PEOPLE OPS PLAYBOOK

How to Create an Employee Pulse Survey

What is a pulse survey? What is the purpose of a pulse survey? When to use pulse surveys instead of engagement surveys?


TL;DR:
Pulse surveys are recurrent and fast-to-complete check-ins to help organizations easily gather meaningful feedback from their people. You’ll be able to not only spot red flags before there’s too much damage but also identify what’s going well at the company to keep investing in these initiatives. Pulse surveys can focus on any workplace topic: from strategic alignment to company culture, learning and development, DEI, compensation, remote work… You name it. But here’s the catch: To reap the many benefits of running pulse surveys, you must commit to taking action.

Using engagement surveys to gather employee feedback is crucial for business success. However, as thorough questionnaires, these surveys shouldn’t be sent too often — but things change fast. With that, waiting until the following survey round to find out how your team’s sentiment over specific issues (especially timely ones, like remote work) has developed isn’t a good idea. So what’s the best practice? Send out brief pulse surveys between each engagement questionnaire

By preparing and inviting your team to take part in quick pulse surveys, you’ll show that you care about your people’s opinions and that you’re listening to their needs — all while nipping issues in the bud before they damage employee retention, engagement, and business growth.

As with medical check-ups, the early diagnosis of organizational issues surfaced through pulse surveys is critical for recovery. Discovering, for example, that your employees want more flexibility is your chance to offer them that, if possible for your organization. The alternative is not knowing until it’s too late and people quit. 

Pulse surveys can also help you understand the effect of new policies, keep track of engagement trends, nurture a feedback culture, measure the impact of current action plans, and make data-informed decisions.

Gallup research uncovered that 8% of employees strongly agree that their employer takes action on surveys, while 38% have no clue if the company is taking any action. So sending out engagement or pulse surveys isn’t enough: You must share results with your people and use the data gathered to take action and address their concerns. This thought may seem overwhelming, but a survey tool with advanced analytics can not only make the process easy for you and your team, but also provide actionable insights.

Sounds good, but you still don’t know how to go about it? No worries: Keep reading this playbook to find out how to create an employee pulse survey, including how often to do it, how to select pulse survey questions, and crucial tips.


What you’ll need for
this playbook

A clear survey purpose

Pulse surveys must be concise and easy to respond to. Focus on specific areas for which you’d not only like to gather employee feedback, but could also take action.

A defined audience

Your people’s time is valuable, so segment pulse surveys by groups if questions aren’t relevant to everyone (e.g., not applicable to a department, location, or remote team).

When to use
this playbook

You can use pulse surveys to gauge the pulse of your company on various topics, including action plans deriving from previous employee engagement surveys, restructuring, L&D, DEI, compensation, benefits, remote model, internal process, company culture... And any other topic that can be measured and, ideally, tracked over time.

HINTS & TIPS
  • Pulse surveys are complementary, but not a replacement to engagement surveys.
  • You already know that the key to pulse surveys is to keep them simple, so make sure that whichever participation option you choose will be a smooth experience for your employees. Say no to paper forms, or you’ll receive very few responses (if any).
  • If running a company-wide pulse survey, don’t ask team-specific questions. Keep things relevant.
  • Stick to your chosen intervals for recurrent surveys (which you can easily automate with a survey platform). But if there is continuous improvement in a specific area, it’s OK to increase the intervals. Otherwise, respondents may not know what to say.
  • The shorter the intervals, the shorter the surveys should be.
  • If changing a previous questionnaire, let respondents know. To keep responses accurate, you want to make sure they understand nuance and don’t overlook wording changes.

How to run this People Ops Playbook:


1. With a defined purpose, determine how often you’ll run the survey

Now that you know what you’ll focus on, take some time to figure out the best recurrence for your pulse survey. Although it can also be a one-off, we recommend making pulse surveys recurrent and tracking engagement and other data trends over time for even better insights.

Different survey goals may determine different recurrences. For instance, if running a survey on your company’s DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) initiatives, would it make sense to run it every month? Or would a longer gap (e.g., 3–6 months) be more appropriate, considering the time you need to analyze results, create an action plan, and kickstart these DEI initiatives?

If, however, running a pulse survey on a new company policy (e.g., a new hybrid work setup), a six-month gap between surveys might be too long to identify decreased engagement and issues that you could tackle fairly quickly.

