Engaged employees are happy employees, which can lead to higher retention, clear career development, and ultimately, organizational success. If you’re curious about employee engagement at your organization, there's a simple way to find out: Ask your employees how they feel.
Both engagement surveys and pulse surveys are effective tools for gathering feedback directly from employees. While engagement surveys tend to dive deeper into topics, pulse surveys are useful for getting a more frequent real-time read of employee satisfaction and engagement. After all, listening to your employees is a continuous process, and with the rapid pace of change in the global landscape, it’s more important than ever to understand what’s impacting your employees, both internally and externally.
Here’s how to set up an effective pulse survey that provides feedback from and communication to employees — and will help your company create a healthy organizational culture.
The Difference Between Engagement Surveys and Pulse Surveys
Engagement surveys help collect usually anonymous feedback to quantify employee engagement and measure attitudes toward a company’s work culture. They can help surface insights and identify areas of opportunity, which can then turn into priorities and goals to implement. Typically, companies launch engagement surveys on a semi-annual basis in order to have a baseline survey, and then a mid-point check-in. But between those two moments in time, a lot of changes can happen within a team, department, the company, or even the economy. That’s where pulse surveys come into play.
Pulse surveys are quick, one-to-five-question surveys that bridge the gaps between engagement surveys to allow People teams to get a “pulse” of employee sentiment, and a more continuous look at how engagement initiatives affect it. Listening to employees doesn’t end when you close an engagement survey, or when you’re creating or even executing an action plan — it’s an ongoing process. Especially in an ever-changing landscape, it’s important to track employee sentiment over time in a way that’s both lightweight and repeatable, and pulse surveys can achieve this. They’re a great complement to engagement surveys, which measure a specific point in time.
Choosing a Pulse Survey Cadence
Within Lattice, pulse surveys can be used on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly cadence. Based on our internal data, 41% of customers run their pulse surveys on a weekly cadence, 35% use a biweekly cadence, and 24% use a monthly cadence. However, deciding on the right pulse survey cadence for your organization should take into account a number of factors, including:
- How Many Questions You Want to Ask: If you want to cycle through more questions, you can send out pulse surveys on a more frequent cadence, but that can also risk survey fatigue.
- The Participation Rate You Expect vs. the One You’re Seeing: If you want to hit a specific participation rate (e.g., 50%) but are below your target, you can try a less frequent cadence to keep people engaged.
- The Speed at Which You Want to Gather Accurate Data: The higher the frequency of pulse surveys, the more quickly you’ll be able to gauge how things are going in relation to any changes or action plans that have been put in place. The one exception is the employee net promoter score (eNPS) question, which is treated separately from the other pulse survey questions. Because eNPS is more of a North Star indicator and not directly actionabe, if you take steps based on other feedback collected in your surveys, your eNPS should improve as a byproduct. Therefore, you don’t need to be collecting eNPS data as frequently as other metrics; the likelihood an employee is going to recommend the company as a place to work shouldn’t typically change that much over the course of one or two weeks.
- What “Accurate” Means to You: Look at historical participation rates on surveys. If you are seeing a decreased number of people responding, you’re going to get a less representative sample of total employees and may have a larger margin of error. If this is the case, you may want to decrease the frequency.
The right cadence of pulse surveys will differ from company to company. One approach is to start at a biweekly cadence and adjust as you go forward.
Questions to Ask on Pulse Surveys
Lattice Advisory Services (LAS), which helps People leaders identify and execute on the People strategies that fit their unique needs, has come up with three types of questions to ask on pulse surveys:
1. Timeless Topics
Timeless topics are those that are most important to employee engagement, independent of external factors. If you see scores in timeless topics dip, you know there’s a larger problem. Timeless questions are already going to be part of your engagement surveys, but it’s important to use pulse surveys to catch any dips or downward trends between those tentpole surveys. There are two types of timeless topics: non-tactical and tactical.
- Non-Tactical: These are indicators of employee engagement or experience that may not have direct solutions but are critical to your organizational culture, such as eNPS, fit and belonging, psychological safety, and communication. Knowing scores on these metrics can help prioritize the specific elements of company culture you want to invest in more.
- Tactical: These are topics that tend to have more direct, explicit solutions but may require a few separate actions to address. Examples include tools and resources, manager effectiveness, and feedback culture. Measuring these factors can help determine if there are issues that are preventing your company from having an engaged workforce.
2. Initiatives and Projects
These are questions that address a current initiative or project and can be used to track the impact that it is having on employees. These scores should be trending over time as the initiative or project gains traction; if they’re decreasing, you may need to reevaluate your approach. You’ll want to keep questions around new or important initiatives in rotation in pulse surveys until they’re no longer a priority for the company.
