Annual employee engagement surveys vs pulse surveys: Is it time to make the switch?

Chelsea Milojkovic
September 22, 2021
Annual employee engagement surveys vs pulse surveys: Is it time to make the switch?

Listening to the voices of employees is crucial. Organisations that don’t bother are taking a shortcut to the very long delay of replacing talent. Even more importantly, what employees have to say is incredibly valuable. You have a whole lot of brainpower available that’s eager to innovate more readily and clear roadblocks to productivity.

The question is not whether to survey employees, but how. What is the best way to collect employee insights and feedback? 

Let’s start by comparing and contrasting the two most common types of employee engagement surveys: annual surveys and pulse surveys. 

Annual surveys

As the name suggests, annual surveys are sent out once per year (sometimes twice) to gather employees’ thoughts around a long list of topics, from onboarding, growth, and development to leadership and job satisfaction. Because they only happen once, they tend to be quite thorough. 

Pulse surveys

Pulse surveys are micro surveys mainly consisting of one to five questions. Like a heartbeat, they are sent out on a routine, repeating basis. The questions tend to revolve around a few key topics that the organisation wants to stay in tune with, but they can also be used more reactively to gather intel around problem areas that demand attention.

Dig into the details: annual surveys vs pulse surveys

Measuring up 

With annual surveys, it can be wonderful to receive such a thorough and detailed understanding of each employee’s view of the organisation and their role. The problem lies in being able to interpret this data at scale and turning it into action that makes a difference. 

Employee sentiment has a shelf life. Problems that are raised in the annual survey may be irrelevant by the time the solution is proposed. Or worse — exacerbated, to the point where someone has already left. There again, the solution will be irrelevant. 

With pulse surveys, you can get detailed information about what’s happening right now that may be interfering with employees’ ability to perform or collaborate effectively with their colleagues. The response can be immediate, and the solution mapped precisely to the problem. What’s more, thanks to continuous measurements, you can monitor if the solution is indeed working. 

Co-founder and CTO of Winningtemp, Mathias Hansson Fredlund, weighs in on the importance of continuous listening: 

Be proactive and identify early warnings and trends. This is more important than ever when a majority of people are working remotely and when we are not spending time with each other. Continuous learning and improvement is key to success in the long run.
Get instant feedback on the things you do in the organisation. Learn if you do the right thing. And give everyone in the organisation a “continuous” voice in the daily work. 
With real-time data, you always know what’s going on in the organisation and you shorten the distance from signal to action.

If pulse surveys are better — why do annual surveys still exist? 

A lot has to do with the rapid development of technology in the employee engagement space. Annual surveys can be answered in a Word document, which is why they’ve been around for such a long time. But pulse survey engines that automatically collect real-time data and display the results in a visual format — that’s relatively new. 

There has also been a cross-pollination between HR and the tech world that has occurred in recent years. The mentality around sprints, testing, and continuous learning that served the tech world so well in developing innovative products has been adopted across a number of fields.  

Thanks to the development of AI-assisted HR technology like Winningtemp, the following question becomes ever more valid: why reflect on a problem when you can prevent one? 

Michael Öhman, Senior Product Manager at Winningtemp, weighs in on how pulse surveys can better equip leaders in supporting the wellbeing and productivity of their people: 

With pulse surveys, leaders will get deep insights into their organisation's wellbeing at any given time. They will know what their employees’ biggest pain points are, what they would like to do about it, and the likelihood of employees taking sickness absence or leaving the organisation.
This way, leaders can act on early indicators to prevent problems before they emerge instead of waiting until there is a bigger problem that requires much more work to manage.
THE WINNINGTEMP DEMO VIDEO  See how Winningtemp's pulse survey works Watch the 2-min demo

How do I choose the right pulse survey platform?

Here are 8 of the most important factors to consider. 

1. Question variability.

Pulse surveys are sent out frequently, which makes it important for the questions to vary each week in order to keep up a high response rate. Look into platforms that have research-based question banks you can rely on, in addition to the ability of adding your own questions. It also helps to be able to modify these question banks if needed. 

2. Email-based or app-based.

A given — you don’t want anyone to have to log into a platform to answer their surveys. They should arrive directly to their email or app and be answered within a matter of seconds. 

3. Smiley emojis and the option to respond with comments.

The classic smiley emojis that correspond to the Strongly disagree - Strongly agree scale prompt high engagement rates. But you don’t want to leave it at that. Give employees the option of explaining their thoughts (anonymously, of course). 

4. Ability to respond.

Managers will want to be able to respond to comments, and employees will also want to see that their comments have been read and understood. Ensure that it’s possible to respond to pulse survey comments. 

5. Visual dashboard.

This isn’t an annual survey, after all. The idea is to SKIP combing through all the data yourself. Make sure that the pulse survey answers are visualised in a way that makes it clear where strengths and weaknesses lie, as well as what directions employee sentiment is heading. 

6. Follow-up capabilities.

Look for the ability to connect the insights you’re receiving to the actions you’ll take in response. Not only will this help you keep things organised and track impact, but it will also raise survey response rates when employees see that their feedback inspires swift action. 

7. Indexing.

What’s normal? It can be helpful to see index values to compare and contrast how your pulse survey data measures up against other actors in your industry. 

8. Plug-and-play.

Think simple & quick implementation, minimal to no training required, no software downloads. Get all the technical capabilities you need, but look for a well designed, web-based solution. You’ll thank yourself later!

How do we know these are the 8 most important factors? Winningtemp came to incorporate all of these ease-of-use features thanks to years of constant research, innovation, and assessment about how to best hear the voices of employees. 

And — plot twist! — our pulse survey-based platform actually gives you the best of the annual engagement survey world. Our questions are based on scientific research about the definitive drivers of positive employee experience. Winningtemp’s AI then chooses the most relevant questions for each employee. 

The result? Our platform gives you the most extensive and up-to-date picture possible of engagement at your organisation, with all the ease and speed of the pulse survey format.  

Watch a demo of our platform and see if this is the pulse survey solution you’re looking for!

Chelsea is Winningtemp’s Copy Whisperer. Her daily mission is to encourage people around the world to step into a new & improved era of employee experience. A native of California, Chelsea’s dreams of mist and stone brought her to Sweden’s west coast where she plans to frolic and write forever and ever.

About the author
Chelsea Milojkovic

Focusing on people

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