To pulse or not to pulse

Or, in defence of the annual survey

Pulse surveys are super cool, and the annual survey is a thing of the past – well that is what everyone is saying these days.

You cannot dip your toe in the employee feedback market without hearing about why we need to “ditch the annual survey” and move to pulse surveys.

If you ask people to describe the annual survey to you then you get a couple of consistent responses:

  1. Big and clumsy
  2. Lots of effort to deploy
  3. Difficult to analyse the results
  4. Boring – lots of questions
  5. Questions don’t always fit our culture or the problem we think we may have
  6. Really difficult to resolve all the problems because businesses are big

So the answer is to run Pulse surveys yeah?

Makes sense – ask a few people, a few questions, quickly and more often, with questions that you write and are easier to analyse!

Well, no actually and also yes…

Answering a different question

So, when people are asked about annual surveys, they are maybe not answering the right question, let’s look at what people mean when they describe an annual survey:

What they say What they mean
They are big and clumsy

Lots of effort to deploy
– This survey is for my whole organisation and that requires an appropriate amount of work to make sure this works for us
– I am thinking about old school surveys using paper forms or with spreadsheet outputs
Difficult to analyse the results – I am not a data analyst
– I am thinking about old school surveys using paper forms or with spreadsheet outputs
– I do not understand the data
Boring – Lots of questions

Questions don’t always fit our culture or the problem we may have  
– Old school surveys I have used before were mechanistic and didn’t let me write my own questions
– I am not an expert in this
Really difficult to resolve all the problems because businesses are big   – I have results but do not know where to start

The question being answered isn’t “do annual surveys add value?” but more around how the individual feels about their ability to deploy and run an annual survey and more importantly understand the results and make real changes – and this is probably based on some old school survey thinking experiences!

Changes in technology has meant that the heavy lifting is no longer the burden of the individual and analytical prowess is not needed to understand the results.

Why annual big surveys are great!

A big survey (they do not need to be annual) gives you two key areas that typical pulse surveys do not:

  1. A large data set
  2. A broad set of baselines

Both are important from both a data analysis point of view and a change point of view, let’s look though at baselines.


What is a baseline? Here are a few quotes from the internet:

  1. baseline data. a set of data collected at the beginning of a study or before intervention has occurred.
  2. The purpose of a baseline study is to provide an information base against which to monitor and assess an activity’s progress and effectiveness during implementation and after the activity is completed.

So, a baseline is your starting point, your initial results that you can track positive or negative results against.

Without a baseline it is really difficult to understand results from smaller narrow pulse surveys, not impossible but certainly open to error and bias.

The annual survey sets the baseline, or baselines, this could be an overall index score or multiple ones like ‘Employee Wellbeing’ ‘Leadership’ ‘Reward’

And this is where the pulse survey really comes in strong!

Pulse surveys are great too!

Pulse surveys are great for measuring employee experience in two ways:

When used in conjunction with a larger survey to track how you are doing against that survey

This allows you to pulse different departments appropriate questions that are relevant to their survey results.

These can then be compared to the baseline to see what is working and what is not, a cycle of Large Survey – Analysis and Goal Setting – Pulse Surveys is great to keep you on track to delivering your goals and improving the employee experience.

Checking in

Pulse surveys are also great at just checking in with people or asking them a quick opinion question.

“How can we improve the meeting rooms here?” – Free Text

“Did you like the new Internal Comms magazine issued last month?” – Yes/No

But beware…

Survey Fatigue

One of the problems that come hand in hand with continual feedback or always on feedback is survey fatigue, this is where the respondents stop seeing the survey as a way of communicating how they feel and more as a burden to them – often caused by too many surveys and not enough action (This will be a future blog, stay posted!)

Solving a problem or selling a product?

Lots of tech companies now seem to have developed a pulse survey just for you – which is fab as it drives choice into the market, but is it useful?

Providers of HR systems, employee benefits, payroll systems, learning solutions and more all of a sudden have developed a pulse survey module built into their offering, but they are potentially not well placed to actually help you with:

  • Understanding what is the problem you are trying to solve; how should you approach this?
  • Helping with the results, so what now, how do I analyse this beyond the dashboard data?
  • Seeing the commercial picture, what are the other data points we need to consider, how do these results impact our people and our business?

This is because providers of tech are tech people, sales people, account managers but often they are not data specialists, employee experience experts, engagement experts etc.

Now that may be irrelevant because you are these things and in which case great!

“Tech based businesses were so preoccupied with whether they could build a pulse survey, they didn’t stop to think if they should”

Dr Ian Malcolm (paraphrased)

The People Experience Hub

If you want to find out more about our suite of employee feedback solutions, then please do get in touch via the website –

About the author

My name is Nick Court and I work at The People Experience Hub

Find out more about the solutions we offer at

Drop the team an email

Or hit me up on email on twitter @Scruffy_Nick or on LinkedIn here

We would love to hear what you think.

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