What is a pulse survey?
So you’ve heard there’s a growing interest in employee pulse surveys – but why should you care?
Valid question. Why should you care? With so much information about HR and how to run a business being propelled at you from left, right and centre, what's special about pulse surveys? What's wrong with the tried and tested quarterly review?
The A to Z of pulse surveys
We’re going to cover the A to Z of pulse surveys. They’re a relatively recent phenomenon, so don’t worry if you’re not super familiar with them. When you’ve finished reading this, you sure will be though.
You’re going to find out exactly what pulse surveys are, the benefits of having and sharing a pulse survey, the pros of Perkbox Insights, and finally, how to create a successful one.
We’ll reveal to you how surveys can be used to improve employee engagement, company culture and wellbeing. We’ll offer a solid framework for measuring and understanding engagement and highlight some common question-writing pitfalls that you’ll want to avoid.
Pulse surveys are a long-term solution to employee disengagement by providing you with the feedback necessary to construct the right working conditions for employee motivation and dedication to flourish.
Getting people more involved in a company has a transformative effect on the business. And, if there is a way to do this effectively, what have you got to lose?
Let’s get started.
Part 1. What are pulse surveys and why should I use them?
What are pulse surveys?
Pulse surveys give a swift insight into the health of a company and its employees.
Most employee pulse surveys are designed to be sent out weekly or every two or three weeks. Removing any wordy or complex questions, pulse surveys cut to the chase.
While pulse surveys are pretty new on the HR block, their neighbour employee surveys have been on the scene for around a century. The first employee survey, originally called ‘employee attitude surveys’, came to fruition in the 1920s. The efficacy and necessity of pulse surveys has therefore been a long-time in the making.
The benefits of pulse surveys
There are many benefits to employee surveys, but pulse surveys are particularly effective for these five reasons:
1. They provide real-time measurements
Pulse surveys give you a constant and instant stream of feedback which enables you to keep a 'pulse’ on how your employees are feeling. Regular feedback lets you fix issues before they become problems. They speed up the problem-solving process, as you can see results coming in.
2. They are topical and to the point
They have a higher response rate than annual employee surveys, mainly due to the simplicity and ease of filling them in. Nobody wants to spend several hours circling As and Cs at the end of a tiresome year.
3. They allow for analysis of improvements over time
Continual insights let you see how your business has evolved over time and help you to gauge what it is that your employees truly value about your company. They’re a great way to find new inspiration for improving your employee engagement strategy, by allowing you to collate useful feedback and views from employees which may otherwise be left un-communicated or simply not tapped into.
4. They can be done on a shoestring budget
They’re cheap as chips and require less effort than a cuppa-soup. Talk about economic business development. Because it all works with algorithms and data, if you choose a good software or insights server, you don’t need to spend any money on consultants or project managers to do it for you.
In the long-term, they reduce your costs by saving you from financially damaging problems caused by disengagement and poor company culture.
5. Improved employee culture
Last, but definitely not least, is improved employee engagement and company culture. One of the main aims of pulse surveys, on top of the many advantages already highlighted above, is that they provide us with powerful motivation insights. We can tap into what helps employees to stay engaged with their work and what doesn’t.
The definition of employee engagement
At Perkbox, we define engagement as a measure of an employee’s proactive support of your company.
An engaged employee is not just happy at work, they are emotionally-invested in contributing to the success of your business and committed to meeting its goals. They are proud to work for your company, feel valued and see a future with you. This shows in their dedication and willingness to go the extra mile. It also shows in a boosted sense of job satisfaction, productivity and innovation.
For this to happen, though, you need to create the right workplace conditions for employees to flourish.
Pulse surveys enable management to construct and maintain these conditions by providing them with a certain level of guidance. The feedback can be used to innovate their engagement strategies.
What is an employee net promotor score (eNPS)?
Aside from the above, a lot of it boils down to eNPS. This is the industry standard for measuring engagement. It officially means: The Employee Net Promoter Score and basically corresponds to the following question: On a scale of 1 - 5, would you refer a friend to work at your company?
If your employees wouldn’t encourage others to work for you, you’ve got a problem. Pulse surveys help to regularly feedback what your employees think about your business so you can make it as workable, as liveable, as i-love-my-jobable as possible. They’re a long-term, fast-track to high levels of employee engagement and, as a consequence, better business results.
