Over the years in an effort to get a better handle on how satisfied and engaged their employees are, companies have gathered feedback from their teams using employee engagement surveys. In more recent years, companies started adding pulse surveys to their arsenal of engagement tools; sometimes even replacing their existing engagement surveys. So what is the difference between the two types of surveys and is one better? The short answer is both have a role just like tracking your daily steps and your annual physical each serve a different purpose, so do pulse and engagement surveys. Before delving into their different purposes, let’s first look at how both types of surveys are alike.
Generally speaking, both surveys gather valuable feedback to help your organization further employee engagement, company culture and business results. Surveyed topics in both types of surveys often include: communication, leadership and management, job duties, development, career paths, DE&I, resources and compensation.
The results of the surveys shed light on employee engagement metrics and insight into why turnover numbers are decreasing or increasing. When asked correctly, leadership will have a better idea of overall sentiment, satisfaction and fulfillment at work.
The most popular types of questions for both surveys are Likert scale questions (for example a rating on a 1-5 or 0-10 scale) and open-ended questions (a short answer to gather context and a more in-depth understanding of sentiment).
The two most obvious differences between the two types of surveys are how often the survey is administered and the length of the survey. But because of their differences, the purpose of each survey and how their respective results can be used, diverge quite dramatically.
Employee engagement surveys when given regularly are usually annual, sometimes semi-annual. Pulse surveys, on the other hand, are delivered more frequently; sometimes multiple times per week, weekly and often monthly. Because engagement surveys are administered annually, the data collected is historical looking back on the prior year. Whereas, data gathered often and regularly, via a pulse survey, can be viewed dynamically for a better understanding of the company’s present state.
The typical employee engagement survey contains 30-50 questions and will take about 10-30 minutes to complete. Due to the longer length, companies experience lower response rates on their employee engagement surveys- typically about 30-40%. Conversely, pulse surveys have 1-10 questions and can be completed very quickly, sometimes in a few seconds, depending on the delivery method.
Due to their length and the infrequency of the engagement survey, the data collected from them is historical and widespread. Meaning, the data is about past events and circumstances from the year prior, and the data usually tends to cover a wide range of topics. As such, the data can be used as a discovery tool to uncover unknown issues and identify new areas of focus. Think of it as the first stage in the journey to improving engagement.
Because pulse surveys tend to be nimble by nature, it is easier to drill down on specific areas of interest or concern and pivot to entirely new areas when the need arises. They offer better continuity and as such are able to measure the effects of actions taken along the way. A well-executed pulse survey can become an additional form of ongoing communication especially for those employees who might not otherwise have the opportunity to provide input to leadership. Pulse surveys have the potential to become a powerful tool to drive continuous improvement and help managers become better leaders.
Instead of thinking of pulse and engagement surveys as either/or, we like to think of them as complementary tools in improving the health of an organization. Even if we diligently visit the doctor each year for our annual physical, it does not let us off the hook when it comes to keeping an eye on our daily sleep, eating and exercise routines. Think of engagement surveys as the annual check-up, and pulse surveys as the preventive care of employee engagement. The question then becomes, is it worth investing a little each day, to address the issues before they become the big problems? We say, yes.