Employee Engagement

How to Get the Most out of Pulse Surveys in Your Engagement Plan

July 1, 2021
November 7, 2023
Manasi Patel
Lattice Team

If you’re in HR, almost everything you do is about improving and maintaining the health of your company and its people. But how can you ensure employees are supported with the resources they need to succeed if you don’t ask them what their pain points are? To create a mindful and healthy workplace, your team needs to have its finger on the heartbeat of your organization. That’s where pulse surveys come in.

What are pulse surveys?

There are a number of ways HR teams can tap into their employees’ feedback, from onboarding surveys to DE&I surveys. But in recent years, pulse surveys have started to show up as a prominent new option for checking in with employees.

Pulse surveys are short, recurring mini-surveys that HR teams can use to get an idea of what's going on in real time at the organization.

As the term “pulse” suggests, these surveys allow businesses to stay attuned with the collective heartbeat of the workforce and gauge changes in employee sentiment on issues like morale, benefits, work-life balance, communication, and more. 

Pulse surveys  & engagement surveys

At most organizations, annual or semi-annual employee engagement surveys are conventional methods for uncovering employee pain points and needs. While engagement surveys generally yield tons of valuable information on how employees feel about the company overall, businesses still need a way to monitor engagement data in real time. 

Pulse surveys give HR teams the ability to fine-tune their engagement survey action plan so businesses can stay on track and accountable for HR-driven initiatives. Some of pulse surveys' strengths include: 

  • Relevance: Pulse surveys tend to be focused on specific topics and can be turned around relatively quickly in response to relevant issues.
  • Length: Pulse surveys are generally much shorter than engagement surveys and tend to have higher participation rates as a result.
  • Continuity: Pulse surveys can be administered on a weekly or monthly basis to bridge the gap between bigger surveys and provide a continuous picture of progress.

So, why can’t companies just use pulse surveys year round? While pulse surveys provide valuable insights throughout the year, they aren’t meant to replace engagement surveys. Engagement surveys and pulse surveys are symbiotic, meaning that they boost each other’s effectiveness when used in conjunction. 

Engagement surveys allow HR teams to develop action plans based on comprehensive employee insights, and pulse surveys support these actions plans by allowing HR teams to keep tabs on new initiatives developed to address engagement problem areas. To put it simply, if engagement surveys are put in place to kick off the feedback cycle, pulse surveys are there to close the loop.

Creating effective pulse surveys.

Pulse surveys are concise, which means that every question included in them should add value. There are two reasons why you'd want to ask a question in a pulse survey: the first is to track progress on a specific initiative, which helps keep businesses accountable for their goals, and the second is to dig deeper into data from engagement survey(s) that may require further analysis

Before determining which questions to ask in a pulse survey, HR teams and admins should consider the following:

  • What does leadership want to learn about employees?
  • Are there specific initiatives that need to be tracked? 
  • What metrics are historically important for different teams?
  • Did any new topics surface in the last engagement survey?

After you’ve answered these questions, you can begin to narrow down variables needed to capture a reasonably representative sample of your organization.

1. Cadence

Pulse surveys are meant to be used more frequently than engagement surveys, but they shouldn’t be so frequent that employees get exhausted of them. One thing you should consider when choosing the cadence for your pulse surveys is historic participation rates. For example, if past surveys have yielded response rates lower than 50%, spacing out your pulse surveys might help boost participation. At the same time, you want to make sure your pulse survey data is still relevant before it becomes stale. The right cadence is different for every company, but we recommend starting out with weekly pulse surveys to establish a solid baseline.

2. Margin of Error

In a best-case scenario, your pulse surveys will have a 100% response rate, and you can be 100% certain that your results are accurate. But what happens when less than 100% respond to a survey? How can you be sure that the results are accurate? With surveys, the question becomes “What margin of error are you willing to accept in your results?” 

We recommend shooting for a margin of error around 5%. So, if your organization has 100 people, you would need a response rate of 80% in order to achieve a 5% margin of error rate. It’s also worth noting that as your organization’s headcount increases, you don't need as high of a response rate to maintain a high level of accuracy.

3. Survey Scope

After a few rounds of pulse surveys, you should have targeted and timely data on a specific topic. But the more questions you try to cover in a series of surveys, the less effective your pulse will be. You don’t necessarily have control over response rate, so the easiest way to ensure accuracy is to keep the number of overall questions in your question bank low. We recommend starting with 10-15 questions total and flexing up or down depending on response rates. This will keep you from getting into trouble with stale data.

4. Question Limit

You can also look at historical data to determine how many individual questions you should ask in each round of pulse surveys. If your past engagement surveys have high response rates for the first few questions but show a drop-off in later questions, that might be a strong case for shorter pulse surveys. We recommend starting with a question limit of three, but this only works if you align your number of questions to your question limit. If you're pulling from a bank of 70 questions, it's going to take forever to cycle through all of them with a question limit of three. Keeping both on the lower side will encourage people to respond to more questions overall.

5. Format

Depending on what types of questions you choose to include in your pulse surveys, data can be collected quantitatively or qualitatively. For questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”, the format is relatively straightforward. However, let’s say you want to measure something like employee net promoter score (eNPS), which indicates how likely an employee is to recommend your company to a friend. We recommend making sure that your pulse survey allows for things like Likert scales or rating systems for these types of questions. You might also want to allow employees to leave comments –– something that’s easy to do if your pulse surveys integrate with Slack.

Balancing all of these variables can be challenging, but these tips will set you up for success in using pulse surveys to gather actionable data about your organization. While engagement and midpoint surveys are a great starting point for drafting your People Strategy, pulse surveys provide the real time data that HR teams need to stay on track with ongoing initiatives. To see how pulse surveys can bridge the gap between employees and business decision-makers, schedule a demo with Lattice today.