Running employee pulse surveys: Case study examples and questions to ask
The number of companies for whom an annual employee survey is no longer sufficient is growing fast. With factors like the pace of business transformation or organisational change, many now want a more regular ‘temperature check’ or ‘pulse check’ with their employees.
So, if you want to run an employee pulse survey, who should you survey, what questions should you include and when should they take place? Oh, and what about real-time feedback too – is this where all employee surveys are headed?
We’ll shed some light on this area based on the experiences of our consultants, client case study examples and using our knowledge of engagement and employee survey best practices.
Which employees should you include in pulse surveys?
Should you include the entire employee population, a representative random sample or should you survey groups locally? The purpose of the survey/s should determine who you invite to take part. For example, if it is intended to gauge progress made on key survey actions, a random sample of employees should suffice. But, if it is to get views on critical business changes or transformation, you may want to allow all employees to have their say. Just beware of survey fatigue if making too many requests of the same employees to provide feedback.
What should pulse surveys focus on?
The most common uses we’re seeing for pulse surveys are:
- To measure progress made on key action areas/business priorities (interim surveys)
- To get qualitative employee feedback on the success or failure of business plans
- To invite employee feedback on hot topics, known issues or recent events (a merger, for example)
- To gauge the current employee mood/outlook at any given time.
What’s most important is that pulses form part of a wider employee survey strategy. Doing this ensures they are aligned with business objectives and are more likely to provide managers and leaders with useful and relevant data and insights on which to act.
Before introducing any extra surveys, keep in mind that you’re asking for more of your employees’ time so the purpose, and potential benefit to them, must be made really clear.
Which questions should you ask in pulse surveys?
This completely depends on the business drivers behind running the surveys. For example, if you want a quick check-in on engagement levels, you should include only the engagement index questions. Or, to measure progress on priority action areas from an earlier survey, include only questions relating to those areas.
Here’s an example set of 10 pulse survey questions used by one client to measure employee engagement, focusing just on engagement and manager indices:
I have a strong sense of feeling part of a team in my team
Over the past few months, I felt positive at work most of the time
I tell others outside the company how great it is to work at [COMPANY NAME]
I am proud to work for [COMPANY NAME]
I fully intend to be working for [COMPANY NAME] in one year’s time
I am given useful feedback about my performance by my Manager
I am recognised by my Manager when I do a good job
My Manager listens to my work-related concerns
My Manager treats me and others with respect
My Manager is actively interested in and supports my personal development
When should you run pulse surveys?
Again, this depends on what the survey is measuring. If your organisation is in the midst of a major business transformation project, getting employees’ views every month will be really useful.
However, if you want to follow up with employees to check on progress of actions from an earlier survey, a one-off check-in after three or six months may suffice.
Most commonly, we’re seeing companies opt for either quarterly pulse checks or an interim survey every six months.
What about ‘real-time’ feedback?
There’s lots of interest in real-time or ‘always on’ employee feedback platforms but you should consider whether this is the best approach for your company.
Fast-growth companies, those undergoing extensive transformation or cultural change and those in industries such as retail, where there’s a higher-than-average employee churn may benefit from more regular feedback. However, this isn’t to say that real-time feedback, or indeed pulse surveys, are right for all companies.
Yes, there’s an obvious upside in getting additional insights but what will you do with this constant stream of data? You have to be very confident you can review and act on it accordingly on an on-going basis or else it could become counterproductive.
Which companies are using employee pulse surveys and what for?
M&S was keen to provide greater and more regular insight for managers to increase engagement levels as each manager has team engagement as a KPI (key performance indicator).
We run a programme with three pulse surveys in each quarter and a bigger annual engagement survey in the remaining quarter. The pulses feature all engagement and manager questions from the main survey. This provides regular insights on these key areas, informing where additional action might be helpful at a local level, to enable managers to hit their engagement KPI.
Large European energy provider
This company had an established annual survey but wanted periodic feedback from employees in between. This was intended to provide a more up-to-date reflection of engagement levels.
We supported them with a pulse check survey that went out to the entire employee population every six months. This featured a short questionnaire of up to eight questions, including the engagement index and a few selected others.
McDonald’s was keen to increase accountability among its line managers to ensure they were focusing on those actions identified within their teams in the annual employee survey.
The pulse survey we devised allows them to run a check-in survey every September (six month after the full survey). We included 10 questions, which all focus on accountability and priority action areas.
Multinational conglomerate and holding company
As a values-driven business that is focused on nurturing and looking after its employees, our client wanted to put in place a survey to measure how well employees felt they were doing this.
We created for them a ‘self-service’ online survey tool that is helping this global business to gauge and further improve employee wellbeing. It is open to all group companies who can run ‘local’ surveys with their employees on an ad hoc basis.
Philips wanted to monitor team effectiveness continually and encourage year-round development conversations between managers and their teams, and a focus on action.
We created an online portal for this global survey, which has replaced a more traditional annual survey at Philips. Employees can access this ‘on demand’ throughout the year and it is helping managers to support and enable employees in their on-going development.
Consumer rewards company
As a company that was undergoing extensive change, they had lower engagement scores. This prompted their board to target a marked increase and track progress throughout the year.
We run an annual employee survey for them providing a full picture. To supplement this, they run quarterly pulse surveys, focusing on engagement – the most recent one featured nine questions.