Part 2. What questions should my pulse survey ask?
This section will explain why it’s important to ask the right questions and advise how to find out which questions actually need asking.
The quality of your pulse survey will depend heavily on the questions that you ask. There must be a certain methodology when putting together your questions and formulating how you ask them.
At Perkbox, we know that each and every question must be purpose-led – nothing oblique nor puzzlesome – in order to obtain the most reliable results that can be transformed into meaningful action. Our library of ready-to-use questions allow for full transparency and cross company benchmarking.
Let’s discuss what we think about when putting pulse survey questions together to help you better understand how it works. Here are four rules to forming pulse survey questions.
1. Don’t be too specific
A key thing to remember is to avoid asking overly specific questions. Specific questions can be ‘leading’ in that they instigate a response from the survey-taker even if they initially had no strong feelings about the issue. This can therefore give the impression that there is a problem when none actually exist.
2. Make your questions accessible to their audience
Similarly, overly engineered questions are not very reliable because they cannot be benchmarked. This means that the questions may only be relevant for a certain department or team in the business, and so will not provide a reliable way to compare how all your departments feel. Your questions should be clear and unambiguous.
3. Ask one question at a time
This sounds obviously, but it's a simple mistake to make – avoid asking two questions at the same time. This can be confusing and unclear for the employee. If they don’t entirely understand the question, their feedback won’t be valuable or necessarily truthful. (What time did you start reading this and has it been any use?)
4. Use the first person and talk about behaviours
This will help the employee to recall and reflect on real-life examples of their workplace experience – keeping in mind that your questions should be universally relevant to all your employees.
But, how on earth do you make questions which are universally relevant to all employees?
A tonne of research has been done into the psychology of employee engagement, helping to identify the fundamental factors, or ‘drivers’ as we will refer to them, which impact employee motivation in the workplace.
How do I formulate my pulse survey questions to get the best feedback?
There are lots of different ways you can score or rate your feedback. One good method is by using a Likert scale. A Likert scale asks people to rate something on scale of 1 to 5, with 1 normally being ‘strongly disagree’ and 5 being ‘strongly agree’.
There are lots of benefits to this kind of data collection, mainly being that people already know how to use it, it keeps people happy and it gets a thumbs up from user testing.
Another option which will give a higher level of granularity is to use a clear numerical scale with every question, rather than just 1 to 5. A good recommendation would be a scale of 0-10.
While this will give a little bit more data to deal with, small improvements are often easier to gage with larger scales over time. For instance, a subtle shift from a score of 7 to a 8 will show on a scale of 0-10, but might not register on a 5-point Likert.
Your questions should cover the top 10 key drivers. The key drivers deal with the things that matter most to employees and have the biggest impact on their engagement.
To ensure the best results, we’ve gathered and analysed marketing-leading data from Willis Towers Watson, Aon Hewitt, Deloitte and Gallup. Then, we’ve thrown in a drop of Perkbox to make them even more meaningful.
The Perkbox Insights 10 key drivers of engagement
- Company strategy
- Culture and diversity
- My work
- Guidance (Management)
- Personal development
- Quality of life
Here are some examples of potential pulse survey questions using a universal framework to help you figure out the key drivers of employee engagement. The following questions would be responded to using a Likert Scale.
Key Driver: Strategy and leadership
Question: Are leaders are genuinely interested in employees' opinions and ideas.
Key Driver: Communication
Question: There is good communication between different departments.
Key Driver: Guidance (management)
Question: My manager encourages me to take the initiative and suggest improvements.
Key Driver: Rewards and recognition
Question: I receive appropriate recognition for my contributions and accomplishments.
Key Driver: Quality of Life
Question: The balance between my work and my personal commitments is right for me.
Can I get more context?
Qualitative data can provide additional context to help give you a better understanding of why your engagement scores are changing.
Qualitative data can be extracted from employee comments which can help pinpoint more specific issues. They also provide management with an easy, anonymous way to open up discussion with employees around a particular topic.
For this to work, it’s important that adjacent to every question is an optional comment box for employees to give additional feedback if they so wish.
You want to keep the comment box optional because this will help you to decipher which issues or concerns should actually be on the agenda. Employees will only write about things that they feel strongly enough about to discuss voluntarily. Without this, it’ll be harder to differentiate which comments are genuine causes for concern or just gratuitous.
