Best practices for using employee engagement pulse surveys

Gathering employee feedback is the first step towards making more informed decisions that affect your people. Employees can more easily contribute to the people operations process when there is an outlet for their thoughts and opinions, like an engagement survey.

However, once organizations begin running engagement surveys, it can be alluring to survey continuously. Monthly or weekly employee surveys are commonly referred to as pulse surveys. Pulse surveys may be growing in popularity, but are they really the best solution for your workplace?

Continuous surveying can often be seductive to people, especially those who are used to viewing customer tracking research, which involves a large supply of new customers who are surveyed monthly. Culture Amp’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Jason McPherson explains why continuous surveying isn’t the best solution for work. He says, “At companies, we have a much more finite sample, which means we have to start asking the same people in our surveys. Based on what we’ve seen, 90% of companies using continuous surveys can’t keep their response rates above 50% when the same people are being surveyed weekly or monthly.”

Rather than continuously surveying, pulse surveys should be used as a strategic complement to a main employee engagement survey. Pulse surveys are most effective when they are used as a way to track progress on your engagement survey initiatives. We’ll explore creating an effective pulse surveys, an effective overall survey cadence and how to communicate the purpose of each survey with employees.

Creating an effective pulse survey

There should be a clear purpose for each employee survey, including your pulse survey. A pulse survey is usually short (e.g., 5-15 items) and focused on measuring only one or two things. Generally, these one or two things are identified based on the results of a main engagement survey. It’s also common to include core engagement questions in your pulse surveys, allowing you to see changes in engagement throughout the year.  

Formatting a pulse survey in this way provides a reliable and repeated measure for seeing overall trends in engagement. Pulse surveys are also a great time to ask questions on post-survey actions that have been taken. These are focused on understanding whether there has been a perceived change on what has been communicated to people around action and initiatives put into place in response to previous survey findings.

Survey only as fast as you can act

There are some key factors to understand when deciding on your overall survey cadence and how often to use pulse surveys. First, knowing that it’s a lack of action that causes survey fatigue. As Culture Amp CEO Didier Elzinga says, “The most typical reason people don’t want to fill out your survey is because you haven’t done anything since the last one. They don’t have survey fatigue; they have lack-of-action fatigue.” The rule of thumb to combat this fatigue? Only survey as often as you can take valuable action on the results.

Planning pulse surveys into your engagement survey cadence

Measuring employee engagement is important, and so is deciding upon the best survey cadence for your organization. A customized approach based on the needs and capabilities of an organization is the best cadence; there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

An annual engagement survey gives you a starting point for all surveys that follow. Many organizations find that surveying once per quarter gives them enough time to take action on survey results.

Quarter One: Baseline Engagement Survey

The Engagement survey in the first quarter will serve as the baseline for that year. You’ll be able to identify what is driving employee engagement and start action planning based on employee feedback. Generally a baseline engagement survey is about 50 questions and should take people less than 10 minutes to complete.

Quarter Two: Pulse Survey

A pulse survey gives you additional information on an area of focus from your baseline. The pulse survey is much shorter than a full engagement survey, typically 10-15 questions and takes under five minutes to complete. The pulse survey in Q2 should include core engagement questions to help you understand if you’re moving the needle on a particular issue. This pulse survey is also useful in reminding employees of what actions are being taken.   

Quarter Three: Deep Dive Survey

A deep dive survey helps you diagnose an important topic that would be too difficult to get a full understanding of in your baseline survey. Topics include company values, individual effectiveness, benefits, wellbeing, manager effectiveness, team effectiveness and inclusion.

Quarter Four: Pulse Survey

Generally, the Q4 pulse survey is another follow up on a specific area while still including core engagement questions. Including a few questions based on results from your Q3 deep dive survey will provide you with feedback on what impact they’ve had so far.

Communicating the purpose of each survey

Communication is an important first step in getting people to participate in any type of engagement survey. When employees know why a survey is taking place, when and where to take it, and how the results will be used, they are more inclined to provide their feedback.

See our guide: How to communicate your next employee engagement survey for details on survey communications from before, during, and after your survey launch.

Using employee engagement pulse surveys effectively is important to maintaining a flow of feedback in the workplace. Ensuring that there is enough time between each survey to take action on results helps to combat survey fatigue that can occur with a continuous survey cadence.

About Culture Amp

Culture Amp helps you make your company a better place to work. By making it easy to collect, understand and act on employee feedback, we enable HR leaders to make better decisions, demonstrate impact, and turn company culture into a competitive edge.

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