What Is the Difference Between an Employee Engagement Survey and a Pulse Survey?

Learn how to use employee engagement surveys and pulse surveys to gauge employee happiness and retain key talent.

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What Is the Difference Between an Employee Engagement Survey and a Pulse Survey
Do you know how your employees feel?

Two of the most common employee surveys are employee engagement surveys and pulse surveys. Both of these types of surveys can be sent to your employees to gauge their:

  • Workplace satisfaction
  • Sentiments towards company culture
  • Sense of fulfillment at work

When used correctly, these surveys can shine a light on engagement metrics like turnover and your employees’ overall happiness at work.

Employee engagement and pulse surveys can help you gauge the overall happiness of your team.

In this article, we’ll explore how these surveys are used, how they’re differentiated, and what types of questions to ask in each.

Employee engagement surveys

Employee engagement surveys measure employee satisfaction and allow them to provide an honest (and anonymous) opinion about where your company is succeeding and areas of improvement. These surveys look at various areas of the business, including:

  • Workplace culture
  • Job duties and expectations
  • Support from management and fellow teammates
  • Inclusivity and fairness
  • Benefits
  • Opportunities for growth
  • Work-life balance
  • Communication

These are critical points to measure because engaged employees perform better and are less likely to leave.

Format and types of questions to include

The types of questions, and the questions themselves, are key, and there are many places to source inspiration from.

Some popular and commonly used formats include:

  • Yes or no questions for broad, overarching questions (e.g. “would you recommend working at {Company Name}?”).
  • Scaled questions to rate satisfaction or agreement (e.g. “How likely are you to recommend our company to a friend?” with the scale being from 0-10).
  • Open-ended questions for more qualitative questions. While these tend to be more time-consuming to review, your company can get the most in-depth insight with these types of questions.

The questions you can ask to measure your business areas are endless and can be a challenge to narrow down. Below are example questions you can explore:

  • Support from management: “{Team Manager Name} has shown a genuine interest in my career aspirations.”
  • Benefits: “The health care benefits package {Company Name} currently offers align with my current needs.”
  • Company culture: “{Company Name} consistently and often acknowledges the accomplishments of employees, both publicly and privately.”

Frequency: How often should engagement surveys be sent?

Quarterly employee engagement surveys can provide better insights.

Employee engagement surveys often take more than 10 minutes to complete and can be given annually or quarterly. Given how quickly the work landscape changes, as well as people’s attitudes, quarterly might provide more accurate insight. It also gives your company the opportunity to turn things around more than once a year, if the results indicate low engagement.

Employee pulse surveys

Employee pulse surveys are:

  • Typically shorter than engagement surveys
  • Focus on measuring more specific areas of the company
  • Should not take long to fill out

They can be sent out more frequently and can help you measure employee engagement at a moment in time, especially following up on any initiatives your company put in place in response to your engagement survey.

Pulse surveys are more specific, timely, and shorter than regular engagement surveys.

Some specific areas an employee pulse survey can explore include what engagement surveys measure (above), but also:

  • Sentiments around a company announcement or change
  • Current needs of the employee (training, emotional, growth, etc.)
  • Feeling safe given any world or environment changes (e.g., around COVID-19 or desire to work from home)

The main difference here is that in addition to measuring some of the same areas as employee engagement surveys, the questions are meant to be far more specific, timely, and short. For example, if your company announced a return to office plan following a period of working from home, you can ask questions to gauge their sentiments about your plan, and if they plan on returning.

Format and types of questions to include

While the questions can be in any of the same formats as the engagement survey, there should be fewer questions on a pulse survey compared with an engagement survey, and take less time to fill out. A good target range is asking 1-10 questions. As outlined above, these questions should be more specific and timely. Below are some examples that address various business areas:

  • Current employee sentiment following an announcement: “How many days a week do you plan on returning to the office?”
  • Communication: “How did you feel about the format of today’s town hall meeting?”
  • Opportunities for growth: “How useful did you find today’s training session?”

Frequency: How often you should send pulse surveys

As outlined above, employee pulse surveys should be distributed more often than employee engagement surveys for more frequent check-ins. Pulse surveys cannot replace engagement surveys; they should instead be used to gather feedback quickly, and so the company can implement solutions faster in response to survey results.

The bottom line

In sum, the key differences between engagement surveys and pulse surveys include:

  • Frequency: Pulse surveys happen more often than engagement surveys.
  • How long it takes to fill them out: Engagement surveys are longer and more in-depth, and take longer to complete.
  • The goal: While both measure similar and overlapping company areas, pulse surveys are meant to measure sentiment towards recent changes or announcements, while engagement surveys are meant to measure the employee’s view of the company as a whole, and more holistically.

Both employee engagement surveys and pulse surveys are important and should be used in tandem because while an engagement survey is more comprehensive, pulse surveys help you measure the results of any implemented solutions and gather feedback quickly. More frequent check-ins are important so your company can adapt and make the appropriate changes as employee sentiments change throughout the year. Pairing the two types of surveys during the year is the most effective way to listen to your employees, and show them you’re dedicated to addressing their needs.

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