Employee engagement

Everything You Need to Know About Pulse Surveys

Amanda Cross
December 3, 2019
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Surveys, surveys, everywhere! As consumers, we're constantly asked to take surveys. Prompts for surveys line the bottom of most receipts and come at the end of almost every customer service call.

At work, on the other hand, we're rarely prompted to share our opinions. 🤔

"Most organizations (74%) will still use formal, large-scale surveys to gauge how employees feel about their jobs and workplace."

But why not? Shouldn’t we always be looking for ways to improve? We think yes. 

Why you should frequently solicit employee feedback


Companies need to invest in and accept employee feedback, because employees are the heart of a company. If your employees aren’t happy, it affects all areas of your business. Listening to your employees empowers them and makes them excited about the work they do for your company. Employees appreciate feeling heard and empowered.

To gather employee feedback, many companies turn to annual surveys, but this isn’t the best action plan for connecting with your employees. If you want to improve employee engagement, you should look at a different way to measure engagement and satisfaction.

Highly engaged organizations are more likely than other organizations to measure engagement, and they are more likely to measure it more than once a year.
–Bonusly, The State Of Employee Engagement in 2019

These highly engaged organizations are better positioned for success because of their use of surveys and other engagement measurements. While annual surveys may take less time to administer, the problem with annual surveys is well documented:

  • Many managers don't like them and view them as tick-box exercises
  • Employees don't feel like employers utilize feedback gleaned from them.
  • Most managers aren’t taking action on the feedback they get from annual surveys

All of this results in an average annual survey response rate of 30%. You can’t tell what your employees are thinking when the response rate is that low. 

So how do you solicit real, actionable insights from your employees? We’ve got the answer: pulse surveys.

What is a pulse survey?


Pulse surveys are quick and easy surveys sent to employees throughout the year to gather feedback. Instead of one gigantic survey wrapping up your year, you break it down and receive actionable feedback year-round.

Rather than addressing every issue under the sun, pulse surveys target a few specific pain points. With them, you can keep surveys short and actionable for everyone. For example, you may create a pulse survey to address topics like overtime policies, burnout amongst your employees, or company engagement levels.

Pulse surveys thrive when you can see trends in the data. Therefore, you’ll want to create a set of questions that get at the same idea. For example, build out various questions that help you understand employee engagement so you can send out your pulse surveys without producing boredom or survey fatigue.

At the heart of it, pulse surveys are all about shorter, more frequent check-ins. The goal is to help you gather and react to employee feedback before it’s too late.

Seven best practices for pulse surveys

Creating a pulse survey is a challenging but worthwhile endeavor. Let’s discuss some of the best practices you should consider when putting together pulse surveys for your employees.

1. Be clear on your goals


Creating a survey without clearly defining your goals first is a bad practice. If you don't have any goals, you won't know what you are looking for or how to get there. While it's great to value employee feedback, you shouldn't survey your employees just to send out a survey. Instead, create a plan for what you want to accomplish.

For example, your goal might be to gauge your employee's thoughts on your new overtime policies for the next year. Once you set a few specific survey goals, creating survey questions becomes easier. Think of your survey goals as a rubric that will help you determine the usefulness of your survey questions.

2. Keep it short and sweet

The reason pulse surveys work is because they are short. Annual surveys get a bad reputation because they are excessively long. Most pulse surveys are 5-10 questions. Pulse surveys are easy to complete in one sitting, which reduces your survey abandon rate and increases your response rate.

3. Mix up survey question types


While pulse surveys are short, it’s still important to mix up survey question styles, so your respondents don't get bored. Seeing a wall of ten similar questions can invoke some of those high abandon rates, even in a pulse survey.

Instead, mix it up by using some of these survey question styles:

  • Multiple choice
  • Closed and open-ended questions
  • Short answer questions
  • Likert scale questions
  • Rating questions
  • Demographic questions

Keep your employees on their toes, so they think of these surveys as a fun exercise instead of a chore. 

4. Make sure it's genuinely anonymous

Respondents are much more likely to participate in surveys if they are confident that personal anonymity is guaranteed.”
Palmer Morrel-Samuels

Depending on the survey questions, employees might fear retaliation if they’re honest and truthful. Employees want to know that it’s safe to share their feedback.

Creating an anonymous survey is about more than not asking for a name or email address. Other parts of a survey can give away someone's identity, especially if you work in a small office.

Protect anonymity in responses by avoiding:

  • Long answer questions
  • Collecting information like IP addresses or other identifying background information
  • Asking personal demographic questions.

It's also worth it to look into employee engagement tools, many of which bake anonymity into their software.

5. Ask questions you have the authority to change


The most typical reason people don’t want to fill out your survey is because you haven’t done anything since the last one.”
Didier Elzinga

It’s disillusioning to be hopeful for change, and yet have nothing happen! 😣

For example, if you want to ask about changes to your company’s overtime policy, you should have the ability to change the policy to reflect your employee’s thought process. Survey questions shouldn’t be only about validation, because sometimes you'll find that your employees don't agree with you.

