3 best practices for setting up your employee engagement pulse survey

Chelsea Milojkovic
March 10, 2022
3 best practices for setting up your employee engagement pulse survey

If you’re on the road to swapping out lengthy annual employee engagement surveys for snappy and regular pulse surveys, you’re in great company! Opening feedback channels that enable year-round communication between employees and leadership is increasingly expected by a modern workforce.  

And the business benefits of feeling continuously heard at work are, unsurprisingly, huge. In a global study by The Workforce Institute it was found that:

“Highly engaged employees are three times more likely to say they feel heard at their workplace (92%) than highly disengaged employees (just 30%).”  

Now the task is to set up an employee engagement pulse survey that your employees love to engage with! Here are a few of the best practices recommended by our internal experts at Winningtemp.

1. Be selective about the number of questions you ask (keep it brief!)

For an employee engagement pulse survey, which is sent out on a regular basis as opposed to quarterly or yearly, it’s important to think about what provides the best experience for employees — paired with the need to collect the best and most relevant data (at the right points in time as well).

You need to aim to keep your response rate high across the year, while collecting as much data as you can.  

Miroslavan Valan, PhD, our AI/Machine Learning expert in our data science team at Winningtemp, says: “When we look at our data and consider quality, quantity, and timing, we see the sweet spot is to ask 4-7 questions, weekly."

When the threshold of 7 questions passed, we can see the effects of survey fatigue start to set in — in the form of response rates going down several percentage points.

Rebecca Granlund, Customer Success Manager (CSM) at Winningtemp, recommends using 6 questions or less in each survey, as it makes for a better experience for the user — it’s more comfortable and easier. You should be able to complete it from your phone, on-the-go.”  

Should you want to test to see what works for you organisation, Johan Weilenmann, CSM, recommends: “Start with 6. It’s easier to go down from 6 than to start with 4 and go up.”  

2. Have the survey sent out on a regular, recurring basis  

It’s important to help your organisation get into a rhythm answering these pulse surveys. Here you might be wondering what the frequency should be — whether to send once a week, every other week, or once per month? It’s a valid question because you don’t want to overburden neither employees providing the feedback — nor your HR teams and managers who need to act on the data.

Here it’s important to consider what type of platform you’re using to send out the surveys, and how the data is then presented to you. If it’s an automated send-out and automated analysis, then you don't need to factor this in to nearly the same extent. Instead, you can focus on choosing the frequency that will give you the most amount of relevant data while keeping users engaged.  As Miroslav mentioned, sending out a smaller number of questions on a weekly basis can be a good formula for achieving this.  

There are other benefits associated with sending your (shorter) employee engagement pulse survey weekly, too. As Louise Ekelund, CSM, points out, receiving the pulse survey each week helps make it more of a routine. It becomes a natural part of your week to answer these kinds of questions about your wellbeing at work and within your team. This way as an employee, these topics stay top of mind, and you feel included in the discussions around them.

Weekly feedback also allows you to notice the micro-triggers of engagement or disengagement. Rebecca  says: “A lot can happen in two weeks. From the employee perspective, it can be comforting to know they will have an opportunity each week where they can anonymously ask for help or give feedback.”  

For some organisations, monthly will be preferable. In this case, it’s recommended to increase the number of questions you ask to gather more data points at one time.

THE WINNINGTEMP DEMO VIDEO  See how Winningtemp's pulse survey works Watch the 2-min demo

3. Choose the number of response options relative to the data you would like to collect  

Employee engagement pulse surveys tend to take the form of a “Likert” scale, which look something like this:

1- strongly agree 2 - agree 3 - neither agree nor disagree 4 - disagree 5 – strongly disagree

What is the ideal number of response options to provide? Drawing from the findings of a study by Simms et al. (2019), the advice is to stay above 3 options. Question scales that performed poorly were those with 2 and 3 options; stabilise occurred at four increments. 4 or above is more likely to help you capture a given phenomenon. There was no significant difference, however, when comparing 7+ response options to fewer. More options did not make the data more accurate.  

So, we are left with the difference between 4- and 5-point scales. Which is considered best practice for an employee engagement pulse survey?  

The science is subtle on this point, having found pros and cons for each. From an engagement perspective, the sticking point of the 5-point scale is the “neutral” middle option. In a study by Kulas and Stachowski (2013), it was seen that reasons for choosing the middle option were:  

“(a) the answer reflects a moderate or neutral attitude to the phenomenon being measured (which is the ideal), (b) the respondent has difficulty deciding how he or she regards the question, (c) the respondent is confused about the meaning of the question, and/or (d) the respondent feels that his or her answer is context dependent (“neither”).”

If you are going to provide a middle option, which would be yellow on a red to green scale, you will likely see a lot of yellow because of what’s called a “central tendency bias(Nadler et al., 2015) or “survey satisficing” (Krosnick, 1991).  

Here it’s helpful to think about what it will be like to interpret the survey results.  Here Johan observes: “When you aggregate the data, it gives you a better picture, rather than if you see a lot of yellow and you don’t know what to do. You will start asking yourself, ‘do we have to work on this or not?”  

The survey questions measuring employee engagement are inherent to every employee’s experience of work and are designed to solicit their unique perspectives. By choosing between “disagree” or “agree,” Rebecca says: “You are being asked to articulate an opinion one way or another. Are you dissatisfied with the way things are and want to see a change — or are you feeling okay to continue with the current conditions?

The opinions and perspectives of your employees are highly valuable. By structuring your employee engagement pulse survey according to some of these best practices, you can help your employees be heard in a way they appreciate and in a way that easily tips into measurable actions and improvements.  

Watch how Winningtemp’s science-based survey engine does all the heavy lifting for you.


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