2. Choose your survey’s questions

Determine the number of questions for your survey and work on those questions. Setting a cadence in step 1 will be helpful now — if sending a pulse survey every four weeks, you’d want to keep it as brief as possible. We recommend keeping pulse surveys to 5–15 questions, so it’s better to keep it on the shorter side for monthly or bi-weekly questionnaires. Ideally, these surveys should be completed in no more than five minutes.

When selecting the questions, refer to our downloadable survey template with best-practice questionnaires on 22 categories and, if creating more questions, keep in mind that they should be measurable. Although a platform with advanced people analytics can provide sentiment analysis for qualitative answers, quantitative data makes for clearer tracking. Besides, if pulse surveys require thorough input (which can be the case with too many open-ended questions), you might see response levels drop.

Keep things simple and actionable. Asking “Do you feel engaged at work?” won’t provide the same insights as a more specific “Can employees at the company voice their opinions without fear of retribution or rejection?” would.

3. Invite participants and provide the information they need

Implementing pulse surveys shows that your organization values communication, so take the lead by sending, along with the questions/survey invitation, straightforward information on:

  • The purpose of the survey;
  • How much time would be needed to fill it out;
  • A deadline for participation;
  • Anonymity. Make it clear that participation is anonymous — and of course, ensure that anonymity is guaranteed (which you can easily do with a survey platform like Leapsome);
  • How you intend to use these results. Employees know when there’s no practical purpose for a survey; in such cases, survey fatigue rises and the response rate plummets. Communicate that the organization intends to act upon survey responses to make improvements.

4. Send out reminders to increase participation

Don’t be forceful, as that could lead to participants skimming over the survey and unreliable results. But don’t be afraid to remind your team that surveys are essential to give them the best employee experience possible.

A best-practice tip is to use multiple internal communications channels to share these reminders. E.g., company all-hands meetings, chat, email. You can also ask managers to remind their team members during 1:1s and department meetings.


Follow-up best practices for OKR check-ins


Dig into the data

This is how you’ll understand what’s most crucial and flag key insights. Without interpreting quantitative and qualitative responses, you’ll have plenty of data, but no way to inform an action plan. A tool with advanced people analytics can even analyze qualitative responses, offering a sentiment analysis and action plan suggestions.

Share the results

Research proves that transparent communication increases engagement. Besides, you don’t want your team to think their responses aren’t taken seriously — otherwise, why would anyone put time into participating? 

There’s no need to make this complex. Easy-to-understand statistics and basic graphs with strong and weak points will do the job. But be timely. There’s most likely no point in presenting results from a survey done five months ago.

You may also want to include anonymous quotes from employees to show that you are listening to them. Gaining further anonymous feedback on comments you may not have understood can also be very helpful.

Take action

Outline specific ways the company plans to respond to the data collected in the survey. If possible, communicate these when presenting results and make your actions time-bound. This way, your employees will know that you aren’t making empty promises for the distant future.

Additionally, be clear about why some employee requests won’t be tackled for the moment. If they don’t understand your reasons not to pursue specific initiatives at this time, your people can feel frustrated and not take part in future surveys.


— Interested in learning even more about employee engagement surveys? Access our People Ops Playbook on how to run an employee engagement survey and our free template with 72 engagement survey questions in 22 categories. 😉

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the advantages of pulse surveys?

Some of the advantages you’ll get from running pulse surveys are:

  • Increased participation rate;
  • Nurturing a feedback culture;
  • Making your employees feel heard;
  • Getting input on specific topics;
  • Tracking initiatives kicked off after engagement surveys;
  • Identifying issues before they become a bigger problem.

Are pulse surveys and employee engagement surveys the same?

No. Pulse surveys should be much shorter and focused on specific areas. They should also be more frequent and are complementary to engagement surveys (you can also use pulse surveys to gauge the response to initiatives implemented after an engagement survey).

How many questions should I include in a pulse survey? How long should a pulse survey be?

We recommend keeping pulse surveys between 5 and 15 questions. The right number of questions for you depends on the survey’s purpose, scope, and recurrence. Recurrence should also be top of mind: the shorter the interval between pulse surveys, the shorter they should be.

Pro tip: If running a recurrent survey, rotate questions and consider “smart sampling” — meaning that not every participant is asked the same questions


What to do with pulse survey results?

Analyze the data, ideally with the help of a GDPR-compliant platform with advanced people analytics, work on an action plan, and share results with participants.

Explore other playbooks

Run smooth operations with our easy-to-follow how-tos and best practices for all things People Ops