Annual business survey or pulse survey? Why timing matters

11 Aug 21 | Blog

Timing matters, especially when it comes to employee surveys. You need to pick the right time of day. Would you want to blearily answer a load of difficult questions just after waking up? Equally important is how frequently your people are surveyed. Different frequencies go in and out of fashion. Where the one-and-done, megalithic, annual employee survey used to be standard, pulse surveys are now common. So what’s the difference, and what’s best for you?

What is a pulse survey?

The clue’s in the name: pulse surveys are short questionnaires that ‘take the pulse’ of an organisation’s people. Often sent weekly, they tend to include some of the same questions each time to keep track of changing responses. Such surveys are often distributed by email, text, or using an app.


    • Real-time awareness of how employees’ feel: by asking for employee feedback so regularly, leaders can learn about problems as soon as they arise.
    • Low effort for employees to take part: because these surveys are short with familiar questions, it’s not a commitment to complete – which could raise response rates.
    • It’s easier to spot emerging trends: running similar surveys close together makes them easier to compare, so trends in responses can be identified and tracked.


    • Survey fatigue from too many being sent out: though they may be short, a weekly survey can feel like overkill and people might stop taking part completely.
    • Repeated questions become irritating to employees: being asked the same question might make it feel like you’re not actually listening, just asking as part of an exercise.
    • It can feel like a one-way conversation: you can’t possibly set new changes in motion each week you send surveys, but that can make it feel like you’re not responding at all.

What about annual business surveys?

Annual surveys are more traditional – they’re often long, comprehensive, and used to help organisations benchmark against themselves. Distribution of these surveys is at a set time each year and they are organisation-wide. Next the management team will usually spend a considerable amount of time analysing the results and deciding their next steps.


    • Organisations can benchmark against themselves: by running the same exercise yearly, organisations can view year-on-year performance and see if initiatives work.
    • Provides a thorough analysis of overall performance: with one big survey, you have a chance to cover everything that’s important and go into some depth.
    • It can lead to large-scale changes backed by data: as it’s a company-wide annual activity, everyone can be invested in taking action off the back of the results.


    • It takes too long for analysis and, subsequently, action: it can take a while to interpret feedback – partly as it’s so high stakes – which means change is delayed.
    • Waiting to ask for feedback means it could be too late: if your employees have issues at any point before that one survey, the damage could be too late to fix.
    • There’s too much pressure to get high response rates: for the teams running the surveys, there’s a lot riding on getting people to participate – just one change per year.

Our conclusion? Neither alone is the answer

Though it’s tempting to take a hard line – don’t. Find the middle ground is the obvious answer. Annual employee surveys have their uses, but frequent feedback matters too. Many thought leaders agree, suggesting that a mix-and-match approach is best. Ask for feedback regularly, but meaningfully. That could mean aligning with key events, checking in once per quarter, or reacting to unexpected crisis situations.

How Qlearsite helps you get surveys right

When it comes to employee surveys, we consider ourselves experts. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a full organisational scan. An employee engagement survey or a deep dive focused on a specific topic – it’s all about the approach to surveys themselves. Our question sets? Proven to get high response rates, and data linked to clear outcomes. Our survey advice? Unmatched, and data-led. Our platform? Easy to use, providing you powerful insights.
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