“Pulse survey”’ is a hot topic these days, and for good reason. Employers are looking for ways to keep connected to employees who are working from home, and they also recognize the need to quickly gather feedback during these times of rapid change. Survey companies are promoting pulse surveys vigorously because they’re short in length and can be sent out on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis – much more often than the standard annual survey. But, are they effective tools to boost employee engagement? Evidence is saying no.

What is a pulse survey?

Pulse surveys have traditionally been a quick assessment of employees on the same topic over a period of time – often daily. However, there is no set definition for this type of survey. Some sources define them as quarterly assessments or as an employee survey under 10 questions. Irrespective of length, Qualtrics suggests the following criteria in their definition of a pulse survey:

  • The survey tracks the same item over time (Ex: “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),
  • And happens at a regular time interval, e.g. – daily, weekly, monthly etc.

Are pulse surveys effective?

Truly, it depends on what you’re looking for. Pulse surveys can be a great tool for quickly getting information, but whether or not they provide valuable feedback depends on what actions are taken after the survey closes.

When teams are asked for feedback, they assume it’s because management wants to make changes based upon it. If you’re pulsing your employees every day or even every month, it’s unlikely that you will have time to adequately follow-up and make meaningful changes based on suggestions before the next survey opens. And if teams continually see a lack of action, they’ll disengage with the survey (or your company) altogether. No one wants to take time out of their day to give feedback that is ignored.

According to Workforce Science, employee participation not only dissipates when feedback is ignored, but it also decreases as survey frequency increases. Approximately 77% of American employees fully complete engagement surveys when surveyed on a yearly basis. Once employees are surveyed more than four times a year, that number drops to a 59% participation rate. As participation rates go down, so does the value of the feedback your team is providing.

At Engagement Multiplier we fully support tracking responses to the same question over time to analyze trends, however, we believe it’s important to only solicit feedback from employees in increments that allow for leaders to respond to prior feedback. Why? It’s unlikely that a question such as “Are you proud to work for your company?” will change on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis – unless specific action has occurred. If you’re asking employees to respond to similar questions in a pulse survey, you’re likely over-surveying and are going to see a drop-off in participation, and potentially contribute to disengagement in the process.

Gathering employee feedback more effectively

Rather than using pulse surveys, we recommend surveying employees only as often as you feel you can act on the received suggestions.

Our clients typically choose to distribute our benchmark assessment quarterly to allow ample time to communicate results and implement changes within their organizations. When feedback is desired on a specific topic, our On-Demand survey capability fills the bill. Clients can select from a library of survey topics, or they can easily create their own. This allows you to gain information through a short assessment (usually 12 or fewer questions) on topics such as changing company culture, inclusion in the workplace, employees’ opinions about working from home – or the topic of your choosing (it’s easy to create your own On-Demand survey.)

Keys to employee surveys that produce results

Ultimately, the quality of the feedback you receive from your surveys depends upon the quality of the results employees see.
In an earlier article, we offered three tips for getting great results from employee engagement surveys:

  1. Take visible action after the survey, utilizing the feedback received, and communicate results.
  2. Make gathering – and responding to – feedback part of standard operating procedure.
  3. Repeat the process, building upon the knowledge and using it to increase engagement and drive continuous improvement.

Sharing the feedback transparently with employees, and taking focused action to demonstrate a willingness to listen and make changes based upon what your employees are saying will generate trust and increased participation in future surveys. Communication and continuous improvement are the cornerstones of our approach, and together, the two improve trust, engagement, and – yes – survey participation, which in turn delivers useful data to the company.