6. Share results and improvements

Organizations can collect all the employee feedback they want from their employees, but unless they communicate and take action on that feedback, they will not see the results they hope to.
Dr. Benjamin Grange

Are you taking the time to compile survey results and share them with your employees?

Surveys need to be more than lip service; they should inspire change! 💫

Once you make changes to your company, make sure your employees realize that those changes were a result of survey responses. The simple act of sharing improvements with your employees will make them more excited to respond the next time you share a survey. 🎉

Highly Engaged employees are 3.1x more likely to say that their organization takes their feedback seriously than Actively Disengaged employees.
–Bonusly, 2019 Engagement and Modern Workplace Report

7. Watch out for survey fatigue and response rates


We've talked about survey and respondent fatigue, mostly as it relates to annual surveys, but your employees can still get survey fatigue while taking pulse surveys. Most research on survey frequency is built for customers, but a good rule of thumb is sending out surveys quarterly or more frequently.

"Respondent fatigue is a well-documented phenomenon that occurs when survey participants become tired of the survey task, and the quality of the data they provide begins to deteriorate."
Sage Research Methods

To avoid survey fatigue, put a cap on the number of pulse surveys your employees receive. If you follow that up with taking action on survey results, you’ll reduce the risk of survey fatigue.

Also, consider the response rate when dealing with pulse surveys. If you want to make accurate decisions using survey data, your response rate should be high enough to speak for the majority of your employees. For example, if your response rate is 10%, you wouldn’t be able to use that data to make changes at work. You aren’t looking for a 100% response rate either because that likely means that you provided too many incentives.

If you want to pull up your response rate a little, try incentivizing your team using some of our staff appreciation and employee reward ideas.

How to run a pulse survey

Now that we've discussed some best practices for pulse surveys, let's go over your pulse survey plan. 📋

Create the survey


At Bonusly, we’re a big fan of Gallup’s Q12 survey questions, a list of questions shown to be the most effective measure of employee engagement. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t throw in more tailored questions that are specific to your organization. You should work with your leadership team to craft survey questions based on your goals. 

Most importantly, make sure survey questions are specific. It might be tempting to combine questions to save space, but that can produce muddled data. For example, don’t ask a question like, “Do you feel like our overtime and personal time-off policies are fair?” because while both overtime and PTO concern an employees’ hours at work, they are vastly different concepts in execution.

Ask clear, specific questions and divvy up topics up so your employees can tell you how they feel without caveats. 

After you have your survey written out, create a digital version with a platform like Officevibe. Remember to abstain from collecting any identifying background information like IP addresses.

Share it with your team 

Send out an email to your organization with a link to the survey. Let them know what the survey is about and the deadline for submitting their survey answers. Remember to send reminders! 

Follow up during meetings

Instead of following up via email, considering following up in person by mentioning the survey during meetings, whether it’s during 1:1s or team status meetings. By following up during office meetings, you reach those employees who aren’t as diligent about checking their emails.

Close the survey and analyze results


After the deadline has passed, close the survey, and take your time compiling and understanding the results. What are your employees telling you? How does this differ from the results you thought you'd get? How does it compare to past trends?

Here’s an example: Our friends at Officevibe wanted to better understand the relationship between recognition frequency, one of the most challenging metrics for most organizations, and other aspects of employee engagement. By looking at their pulse survey platform’s network averages, they found that:

  • Out of 120 engagement questions, respondents rated recognition as highly meaningful (placing it in the 10 highest scoring questions), yet the frequency at which they received recognition was troubling (in the 10 lowest scoring questions)
  • Out of 26 submetrics, Recognition Frequency and Happiness at work had the strongest correlation, followed by Recognition Frequency and Feedback Quality

Officevibe used pulse survey data to uncover the importance of frequent recognition to employee happiness. How could your team analyze pulse survey data to uncover important insights and prioritize employee engagement initiatives

Make any immediate changes and share results


After reviewing results with other managers and leadership, decide which changes to make now and which ones to save for later. Share the results and then communicate the proposed changes with your team.

Create a survey cadence that works

Last, but not least, keep up with pulse surveys by creating a survey cadence that works for you and your team. A simple cadence that may work for your business is quarterly surveys. You may also want to make one of your surveys a bit longer so you can get more in-depth data from your employees.

Your survey cadence will depend on the data you’d like to gather and employee sentiment. If employees are keen to provide input on your next office location, or want to share their thoughts on the new all-hands presentation format, you may want to send out a quick survey to get your employees’ thoughts in the moment. Don't be afraid to mix things up until you find a rhythm that works for your company.


Employee engagement is becoming more valuable than ever before, meaning employee feedback should be taken even more seriously. Pulse surveys provide a snapshot into the daily joys and concerns of our employees, making it easier to celebrate wins or quickly address concerns. 

Pulse surveys results can be an enlightening and invigorating way to make sure you’re on the right track to creating a great company culture and workplace environment. When you’re ready for more ideas, check out this resource:

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