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How to get the most from employee pulse surveys

Employee pulse surveys can improve your business and employee retention. Get the most out of yours.

There’s an old saying that offers a simple lesson on the value of capturing employee feedback.

The plumber always has leaky pipes.

The point? Too often, in the process of focusing our time and attention on taking care of customers and clients’ needs, we overlook making sure that our own house is in good working condition—and any potential issues are being readily identified and addressed.  

Employee surveys are, in essence, a safeguard to detect any leaky pipes at your organization so you can take quick action to halt the drip, drip, drip of declining employee engagement and morale, while also identifying prime opportunities for improvement.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with focusing an outsized amount of attention on making sure your customers are happy and well served. In fact research conducted by SurveyMonkey found that companies that promote a more customer-centric culture actually have happier employees and excel at attracting, engaging and retaining talent.

 Still, it’s essential to also take proactive steps to assure your employees are engaged in ways that you can achieve those customer-focused goals. If your employees are unhappy, that will eventually filter down to your customers.

The good news is there is an easy and effective way to keep your finger on the pulse of what your employees are thinking and feeling -- and improve your customers' experience in the process. And, fittingly, they are called employee pulse surveys.

Employee pulse surveys are short but frequent surveys that allow you to consistently track employee engagement. These one-to-10-question surveys are easy and convenient to complete, so employees are more likely to respond to them. And they provide a real-time snapshot of how employees perceive your company at any given time.  

From recruitment to exit interviews, pulse surveys deliver insights on how to improve processes, while also giving employees the chance to engage and know their voices matter within your company. For instance, if you hire a new employee, you can start gathering valuable feedback right away with a quick survey focused on questions such as:

  • How was the onboarding process?
  • Did you feel as though your role and responsibilities were clearly explained to you?
  • Do you feel like something could have been done differently, perhaps better?

A pulse survey such as this offers the win-win of your company gaining valuable feedback that can lead to potential improvements to your hiring process, while immediately conveying to the employee that they have joined a company that values their opinions and input.

SurveyMonkey can help you get candid feedback fast to help motivate and engage your employees.

Gathering feedback is a great start, but to harness the full power of pulse surveys it’s essential to translate responses into actionable data to make sure you close the gap between the feedback collected and identifying potential actions to improve engagement.   

For example, as an HR associate, you collected the survey results and have heard the needs of your employees. So what now? If you don’t consistently analyze the data generated by feedback, you could run the risk of employees doubting the value of the pulse surveys—an outcome that could result in a lower response rate—and even further dampen engagement.

Employers should be mindful of backing their words with action. If employees are consistently completing surveys, but no changes to the work environment are made, that will send the wrong message to your staff.  Ultimately, this could lead to a decrease in employee morale or worse, a flurry of exits from top performers. 

Of course, not all employee feedback will result in change. Some issues may be out of your control. Or they may be unrealistic, or not aligned with your mission or strategies. Yet when you collect feedback, analyze the resulting data, and take action on issues you can address, it sends a clear message that employee feedback is valued within your organization. 

While many organizations conduct larger, more in-depth surveys once or twice a year, pulse surveys are sent at a more frequent cadence, allowing you to consistently track employee engagement. A good rule of thumb is to conduct pulse surveys every three to six months. This prevents employees from feeling overwhelmed, while also giving you enough time to acknowledge the feedback, and when possible, begin instituting changes based on their suggestions.

Choosing questions that can be easily answered goes a long way in getting employees to continue taking pulse surveys. A good method for selecting the right questions is to align them with your goals. Always refer to your brand vision and how it applies to your employees.  

Crafting a good employee pulse survey question requires a balance of driver, outcome, and open text. Let’s look into what this actually means:

  • Driver: The driver is the message of your company’s mission and vision statement that defines what kind of business you’re operating, what values it stands for, and what goals you want it to achieve to benefit employees’ happiness. You can use the Net Promoter Score ®(NPS) to learn more about your business operations. For instance, you can ask, “Do you believe you have all the tools you need to do your job?” Instead of providing a yes or no answer, the NPS offers a 1-10 answer range that ranks the lowest score as “Unlikely” and the highest as “Likely.”
  • Outcome: This term is also referred to as the tracker item and measures employee engagement. If workers are happy at their place of employment and proud of their work, they’ll most likely invite others to apply for a job at their company. Furthermore, they’ll most likely refer your business to prospective customers. An employee engagement  survey question for this type of information would look like this: “How likely are you to recommend this company to a friend?”
  • Open text: It’s always good practice to include an open text in your employee pulse survey questions. An open text allows employees to voice any comments or concerns that weren’t included in the questionnaire. It also offers an opportunity to learn insights you might otherwise not have known. For ease of feedback analysis, limiting the amount of open text in your survey is best.  

