Something went wrong, please try again later.


Employee pulse surveys: What to ask, when to run them and where they fit in

23 Sep 2020 - Blog

Employee Pulse Surveys: What to ask, when to run them and where they fit in

Employee pulse surveys are a more frequent way of collecting employee feedback. They can be stand-alone or combined with annual or ‘census’ surveys. They typically measure employee engagement, collect feedback on a specific business issue or track the impact of change initiatives.  

During Covid-19 many organisations opted to run pulses to keep up with the rapid pace of change. Pulse surveys are effective for most organisations. However, it’s vital that you can respond and make changes after every round of feedback. 

This blog post will show you what questions to include in an employee pulse survey, how often you should run them and where they fit into your existing survey programme.  


1. What’s the difference between Pulse, Annual and Always On?

Changing from traditional surveying needn’t be daunting with good advice and support. Some organisations are choosing to solely use pulse surveys for employee listening, while others are using pulses alongside their annual survey. Introducing employee pulse surveys alongside other listening techniques provides a full measure of the employee experience and helps you make changes quickly to improve your culture, talent retention and performance 

Different kinds of employee survey include: 

Table comparing different employee survey types

2. Benefits of running an employee pulse survey

Keep up with rapid change.  

Pulse surveys can provide quick feedback on the progress of new initiatives or significant business changes, in between annual/census surveys.  

How an integrated survey programme might look:

A typical pulse survey cycle

It’s good for your culture.  

Asking for regular feedback is a great indicator of a transparent company culture. It is also consultative, involving and inclusive to ask how your employees feel about changes and, vitally, to act on what they tell you.  

Dig into specific issues  

Annual surveys are great for a full measure of employee engagement. However, pulse surveys can provide you with detailed feedback on specific issues. For example, during lockdown organisations ran pulses to measure how effective the transition to remote working had been.  

Free Covid Engagement Survey

Report on pilot programmes 

Employee pulse surveys are brilliant way to report on programmes tested in one business division, giving you evidence to roll it out elsewhere. 

See how Fuller’s did this


Get started today with our FREE employee pulse survey question-sets:  

Measure employee engagement during Covid-19   

Consult your employees about returning to work 

3. How does an employee pulse survey fit into your business?

Introducing pulse surveys doesn’t always mean ditching your annual employee survey. People Insight help organisations combine listening techniques and frequencies into an integrated listening strategy. This gives you a full measure of the employee experience with clear, actionable insights. 

TSB: An integrated listening model at work

TSB’s listening model includes multiple ways for leaders to glean actionable insight. There are a range of routine approaches for the whole organisation, for instance: 

  • Annual deep dive surveys for issues that matter to the organisation and them individually 
  • Fortnightly stand up Q&A ran by execs for topical issues 
  • Online discussions & polls to get quick responses 
  • Team meetings and 1:1s for more local discussion and to generate feedback 

TSB also built in the option to add listening activities at key moments, for example quarterly employee pulse surveys to check in on engagement issues.  

More: TSB’s listening strategy


TSB's listening model combines annual and pulse surveys


4. How often should you run an employee pulse survey?

Typically,organisations run one or two pulses between annual surveys. This frequency allows you to review and act on the data before running your next pulse survey.

However, pulse survey timings will vary by organisation and depend on what you’re asking and how fast you can act. Before running a pulse survey, understand your realistic pace of change. Avoid asking for employee feedback more often than you can act on it.

Pulse survey feedback cycle

5. What should you ask in an employee pulse survey?

Use the free pulse survey questions below to build your employee engagement pulse survey. Consider customising your questions if you are digging into a more specific topic or issue within your organisation.

Ask us about pulse survey questions


How many questions should be in a pulse survey 

Pulse surveys are more concise than annual employee surveys, allowing you to focus on specific topics. We recommend including 15 questions.  


How do you design an employee pulse survey?  

Effective pulse survey questions are unambiguous, based on the same response scale throughout and are either all positive or all negative. It’s good practice to ask the same questions before and after a change in order to measure progress consistently. 

People Insight’s employee pulse survey design starts with the PEARL™ model of engagement. PEARL™ provides a great starting point for a regular pulse survey and covers the themes that are proven to drive employee engagement.  


How PEARL engagement model works


If you’ve run an annual survey using the PEARL question-settake a look at the key issues that emerged i.e. your key drivers or responses that were far below historical/external benchmarks. These priorities are usually the areas you have decided to act on!  

Track the success of your changes by asking these priority questions again in your pulse survey, and reviewing the changes in quantitative scores and open-text comments. 


Example employee pulse survey questions  

Firstly, we recommend including these 5 questions in every survey to track employee engagement over time. These questions represent the PEARL engagement index; the 5 factors which demonstrate how engaged your people are:  

  1. I am proud to say I work for <Client name>  
  2. I would recommend <Client name> as a good place to work  
  3. Working here makes me want to do the best work I can  
  4. I would still like to be working at <Client name> in two years’ time  
  5. I care about the future of <Client name> )  to measure changes in engagement 

Secondly, include 5-8 driver questions; the ones that influence the engagement index questions above. Focus on the questions you have taken action on.   

