What is a pulse survey and how do you run one?
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Staff “pulse” surveys are growing in popularity as a way to get real-time data from employees, but what are they and can they really help your business?

What is a pulse survey?

Pulse surveys are short and frequent surveys used to ‘take the pulse’ of the organisation in real-time – so you can get a sense of how engaged your team are. How short? Well, the Pulse Survey tool which is part of citrus HR’s software asks just one question (“How satisfied are you with work at the moment?”) and gives staff three possible answers – a smiley face, and unhappy face, or a neutral face. Increasingly used instead of the more traditional annual staff survey (but also still sometimes used alongside it) they provide a way to frequently check in with employees and gauge how they feel about work. Although annual surveys are still popular with business, with Gartner finding that in 2019 74% of organisations will still use formal large scale surveys, this number is on the decline as more and more organisations search for better, more agile ways to measure how their employees are feeling. As a small business, you may not have time to analyse the mountain of data that comes with typical annual surveys or maybe you feel a more informal approach suits your business better. Most small companies have probably never done any formal staff survey at all! If so, then pulse surveys could be right for you.

Why use pulse surveys?

According to the CIPD allowing your people to communicate their views helps boost their innovation and productivity, leading to real business improvement. It’s the first step to gaining an understanding of how your employees are feeling and being able to identify whether any changes need to be made. Here are some of the top benefits of using pulse surveys to do this:

  1. Real-time Data – An annual survey will always be a backwards-looking exercise. Working in a small business, things can evolve and change quickly and getting feedback once a year won’t cut it. Pulse surveys give you real-time data that doesn’t take long to analyse meaning you can act on the results immediately.
  2. Spot trends quickly – By send out pulse surveys weekly or even monthly you’ll very quickly build up a picture showing you whether things are changing over time. Looking at how responses are affected by changes you’ve made recently gives you a powerful insight into what’s working and what’s not.
  3. Good response rate – Let’s face it, no one enjoys filling out a long survey. Pulse surveys are quick and easy to complete meaning employees are more likely to complete them. With 6Q suggesting that response rates for pulse surveys can be as high as 90-100% you are getting a better overall view of the feeling in your business.
  4. Improved employee engagement – A culture of asking for regular feedback, and even more importantly, acting on that feedback, shows that you value the opinions of your employees. It can help to create an environment of open communication which in turn can lead to more engaged employees and strong working relationships. In fact, Achievers found that a huge 90% of workers said they are more likely to stay at a company that takes and acts on feedback.

How to run a pulse survey:

How often should they be sent?

There isn’t a one size fits all approach to pulse surveys – sending out a survey weekly will provide you with some great data showing how the engagement of your employees changes over time (without needing to wait too long to spot any trends!) but this might not suit everyone.  You know your employees and business better than anyone else and you might decide that sending a survey once a week will be too frequent for some. In this case, monthly or quarterly surveys may work better for you whilst still building up that trend data.

What should I ask?

Pulse surveys are supposed to be quick and easy to respond to so keeping questions short and not overcomplicating them is key.

How can I send these?

There are plenty of software tools which offer pulse surveys – often costing close to £100/ month. At citrus HR we’ve made it quick, easy and free (for our customers) to send out pulse surveys to employees from our HR software. You can choose how often you want to send it, how long you want to give employees to reply and whether you want responses to be anonymous or not. We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for employees to respond so that as many as possible do so.

They’ll simply choose a sad, neutral or happy smiley (and they can add in a comment if they want to). We suggest that normally a small business should do a survey like this once a month—any more often feels too much in most small companies we’ve talked to. But if your team are hybrid working or remote, then it might be better to do it more often. Whether you want to check in with the team with everyone working from home or want to build up a picture of staff satisfaction over time our pulse surveys can help.

What should I do with the results?

Employee pulse surveys will only help boost staff engagement if you act on what you learn from them. Communication needs to be two way so if employees are taking the time to provide you with feedback, they expect you to respond and show that you’re listening to their feedback. Review the results and the feedback you’ve received to pin down what’s not working. Even if you can’t solve an issue straight away its important to acknowledge the feedback and discuss any concerns with your team.


Looking for additional support in running pulse surveys? Get in touch on info@citrushr.com or give us a call on 0333 014 3888 to find out more about our easy-to-use HR and Payroll  Software or discuss how our team can help.

The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend. You can find more detail on this in our Terms of Website Use.

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