With these types of questions, you can link your action plans to the questions that you’re asking about those action plans, which signals to employees that their feedback has been heard and taken into account, and is being addressed. So in addition to getting feedback on those initiatives, these questions are also a way to communicate back to employees that the initiatives are important to the company.
For example, if you ran an engagement survey and found that employees felt they weren’t being recognized for their good work, you could run an initiative focused on getting employees to recognize their colleagues. You could then track this via a pulse survey to determine whether or not that recognition initiative was successful. You could even run A/B testing scenarios, such as trying one recognition initiative in one office and a different one in a different office, and then implement the more successful or impactful one across all offices.
There are two types of initiative and project-based questions:
- Inspired by an Engagement Survey Action Plan: These are direct issues that came up in a recent engagement survey that the company is addressing. Examples include communication transparency, growth and development, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
- Created by Other Organizational Priorities: These are other company-wide topics, issues, or initiatives that could impact the employee experience. Examples include updated internal mobility policies, a company rebrand, or a shift in strategic direction.
3. Timely Topics
These are topics that emerge from unplanned changes in either your organization or your environment. These last few years have been tumultuous to say the least, with many events directly or indirectly affecting organizations across all industries. How companies respond to these events, and whether or not these responses are resonating with employees, can provide valuable insights.
Questions around timely topics shouldn’t wait until the next engagement survey, as the leadership team likely wants to understand their impact now, and employees want to know their feedback is also being taken into account sooner rather than later. The two types of timely topics are:
- Internal: Questions around anything internally that employees weren’t expecting, such as recent mergers or acquisitions, a return to the office, a spin-off of a business unit, or a change in leadership.
- External: Questions about things going on in the world at large that may impact your employees, such as COVID-19, an uncertain economy, or the war in Ukraine.
How Many Questions to Include on a Pulse Survey
Within Lattice, you can have a question bank with as many questions as you want. The question bank has many standard questions to choose from, but you can and should also customize and write your own depending on whatever your company goals are. Regardless of how many questions are in your question bank, LAS recommends that each pulse survey include only one to five questions, with those questions pulled from the bank at random.
For the number of questions to keep in the bank, consider following the “Rule of Five.” Try to aim for five questions from each of the three buckets (timeless topics, initiatives and projects, and timely topics). Once you have your list of 15 questions, try to narrow them down to the 10 that are the most important to the company right now to keep in rotation.
The number of questions companies have in their bank will vary, so you can experiment. But if you want a meaningful sample of responses on the questions you’re asking, you’ll need to be thoughtful about cutting down the number of questions that get sent out randomly so your answers aren’t spread across a large number of questions and topics.
In addition, if you notice that there’s a big difference between the participation rate (the number of people who have answered at least one question out of the total number of people who were sent a pulse survey — the Lattice participation benchmark is 74%) and the response rate (the number of responses submitted out of the total number of questions sent out) in your pulse survey, that may be an indicator you should trim down the number of questions included. If you are asking a lot of questions, it's more likely that respondents will get tired or skip questions, so even if every employee starts the survey, you may have a lower response rate.
How Soon After an Engagement Survey to Implement a Pulse Survey
Once you close your engagement survey, share results with leadership, managers, and employees. Then craft your action plans based on feedback from the survey. The exact timing will vary, but in general, once the action plans are in motion, you should have a good idea of how you want your pulse survey to be configured, because you’ll know what specific initiatives you want to track.
How to Encourage Employees to Participate in Pulse Surveys
The most effective way to encourage or drive participation in a pulse survey is to take action on the feedback that was collected from engagement surveys. Not only does that build credibility for the leadership team, but as employees see implemented action plans impact their daily experience at work, they’ll be more likely to respond to the next pulse survey. It’s also essential to share the results of the survey, whether it’s at the company or department level, as well as enable team leaders to make decisions based on these results at the team level.
You can also run PR or marketing campaigns internally to make sure employees remember and are aware that surveys are open. For example, you could reward departments with the highest response rate with a prize, like a party or happy hour. Communication is also key. Before launching a survey, be transparent, set expectations up front, let employees know the surveys are anonymous, and tell them how their feedback will be used going forward. Employees need to understand what’s in it for them.
Pulse surveys are an excellent way to get valuable real-time feedback from employees that work in conjunction with — as well as fill in the gaps between — engagement surveys. Pulse surveys are designed to be quick, lightweight, and repeatable, focusing on one to five of the most important questions or topics within an organization at any given time. They’re a useful way to track if company initiatives, as a result of opportunities identified through engagement surveys, are being implemented effectively, and identify any other factors that may be positively or negatively impacting employees.
By using regular pulse surveys, organizations can keep employees engaged by showing them that their feedback is being continuously taken into consideration. While there are several ways to encourage employees to respond to pulse surveys, the best way to get participation is to show employees that their participation is actually going to make a difference.
Learn more about how to set up engagement and pulse surveys with Lattice Engagement here.