In fact, questions should not be mandatory either. It’s a good idea to include the option to skip a question as this will be help you to keep your data relevant – if a question doesn’t apply to someone, how can they give honest feedback?
Likewise, if you can see that one of your questions has been skipped numerous times, this can highlight areas in the survey that are maybe too ambiguous. You can provide a box similar to the comment one where employees can indicate why they chose to leave the question unanswered. This will further streamline your feedback.
Part 3: How do I optimise my pulse survey validity, length and frequency?
Length and Frequency
The length and frequency of your pulse survey relates to the number of questions in your survey and how often you send it out.
At Perkbox, for example, we send out five questions per weekly survey as standard. This can vary depending on internal changes and events at work that might draw employee attention elsewhere for a while, but generally it’s good to stick to a regular routine with them. This way, it becomes habitual for your employees to give feedback.
Consistency is key for getting enough data over a period of time to actually see measurable differences in your employee engagement. If the surveys are too far apart or handed out sparsely, it will be difficult to see how engagement driver scores have changed over time.
If you’re sending them out often, how do you make sure that employees actually keep filling them in? You need to find a sweet spot.
A survey sweet spot is crucial for maintaining high response rates and for avoiding any ‘survey fatigue’. In other words, you want to avoid your survey being demoted to the junk folder. To be statistically significant, a certain number of people need to respond before the results can be considered meaningful and reliable.
But, will sending employees weekly pulse surveys annoy them? The quick answer is that it shouldn’t – provided you don’t ask annoying questions.
If you can show that the feedback you receive from your pulse surveys is having a quantifiably positive impact on their working environment, your employees will want to continue to action this by filling in the surveys.
Keeping consistent isn’t just about the schedule. You should avoid making too many changes to your pulse survey too. Even minor question changes could impact how people answer them. So, resist the temptation to edit as this will jar any benefits of consistent surveys.
"A survey sweet spot is crucial for maintaining high response rates and for avoiding any ‘survey fatigue’"
Finally, make sure you keep your surveys anonymous. Employees may feel unsafe providing honest answers if they know that whoever is on the receiving end will know what they think or said – not all feedback will be positive.
To ensure 100% honesty, communicate to your team that the answers are completely anonymous. This will allow them to feel they can be totally open about how they feel about their job, their peers and their managers.
Part 4: How do I report my pulse survey findings?
Engagement is evidently a complex thing to measure because there are so many elements and strings attached to it. But, this is why pulse surveys are so helpful.
With Perkbox Insights, smart algorithms evaluate the pulse survey responses to provide you with detailed insights into your employees’ overall engagement.
If you’re using the Likert system, 1 to 5 will correspond to a point system. For example, ‘strongly agree’ is worth 5 points, ‘strongly disagree’ is worth 1 point. Algorithms evaluate the responses to give a sum of the total points from across all 10 key drivers, so your engagement score is a cumulative moving average of this.
If you’re unsure about the significance of the feedback, Perkbox Insights helps validity the reliability of data with a colour coded system. When the results are reliable, the indicator in your Insights dashboard will go green. If the indicator is orange, this warns you that it’s best to wait for more responses before actioning anything.
Essentially, these algorithms do all the hard digging into the depths of engagement, producing data you can tap into and understand quickly.
Once you have your data, over time you’ll start to be able to see which departments or areas in your business are lacking in engagement. Then, you’re fit to start developing and constructing the right conditions for engagement to thrive.
Closing the loop
You can tell your employees success stories about changes you’ve made based on the data provided. It doesn’t always have to be facts and figures. You can give your employees real-life anecdotes which they can relate to, and share your visions and new ideas inspired by their feedback.
You can show how the company has acted on its findings and made positive improvements to the business and the company culture in meetings, conferences or your company newsletter.
On a more personal level, the surveys are a reminder that management do truly value their employees feedback – like a friendly, weekly catch-up. They can therefore act as a powerful relations tool by encouraging employees to communicate with management, whether that be anonymous via their survey input, or openly, encouraged by the questions asked within the survey.
You can be sure that when your employees are given the familiar ‘I feel that my opinions and views are heard by others’ on their pulse survey, you’re going to get a ‘strongly agree’, a pat on the pack, and maybe a round down the pub.