactly what an engaged employee is for your organisation.

With that data and those drivers, you can then create a set of questions that you can include in employee pulse surveys to measure the key metrics over time. You can either:

  1. Send a pulse survey with 10-15 questions based entirely on engagement and experience. Or…
  2. Include a smaller number of questions at the end of other employee pulse surveys to get a really quick snapshot of metrics like loyalty, pride and advocacy. Or,
  3. Simply send a super-short survey of 1-2 questions with the key metrics you want to check in on.

But remember: only take another employee engagement measure when you’ve taken action off the back of previous feedback to understand the impact it’s had on engagement levels.

How long should an employee pulse survey be?

As we say with any employee survey, there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to pulse survey length. But, as a general rule of thumb, our People Scientists recommend that your pulse surveys be 10-15 questions long.

But that totally depends on what you’re trying to achieve! Don’t be afraid to send a 1-2 question survey for fast, specific insights. The main thing to be cautious of is making your surveys too long, especially when you’re sending them regularly, to avoid survey fatigue.

Frequency of employee pulse surveys

The frequency of your employee pulse surveys will be dependent on what you’re trying to achieve. It requires a customised approach, but there are a few things you should bear in mind when creating your survey calendar:

1. Start with a baseline engagement survey

Baseline measure

We know, we covered this earlier! But here’s a reminder to factor in your baseline engagement measure into your surveying calendar on an annual basis. (You can find out more on the what, why and how to run baseline surveys here!)

2. Only survey as fast as you can take meaningful action

Action

It’s better to not ask, than to ask and not act!

The frequency of your surveys should be based on how quickly the key figures in your organisation—leaders and managers—can act on feedback. People will be less likely to respond to a new survey if they haven’t seen any action off the back of the last one, with the exception being if you’re running different surveys around various themes.

Instead of just trying to plot the frequency of your surveys upfront, try creating a more in-depth timeline that includes:

  • When the leadership team will get together to discuss results
  • When leaders will take line managers through the data
  • When line managers will take people through the results
  • When you will share insights and action plans with the wider organisation.

When you’re able to answer all of the above in your survey timeline, you’ll know when it’s the right time to survey again!

3. Only send surveys to the relevant people

Targetted 1

Employee pulse surveys can lend themselves well to more targeted campaigns, rather than always being an organisation-wide survey. So be cautious of who you’re sending your pulse surveys to; you don’t want anyone receiving a question set that’s not relevant to them!

This is where demographic data comes in extremely handy. You can target your campaigns to more specific groups of people, whether that be an individual team who’ve recently implemented changes, a group of people who took part in an event, people who’ve been in the organisation for a certain length of time, and everything else in between—there are plenty of opportunities to get granular.

4. Be flexible with your schedule

Flexibility

Like we just mentioned earlier, your survey schedule should be based on when you’re able to action your feedback. But if a surveying day in your calendar is approaching and you’re yet to action previous feedback, simply push it back and focus on engaging your leaders and managers on driving changes. This is to avoid what we call this survey apathy, where people lose interest because they’ve seen nothing significant as a result of previous surveys.

Plus, there’ll likely be unexpected scenarios where you need to get a pulse survey out stat, that you didn’t plan for. When that happens, be cautious of when your next survey goes out. Sending too many surveys can cause survey fatigue, and might result in lower response rates.

5. Don’t tackle too much all at once

Stress

Say it with us once more: the emphasis is on action! But… it’s better to find a few key themes and do them well. Once you’ve identified the themes, it’s then much easier to figure out what can and needs to be done first and also what can wait, before sharing solid actions with your people.

Look for quick wins that you can tackle immediately, things that can be done in the next month or so, and things that can be done longer-term.

Questions to ask in an employee pulse survey

What you ask in a pulse survey, once again, doesn’t have an easy answer, since there’s no singular goal. But, here are a few questions to provide some inspiration and get you started:

  • Engagement: “I rarely think about looking for a job with another company”
  • Line managers: “I have good conversations with my manager regarding my performance and development”
  • Wellbeing: “I feel mentally well at the moment”
  • Change: “I understand the reasons behind any organisational changes being made”
  • D&I: “I feel like I truly belong here”
  • Learning and development: “I believe there are opportunities for me to develop my career here”
  • Reward & recognition: “I believe I am fairly rewarded for the work I do here”

All of the above are scaled questions, and we recommend using a 0-10 scale where the 0 descriptor is “strongly disagree” and the 10 descriptor is “strongly agree”.

We’ve got plenty of ready-to-use question sets which are ready for you to download—and they’re packed with even more top tips to get your surveys in good shape! Check out our engagement question set below to get started.

Free EBook

7 Survey Questions Proven to Track Employee Engagement

Inside this guide, you’ll find 7 scale survey questions that are proven employee engagement trackers; making them awesome core questions for surveying.

7 Survey Questions Proven to Track Employee Engagement

And if you want to get your hands on some more questions, like D&I and wellbeing, just head over to our resources section.