There are many benefits to conducting pulse surveys, as opposed to more traditional surveys. This is mainly due to the timeliness of these surveys. Because they are short and easy to complete, this can lead to greater participation and meaningful results.

Other benefits of pulse surveys include:

  1. Fast turnaround: Pulse surveys are meant to be short and quick, so employees are more likely to complete them. No need to spend hours on research or creating an elaborate survey. Instead, send out surveys on the spot, but not too frequently that employees decide to turn their email alerts off. 
  1. Increased employee engagement: Remember who your audience is. Some employees don’t have the time during the busy workday to take a survey that contains many questions. With the convenience and ease of pulse surveys, employees are much more likely to engage. 
  1. Continuous improvement: In-depth annual surveys provide employers with detailed information about how they can improve their companies, while pulse surveys can be used over time to track how improvements are being made. Further, they’re a great way to measure against company goals established at the start of the year. With pulse surveys, employers don’t have to wait until the next annual survey to see if improvements are taking hold and goals are being reached. You get the feedback necessary to course correct as needed throughout the year.
  1. Real-time updates: Pulse surveys are meant to capture the mood of the organization as it is in that moment. For instance, if a survey is sent out at 10 am, HR can obtain and start to analyze that data within a few days. The convenience of pulse surveys make it possible to receive feedback quickly so employers can start mapping out potential next steps. 
  1. Allow for analysis of improvements over time: Remember that pulse surveys are given periodically. Allow yourself enough time to review the data and take necessary actions to make improvements within the company. Sending out a pulse survey one after another makes it more challenging to do so, and may turn off some employees.

Although there are great benefits to conducting pulse surveys, traditional surveys have their place as well.  Keep in mind that pulse surveys are not an alternative to traditional surveys, but rather the two approaches work together to collect valuable feedback from employees.

Pulse surveys don’t just benefit employees. They are also good for your business. Here are a few of those benefits.

Collecting employee feedback from pulse surveys allows you to address issues that may lead to costly and disruptive high turnover. By addressing issues early on, frequent surveys will help to pinpoint the areas that need improvement before they lead to bigger issues that might prompt employees to leave the company.

The 2020 Employee Engagement Trends Report explored a direct relationship between employee engagement and employee turnover. Disengaged employees were 3.3 times more likely than highly engaged employees to leave their company within 90 days of the survey. Additionally, after 180 days, disengaged employees were 2.6 times more likely to leave the organization, while one year after the survey, disengaged employees were 2.1 times more likely to leave.

In short, engaged employees tend to stay, while those who aren’t are far more likely to leave.  Figuring out how to re-engage an unhappy employee can be tricky, because some issues may be beyond your control. For instance, sometimes an employee can be disengaged because of things happening outside the organization. In these instances,  at the very least, a pulse survey demonstrates that you value employee feedback and can help identify trends that could pose a risk to your business over time.

Feedback received from employee pulse surveys can help businesses improve employee satisfaction by helping employees feel valued, heard, and appreciated. Are your employees happy where they work? Are they satisfied with the day-to-day operations of the company?  Employee satisfaction pulse surveys are the key to measuring just how satisfied employees are at your company.

Health benefits, wellness programs, salary and bonuses, and career development are factors that contribute to employee satisfaction, so learning about these areas can help paint a better picture of the working environment. Feedback received from these surveys will help you to create an environment in which your employees are happy and your business is viewed as a great place to work.

Think of the common maxim, “When you receive good service, you tell one person. But when you receive bad service, you tell 10.”  The reality is that good news doesn’t spread as fast and as far as bad news does. With that in mind, it’s essential that your employees are saying good things about your company. Employee referral programs are great ways to get your employees to talk about the place they work for as well as encourage friends and family to apply. Furthermore, an increase in new hires as a result of employee referrals, could mean more career opportunities for current employees and growth for the company. 

Deeper Dive: Employee Satisfaction Survey guide from SurveyMonkey

Employee satisfaction is key to the success of a business and can lead to improved productivity. Simply put, when employees are happy they work more effectively and efficiently, which in turn is great for your business. A study featured in Forbes revealed that satisfied employees are 20 percent more productive than unsatisfied employees. Happiness is even more important for salespeople, for which productivity increased by 37 percent!

According to Harvard Business Review, characteristics of a positive work culture come down to six key points:

  • Being interested in and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends
  • Providing support to one another (kindness and passion)
  • Avoiding blame and being able to forgive mistakes
  • Inspiring others 
  • Emphasizing the importance of the job being done
  • Golden Rule: Treating others with the same respect that you would like to be treated with

Ultimately, an increase in employee productivity can lead to happier experiences for customers as well. A customers’ experience includes everything from the greeting they received when they walked into your business to the conversations shared between them and your employees. When customers walk away happy, they’re more likely to share their positive experience with others, which is all good news for you and your company.

