What is a Pulse Survey?

Philip Cleave
April 26, 2021
What is a pulse survey?

From your business plan, capital and inventory to your products, services and employees. When it comes to your business there are some elements that can change more quickly than others.

Your staff are good example of this, and their turnover will generally fluctuate more quickly or slowly depending on how happy they are working for your organisation.

It’s also true that your employees are one of your most valuable resources, particularly when you consider the value that they bring in terms of their expertise, ideas and manpower. And when you also take into account the high costs of recruitment to replace those that decide to leave, it makes sense to keep pace with how they are feeling and be able to take the necessary actions to keep your staff engaged, happy and productive – with the best way to achieve this through a pulse survey.

Pulse survey definition

An employee pulse survey is a fast and more regular survey approach, that can be used to quickly identify the levels and drivers of satisfaction and engagement among staff. While the organisation can select which content, they choose to focus on in line with their priorities and goals, the pulse survey itself can provide an effective snapshot of your employees’ current thoughts and a valuable insight into your company’s health.

How pulse surveys support employee engagement

While there are a number of staff surveys that you can use to help support employee engagement, pulse surveys are becoming increasingly popular among organisations. This is because they are shorter, reducing the time it takes staff to provide their feedback, as well as the time organisations need to analyse and act on this feedback.

Compared with an annual engagement survey, the more frequent nature of the employee pulse survey allows you to track and measure specific criteria more frequently over time, so you can identify trends and take quicker actions based on what the data is telling you.

So, if one of the areas you were tracking was your Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS), which focuses on asking your employees how likely they would be to recommend your organisation as a great place to work, you could get a better sense of how happy and engaged they really were and take any necessary actions you needed to improve this. See also: eNPS calculator.

This also brings into question whether your pulse survey should be anonymous or not, which is source of much debate within the industry with some stating that you should always collect anonymous feedback and others arguing that this should definitely not be the case. However, it’s probably more helpful to consider it on a case-by-case basis and dependent on the sensitivity of what you’re asking them. So, in the case of an eNPS question, your response rate would be considerably higher by providing anonymity than not.

It’s also worth noting that as well the beneficial way in which pulse surveys improve employee engagement levels as a direct result of an organisation’s subsequent actions, the very process of asking your staff for feedback through a pulse survey enhances their engagement too. Most employees will immediately feel more valued and involved when they’re asked for their feedback. And when this is done frequently, as it is through an employee pulse survey, they will really begin to feel as if they’re being listened to and have a role in shaping their organisation’s future, which should have a really positive effect on their engagement levels too.

Pulse survey examples

When you consider the turmoil and disruption that organisations have gone through since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic last year, there has never been a more important time to regularly check in and obtain feedback from your employees. This is even more critical when you consider that many workforces moved from office to remote working, literally overnight, requiring staff to immediately get used to different ways of working, new procedures and for some depending on their particular personal circumstance and home set up, greater isolation.

In such a scenario, the more agile approach of pulse surveys, is more suitable than other survey types for quickly collecting and analysing feedback from your employees, providing valuable data that can inform your decisions about what actions to take next.

Remote working

If you consider the example of the many employees now working from home, there could be many factors affecting how well they’re able to work, compared to what they could achieve in the office.

From their ability to minimise surrounding noise and distractions or getting exactly the right workspace and tools to perform effectively, to their struggles with time-management, isolation or the lack of communication with other co-workers.

There could be many issues potentially affecting their motivation, engagement and overall levels of wellbeing that you would be totally unaware of and unable to support them with without the feedback of an employee wellbeing survey.

Returning to work post-lockdown

Another example, even though we’re not yet fully out of lockdown, concerns the thoughts of many employers and their employees about a possible return to the office in the not too far distant future.

In this scenario, the flexibility and shorter length of the pulse survey can be an ideal way of checking in with and addressing any anxieties and concerns staff might have about their return to the office, as that date moves closer. However, you still need to come up with the right questions.

Fortunately for those who may be struggling to think of suitable pulse survey questions or simply don’t have the time, we have created a dedicated set of HR survey templates that can help you.

Next time

We hope you enjoyed this short introduction to pulse surveys, offering an insight into how they can support employee engagement and specific examples of where they can benefit your workforce. In part two, we’ll look at some of the most popular pulse survey questions asked by HR professionals and internal comms teams and show how they can add value to your organisation. Stay tuned.


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