What is the best type of survey: Pulse or annual?

Patrick Phelan | 14th March 2017

Employee engagement surveys are one of the foundations of HR. They are designed to gather feedback from your people, so you can build action plans to increase happiness, productivity and ultimately your bottom line.

The right survey will successfully measure the sentiment, leadership, culture and engagement within your business. This will help you understand what to stop, start, change and continue to build relevant and engagement-boosting action plans.

Author and leading authority in the field of change leadership and organisational transformation, Timothy R. Clark adds – “Highly engaged employees make the customer experience. Disengaged employees break it.”

It is evident that employee satisfaction surveys are worthwhile. The only thing left to ponder is whether you should be using pulse surveys or annual surveys.

I will highlight why pulse surveys are the superior choice in today’s fast-paced business world.

Pulse surveys under the microscope

Pulse surveys allow you to gather instant intelligence on your most important asset – your people. Through regular communication, you can effectively motivate your people through periods of change – this will ensure cultural alignment.

They are conducted regularly, to ensure you can effectively “keep on the pulse” of your people and ultimately your organisation. The surveys are typically quite short. This ensures they aren’t considered as a chore – thus aiding your response and completion rates.

This allows you to gauge how everyone is feeling in real-time; enabling you to build relevant action plans to combat concerns and build on successes. Not only will this ensure your people feel valued, but it will also motivate them to them to share business ideas with you. By encouraging people to share innovations, you will benefit from their insights, whilst empowering your workforce.

Pulse surveys and annual surveys, empowering employees quote

An overview of the benefits of pulse surveys

  • Reduce onboarding and recruitment costs.
  • Attract and retain talent.
  • Reduce absenteeism and presenteeism.
  • Increase engagement, productivity and performance.
  • Accurately recognise areas for improvement and innovation.
  • Empower your workforce.
  • Easily locate problems and avoid them intensifying.
  • Analyse trends to predict future developments.
  • Identify skills gaps.

Annual surveys under the microscope

Annual surveys focus on distributing a mixed bag of questions in great numbers. They are typically very long-winded and onerous.

On the surface, they tick all the boxes. However, in practice they lack the regularity, relevance and usability required to boost employee engagement and improve business.

Here are some statistics that suggest HR has a clear need for change:

  • 8% of organisations thought their business was strong in people analytics, despite 75% realising its importance.(Deloitte)
  • Only 14% of business leaders are happy with the data HR is providing.” (CIPD)
  • 12% of executives believe their companies are driving the right culture, and fewer than one in three executives even understand their organisation’s culture.(Deloitte)

This is a good juncture to examine why annual surveys won’t provide the depth of analytics that pulse surveys can:

Lots of data, not enough insight

Annual engagement programmes will take your feedback and convert it all into a big, intimidating mass of data. By the time you have interpreted and processed everything – the data will likely be irrelevant and everyone could lose faith in your ability to listen to their feedback.

A good pulse surveying programme will convert your feedback into manageable and actionable insight. This paves the way to build tailored plans to improve the culture and drive productivity. This will secure buy-in for your people analytics programme from the board and your workforce.

Outdated feedback

Annual surveys cover the entire year – it’s all in the title! The problem is that most of your people will leave feedback about recent events. Consequently, this produces large holes where there is no data being collected. Put simply, you will have wasted key opportunities to make a positive impact and improve everyone’s working environment.

When people begin to feel like their feedback is being annoyed and nothing changes – then their engagement levels will plummet. This can result in your people being disillusioned by the employee surveying programme and refusing to take part.

Pulse vs annual surveys, data collection quote

Through pulse surveys, you have instant intelligence which allows you to take direct action. This is far more effective than trudging through historical data and building action plans when it is no longer relevant.

Unreliable data

Annual surveys won’t help to locate and solve problems when they are at their most critical. Instead of providing insight into the factors that influence staff engagement, the traditional annual survey simply delivers a two-dimensional view of your organisation and its people – over a short period only.

Pulse surveys make it easier for business leaders to keep their finger on the pulse of their organisation and measure their most important asset – their people and leaders. This is achieved by collecting real-time feedback and transforming it into data-driven and actionable insights. This will ensure you have constant opportunities to remedy concerns and build on successes – allowing you to make constant improvements that will drive all business forward and boost profits.

Lengthy and laborious

Annual surveys are very long and arduous, which can lead to everyone rushing through to finish the long list of questions. This can affect the validity of your results – as people will be focused on finishing the survey, rather than giving each question the measured thought it requires.

A survey will typically consist of about 100 questions and can therefore take a long time to complete. This can lead to high drop-off rates; whereby people start the survey and are too fatigued to finish.

Pulse surveys will barely impact upon your employee’s day and will typically only consist of about 5-10 questions. This ensures that more people will complete the surveys and the validity of your results will improve because the respondents will be more likely to give each question their full attention.

Business leaders are mostly keen for HR to adopt a more data-driven approach. We live in a fast-paced world, where waiting in line is not commonplace. Any question can be answered in just one click… So why wouldn’t we expect our employee engagement surveys to be instant too?

Annual employee surveys are not conducive to sustainable engagement. If you want to keep engagement on the agenda year-round then you need to have open dialogue with your people in real-time.