Then, consider if there any other burning questions that we need feedback on. Aside from your employee engagement actions, what else is going on in the organisation or environment that you need feedback on? Include 1-3 of these, if required. 

Also include the question ‘I believe action will be taken as a result of this survey’. This will show how much people trust your organisation to act on their feedback. We recommend including this question in every survey you run. Combined with your survey response rates, this can help measure survey fatigue within your organisation.  


Why is belief in action so important?


Open-text pulse survey questions

Finally, include 1-3 relevant open text questions. These will really depend on what your employee pulse survey is measuring. For example:   

  • If you want to track the impact of change since your last survey, a great question is ‘What changes have you seen, if any, since the last survey?’  
  • If you are focussing on culture, try ‘What 3 words would you use to describe our culture?’ You can track these 3 words over time to understand how aligned they are with your values, how they change and differ around the organisation. 

Below are some great open text questions asked in recent pulse surveys exploring the impact of working from home & Covid-19 on the employee experience: 

    • What else could we do to better support you with working from home? 
    • What else could we do to support your health and wellbeing at the moment? 

An example employee pulse survey made up of 15-20 questions:  


People Insight : Pulse survey questions


6. Employee pulse survey pitfalls to avoid

Collecting data, but not doing anything with it.  

People don’t get tired of surveys, but of the lack of change after them. Act on their feedback and communicate the changes being made so people see the value of taking part in the survey process.  

Lloyds Banking Group changed up their pulse survey approach after realising that managers were left with little time to take any action between surveys 

“…the problem with conducting such frequent surveys “was that [the firm’s approximately 8,000] line managers weren’t gaining any new insights and didn’t have time to digest that much data and take action” on what the latest employee polls told them.”  

David Littlechild, previously Head of Culture and Engagement at Lloyds (now Global Head of Culture, Engagement and Wellbeing at LSEG)  

Asking too many questions.  

Pulse surveys are great for diving into specific topics, while annual surveys can cover more depth. Keep your pulses short to gather focused insights you can do something about.  

Not leaving room for comments.

Quantitative responses are great for analysis and benchmarking. However, including a couple of open text questions in your pulse survey will provide additional insight into employee sentiment and suggestions for change. Leave these optional so the survey doesn’t feel strenuous.

7. What to look for in employee pulse survey software

The right pulse survey tech can make your team’s life easier and speed up post-survey action. Look out for these features when comparing survey tech 

  • Easy to take part surveys – Your pulse survey should be accessible across devices; available in multiple languages and show you real-time response rates 
  • Easy to interpret results  An interactive results dashboard will customise user access levels; highlight survey action areas; drill down deep into the data; compare everything internally and externally; and let you search, analyse and group open-text responses 
  • Multiple surveys in one platform – You should be able to easily switch between survey insights, for example your annual engagement survey, joiners/leavers surveys and pulse surveys – all in one place.  
  • Built-in action planning – Within your survey results dashboard, look for the functionality to save questions to an interactive action plan, assign action owners and report on action planning across your organisation 
  • Suggestions for action ideas  Your results dashboard should contain action planning ideas and resources to help managers. People Insight’s action planning Inspirations are relevant to your survey questions and based on actions that have been successful for organisations like yours.  

“People Insight were able to pull together a pulse survey for our company at very short notice. The team are highly experienced and were always on hand when we had questions.” Shezmin Kassam, Ruffer LLP  

“Easy to engage with, simple set up that wasn’t difficult for us to do!” Sarah Gibson, Swan Advocacy 


8. Taking action after an employee pulse survey  

Acting on your pulse survey feedback is vital to keeping people engaged with the survey process. Here are our tips for action planning success:  

Define ownership and expectations before you start  

Consider which stakeholders you need to get on board in order to drive change effectively. Brief them about the process, what they will need to do and how you expect them to support it.  

Engage your line managers 

Line managers are closest to the change happening ‘on the ground’, which employees feel most keenly. In order to be effective, local action planning must be led by line managers: 

  • Share their team’s feedback – People Insight’s results dashboard customises access so that line managers can focus on their team’s results. Managers can also use the iDeck to create instant results presentations, saving them time and making it easier to share results.  

Line managers: Here’s an action planning workshop to lead with your team 

  • Inspire action planning confidence  Get managers excited about acting on their team’s survey results. People Insight’s action planning Inspirations suggest creative action ideas within your results dashboardSpecific to your survey questions, managers can instantly add tasks to their interactive action plan 
  • Ask them how it’s going – Provide a way for managers to feedback and ask for help, particularly if this is a new process for them. People Insight offer Super User results dashboard access, so you can check in on manager progress and spot who needs more help.  
Communicate what’s happening 

Share top-level results with your organisation as soon after your survey closes as possible. Infographics are a great visual way of announcing headline results and for sharing progress later on. Keep people engaged by communicating what changes are coming, when to expect them and how they reflect your pulse survey feedback 

Read more: Complete guide to post-survey action planning 


Need some help with your Pulse Surveys?

Contact Us




Great insights.
Delivered to you monthly.

Sign up to our monthly newsletter for all the latest in workplace culture and engagement

You can unsubscribe by sending an email to at any time.

We never share your details with other organisations for the purpose of marketing.

You might also be interested in