The pitfalls of employee pulse surveys

Fred Gulliford

6 Aug, 2019

Fred Gulliford

When so-called ‘pulse’ surveys are done right, they can be effective, but we’ve found that it’s easy to fall into a few common pitfalls. Are you following pulse survey best practices? Are they even a good fit for your organisation? Whatever you decide, here’s what to avoid:

1. Sending surveys too often leads to low response rates

If your teams have to constantly answer employee engagement pulse survey questions, they’re likely to stop replying. What’s the point if they gave feedback recently but nothing’s happened? They want to see action and change.

 

2. Too many surveys = more work than you can handle

The feedback you get from employees won’t have much use if you don’t have the time to implement it. It’s fine if they just want more stationery, but if they’ve got a more nuanced issue with the office culture, it’ll take longer to deal with. They want to see the result before another survey goes out. Feedback is just the start of the process - give yourself time to make meaningful change for your employees.

 

3. Don’t ask the same questions over and over again

It might sound obvious but we’ve seen it happen. Not only are some people sending out surveys too often, they’re asking the same questions that their employees have already taken the time to reply to. It compounds the problem and reduces employee engagement even further.

Some people describe pulse surveys like you are “always listening.” Do it wrong though, and you’re more likely to give the impression that you’re “always asking, never listening.”

When pulse surveys go wrong

You might be guilty of some of the issues we’ve highlighted, but still getting positive results in your employee engagement surveys. That doesn’t surprise us - you’re still likely to see good results at the start particularly when you have moved away from a traditional annual survey. The problem is that they tail off dramatically - we tracked these results ourselves from a typical survey:

Screenshot 2019-08-05 at 18.24.32

At first, digital pulse survey platforms are great. You get an improved user experience, regular feedback cycles and wide ranging feedback - all presented nicely in an intuitive dashboard.

However, over time this engagement tails off. Participation rates fall, your ability to act on feedback quickly becomes overwhelming, and as a consequence your teams lose trust in the whole process.

Here are some representative examples of the typical comments we've seen when analysing pulse survey responses:

“You have asked me this question multiple times and my answer still remains the same. Stop asking me every week!."
“This is a good survey but I have doubts about management's ability to respond or act on anything that comes out of it."
“The effort of answering all of these questions need to be met with actions driven by management. It isn't worth all our time to answer questions each week if nothing comes from it."

What’s the alternative? Slow down, be smarter

Getting feedback is important, but it’s just the first piece of the puzzle. Having the tools to ask questions isn’t the same as analysing the root cause of complex problems.

 

1. Tailor your questions at every stage

Don’t plan several surveys in advance. Diagnose areas of focus and opportunity first and then tailor your follow-up questions based on what your teams have said. 

 

2. Don’t tie yourself to a set schedule

Once you’ve sent your first survey, plan your next one based on the feedback you’ve received. For example, if in your initial survey, your people have highlighted issues surrounding diversity and inclusion, ask questions that dig deeper into that issue to uncover the underlying problems in your next round of feedback. 

Think about employee engagement survey frequency. How long will it take to start making the changes you’ve been asked for?

 

3. Get your people to respond in their own words

Numbers and tick boxes are fine but ideally you want real responses, written in their own words. Using open text feedback as part of your survey is a great opportunity to support quantitative scores with the rich, contextual insight that language provides. They'll give a greater sense of how your employees are feeling and any deep-seated problems.

But manually analysing open text feedback has traditionally been very time consuming, susceptible to bias and impossible to do at scale. To access to this kind of insight it is important you use Natural Language Processing – or NLP to help categorise verbatim comments into themes and sentiment. Here at Qlearsite, NLP is a core feature of all our surveys.NLP_Engage

4. Make a plan, then communicate it

Once you know what the issues are, develop a strategy and tell everyone what the plan is. Once they can see changes are being made, you can start asking new questions.

 

5. Ask new questions

Don’t repeat questions unless you’ve got good reason, like wanting to reassess your people's opinions now that you’ve implemented something. 


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