Capturing and acting on employee feedback can help an employer better understand issues within the organization, which can lead to improved business productivity. Keeping track of and staying current with issues that matter most to employees allows you to get ahead of any setbacks, and swiftly address the issue at hand. Furthermore, employees will feel good knowing that their employer is listening to their concerns and making an effort to act on them. 

Pulse surveys offer the valuable benefit of helping to identify processes of culture issues that may be hindering productivity across your organization. Sometimes relatively simple fixes can add greater efficiency, and provide a big boost for the overall productivity of your business. Without these issues being flagged by employees via pulse surveys, you might never learn that they exist, and how they are negatively impacting your business.

Real-life results: Learn how the town of Danville improved employee engagement through pulse surveys and other SurveyMonkey tools.

It is not always easy to ask for help, especially when you are asking employees to take time out of their busy workday to complete a survey. So what is the right way to ask employees for their feedback? Simply put, clear communication. Be honest about why you need their feedback, explain to them how their surveys will help them and your company, and always be sure to express appreciation for their participation.

Other things to keep in mind when asking for feedback:

  1. Keeping things focused on the future is a better way to ask employees for their thoughts, rather than asking what was done wrong. Addressing an issue is important, but focusing on the solution is what will move the company forward. Try asking questions that revolve around the things that can be done to improve the company in the future. This will get you more honest answers.
  1. Ask specific questions. Try to avoid asking questions like, “What do you think about xyz?” and try asking more questions like, “What opportunities for self-improvement would you like to have that go beyond your current role?”
  1. Assure your employees that this is a safe space, and there is no need to hold back because their honesty will be most helpful and conducive to the company. 
  1. Give your employees time to respond. While pulse surveys are designed to be quick and convenient, try not to set an unrealistic turnaround time. For example, if you send a survey out at 10 am, don’t expect to receive feedback at 11 am. This is not to say that some people wouldn’t get it over and done with right at that moment. Take into account that others may have meetings, come in later, or various other reasons.

Earlier we discussed how pulse surveys can be a useful tool to measure the needs and status of employees. Because these surveys are meant to be short and brief, you improve your chance of getting strong response rates. 

Something else to keep in mind with pulse surveys is that it’s not about the number of questions being asked that make it a good survey, but more about what isbeing asked. When the questions are relevant and important to the employees, the number of responses will be higher, and the feedback will be most accurate. Pulse surveys can range between one and fifteen questions. 

But there is more work to be done once those initial surveys are sent out. Remember that pulse surveys are more frequent check-ins, so they should be sent out consistently and at regular time intervals. 

A good best practice: the shorter the time intervals, the fewer number of questions to ask.

There are several ways to conduct a pulse survey that will be effective for your company. Here are a few helpful tips that will get your employees more engaged and willing to participate:

  1. Back up your words with action: Although it’s great to be the ear that listens to every employee, it’s better to take that information and do something about it. It may become discouraging to employees and cause them to disengage if they submit surveys and don’t see any changes being made over time. Keep in mind that knowing and not acting is just as bad as not knowing at all. Follow up with your employees and communicate to them some of the results and share areas that need improvement. Ultimately, this will increase morale within the company, because employees will feel included and valued.
  1. Be intentional with your questions: As we discussed earlier, pulse surveys are short—so if you only ask five questions, make sure they are not leading or biased. Try to be specific. You can ask questions such as: How happy are you at work? Can you see clear career progression in your role? or Are you given opportunities to learn and develop your skills? 

These surveys are not open-ended. They are rated on a Likert scale which allows employees to rate their responses using a scale of one to 10, or a range from strongly disagree to strongly agree. 

Explain how the feedback will be used: Prior to sending out the pulse survey, it is best to communicate with your employees that a survey will be sent out. In that same message, explain how their feedback will help the company improve, and how much their participation is appreciated. Also, clearly state the timeline so that employees know when the survey needs to be completed. Not only does this help make your job easier, but it also makes the employee feel like their time is valuable and you are keeping it top of mind. If the surveys are sent out in the morning, you can also send a reminder email during the afternoon for anyone who has not completed their survey yet.

Employers that use pulse surveys as a tool for an employee engagement improvement strategy often see an increase in engagement, improved organizational structure, and overall better communication. 

Get your finger on the pulse…

Ultimately, pulse surveys are a two-way street for communication between employees and employers. Try to be creative in your approach. Ask questions that matter to your staff. Get them talking so you can keep them engaged. And don’t forget to follow up after the survey.

If you consistently take these steps, you’ll be in better sync with your employees—helping you identify any leaky pipes, as well as seizing opportunities for improvement.

SurveyMonkey provides great tools and resources that can help you generate your own surveys that will be most effective.

Check the temperature of your business operations and assess employee engagement using employee engagement pulse survey questions. Design a survey with your brand and refine it with access to shared images, documents, themes, and templates. 

NPS®, Net Promoter® & Net Promoter® Score are registered trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company and Fred Reichheld.

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