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Using Pulse Surveys to Complement Annual Surveys

Gathering employee feedback is the first step towards making more informed decisions that affect your people. Employee surveys give employees a chance to contribute to...

Author Rachel McQuigge of WFHomie and GoCo

by Rachel McQuigge - October 12th, 2022


Gathering employee feedback is the first step towards making more informed decisions that affect your people. Employee surveys give employees a chance to contribute to shaping workplace culture while also providing an opportunity for leaders to gather information about what is working and what needs improvement in their organization.

Employee surveys are proven to return tangible benefits to organizations. Surveying annually provides deep insights into how a company is doing from the employee's perspective, informing essential decisions about company direction and organization. 

The allure of surveying more often with Pulse Surveys is prevalent for a good reason. Keeping a constant pulse on your people allows challenges to be addressed in real-time while offering the opportunity to optimize processes that are working. However, research has shown that surveying the same group of employees constantly reduces response rates by half. Striking a balance between the rich insights quarterly and annual surveys offer and the timely feedback pulse surveys offer is vital.

The balance between extensive employee surveys and pulse surveys focused on employee engagement comes from checking in with different subsets of employees and additional questions often. When appropriately used, pulse surveys serve as a strategic complement to a main employee engagement survey; they should be an effective way to track progress on your engagement survey initiatives. 

Pulse Surveys vs. Annual Surveys

Annual surveys are traditionally preferred comprehensive employee surveys conducted once every year. They provide insights into employees' behavior and commitment to the organization. The surveys contain fifty or more questions, which can be binary, multiple-choice, or open-ended.

Annual surveys will ask the employee about all manner related to their relationship with the organization, their experience, workplace values, management feedback, and business process opinions. Asking about this range of topics allows leadership to draw conclusions about both employee and organizational productivity. 

Pulse surveys typically contain fewer than ten questions and are shorter than annual surveys. However, unlike the annual survey, pulse surveys are conducted more frequently. Depending on organizational needs, they can be done weekly, monthly, or quarterly.

Pulse surveys are focused on the employee experience. Their main objective is to identify disengagement that leads to loss of productivity, increased absenteeism, and higher unwanted attrition.

Annual Survey Benefits

  • Historical data collection, which is excellent for generating relevant reports and insights.

  • Extensive data collection allows conclusions to be drawn about all manners in the workplace.

  • Promotes a sense of ownership among employees, leading to greater trust and a stronger bond between employers and employees.

Annual Survey Challenges

  • Because the cycle only captures data once per year, it fails to reflect frequent employee sentiment changes.

  • The results of surveys are often not actionable due to the long time between surveys.

  • Annual employee surveys are biased toward appraisals compared to pulse checks of employee engagement, often leading to employee dissatisfaction.

  • Annual surveys can be time-consuming, leading to employees rushing through them without giving them sufficient attention. The resulting data is ambiguous.

  • The typical yearly survey provides top-down feedback only and fails to capture peer-to-peer feedback effectively.

Pulse Survey Benefits

  • The frequent feedback pulse surveys offer is valuable, relevant, and actionable.

  • Pulse is adept at tracking trends throughout the year.

  • Typically, these are not linked to annual appraisals. The bias-free results encourage employee engagement.

  • Pulse has fewer questions and focuses on specific aspects of work.

  • Because a pulse survey requires only a few minutes of your time, employees are more likely to provide honest and genuine feedback.

Pulse Survey Challenges

  • Pulse surveys do not provide substantial historical data on employee engagement.

  • Pulse surveys are specific and may lead to unnecessary gossip affecting employees' performances. One typical example is a pulse survey measuring a manager's leadership and team handling capabilities; employees might misunderstand the purpose, causing them to react adversely.

  • Regular employee surveys can be ineffective if the company fails to implement changes based on employee feedback.

Planning pulse surveys into your employee survey cadence

Pulse surveys can be used to complement your annual engagement survey. They are a great way to gather real-time feedback and measure how employees respond to any changes you're making in your organization. They also help identify areas that need improvement so you can focus on those next time.

Deciding the best survey cadence for your organization is critical. There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution; a customized approach based on your organization's needs and capabilities is ideal.

To create the best pulse survey for your organization, start by determining what information you want from it and how often you want to gather it. You may decide that an annual survey is enough if your organization has been stable for some time or has recently experienced few significant changes; however, many organizations find that surveying once per quarter gives them enough time to take action on survey results while still allowing them time between surveys so they don't overload their employees with too much feedback at one time.

Communicating the purpose of each survey

Communication is an essential first step in getting people to participate in any 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 honest feedback. 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.

What is Your Feedback Strategy? 

Pulse surveys are an excellent way to supplement your annual employee survey. They offer valuable insights into the pulse of your team that can be useful to track over time, and they give you a sense of what topics are trending right now among your employees. The key is knowing how best to integrate them into your process so they don't compete with each other—and start planning well in advance!

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