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How to use pulse surveys to get actionable insights

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Two mobile snapshots of Xref Pulse Survey questions to collect employee feedback for their organisation

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Regularly checking in with employees to understand their thoughts and feelings is the key to every organisation's short and long-term success. The best way to do this is by using employee pulse surveys.

Xref’s new product, Xref Pulse Surveys, automates the collection, measurement and analysis of honest employee feedback that can inform organisational change. Understanding what employees want from an organisation can help employers to increase retention.

So, how can you use pulse surveys to acquire insightful and actionable results? Keep reading to find out.

What is a pulse survey?

A pulse survey is a feedback mechanism for measuring employee sentiment ‘in the moment’, providing relevant insights into how employees feel about certain aspects of work. With real-time insights, employers can address issues in a timely manner rather than retrospectively.

Pulse surveys are, by nature, fast and frequent. They are typically between 5-15 questions and can address various areas, such as workplace communication, job satisfaction, leadership, and culture. They are quick and easy to complete.

Generally, pulse surveys are designed to be conducted at strategic intervals, such as monthly or quarterly, which helps businesses gain regular, relevant feedback which can be benchmarked over time.

The benefits of pulse surveys

Surveying employees shouldn’t be a box-ticking exercise. There is great value in regularly recording how your employees feel about your organisation, their role, leadership, salary and benefits, and so on. 

The more visibility you have on worker sentiment – and the more regularly you measure sentiment – the more informed you will be to make decisions that improve retention and performance.

There are many benefits of pulse surveys. Below are just a few.

1. Identify areas of improvement 

Regular pulse surveys can help organisations keep track of organisational issues, such as leadership or career progression, and rectify any workplace concerns before they affect the retention rate.

2. High response rates 

If your HR team has a hard time getting employees to respond to surveys, it could be because your surveys are too long and employees are time-poor. 

Pulse surveys are, by nature, quick, and the completion time is short. Forbes reported that the average employee engagement survey only gets a 30-40% response rate, whereas pulse surveys average a response rate of 85%.

The more responses, the more accurately worker sentiment is reflected. 

3. More timely and relevant feedback

Surveying employees on topics as they happen will elicit meaningful responses. For example, HR could survey employees about a change initiative that is underway, such as a new leadership team.

With real-time feedback, HR can identify and rectify any issues relating to the change initiative to ensure any kinks are ironed out before more issues arise.

4. Increase employee engagement and retention

Regularly surveying employees shows respect. When employees feel that their employer cares about their opinions and what they have to say, they are more likely to feel valued and engaged in their work.

5. Benchmark meaningful data

With regular employee feedback, HR can benchmark organisational metrics such as perceived performance, strategy, organisational values, culture and employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). An eNPS could then be a talent acquisition tool to attract skilled candidates into hard-to-fill positions.

6. Drill down on specific areas and themes

HR can use pulse surveys to measure and track the effectiveness of specific areas of the organisation. For example, HR may be working on upskilling employees using a learning and development initiative. To validate the resource spend on the initiative, HR could measure engagement and perceived upskilling and cross-skilling over that period of time.

7. Enhance company culture

Regularly surveying employees creates a culture of respect, empathy, and shared vision. When employees and employers communicate openly and strive to improve organisational processes, a business can thrive.

8. Help HR become data-centric

When armed with data, HR is best equipped to influence change to improve employee engagement and retention. Pulse surveys provide real-time, actionable insights and identify drivers of engagement, and this information can be used to gain leadership buy-in on decisions that make lasting change. 

For example, HR may learn through pulse surveys that most employees prefer to work in a hybrid model. With survey data as proof, HR could persuade executives to implement a hybrid policy to meet employees’ needs.

Pulse surveys vs. engagement surveys

If you’ve previously surveyed your employees, you might think, “I don’t need to do another for a while.” Or, “My last survey was very detailed. Why survey again?” 

If your survey was long and highly detailed, it may have been an employee engagement survey which means there is still room to find out more via a pulse survey.

So what’s the difference between engagement and pulse surveys? 

Pulse surveys are similar to engagement surveys in that they share an end goal: to measure, analyse and improve engagement in the workplace. However, they differ in approach.

A pulse survey is a brief questionnaire sent regularly, whereas an engagement survey is typically longer and conducted once yearly. 

While annual engagement surveys are a good way to measure organisational health, results from pulse surveys may be more valuable and actionable because the feedback is current rather than retrospective. 

A good example of using a pulse survey is when a senior leadership team has undergone much change in one year. In this case, it’s better not to wait for an annual engagement survey to measure employee sentiment, as feedback will be retrospective. If employees must cast their minds back to remember a time or event, their opinion may likely be diluted and, therefore, not as insightful.

What can be measured in a pulse survey

Pulse surveys are versatile and can measure employee sentiment across various areas, and different departments may use them differently. The areas of business that can be measured in a pulse survey include, but are not limited to:

  • Organisational strategy
  • Workplace culture 
  • Diversity, equality and inclusion
  • Environmental awareness
  • Leadership
  • Career development and training
  • Salary and benefits

Depending on the organisation’s objectives, pulse surveys may concern multiple topic areas at once or just one topic at a time. The objective will then determine the types of questions asked in the survey. 

A screenshot of a question asked in Xref Pulse Surveys and text from below towards its left

Pulse survey example questions

Below are some areas an organisation can measure with pulse surveys and the questions that may be asked to gain actionable insights. The example questions are from Xref Pulse Surveys, and we use a Likert scale to measure respondents’ sentiment by asking them how likely they agree or disagree with a statement.

Organisational strategy

You can use pulse surveys to gauge how employees perceive your organisation’s strategy.

Example questions (answers given on a Likert scale):

  • [Organisation] offers a superior product/service to its competitors.
  • I have a clear understanding of [Organisation]’s strategic goals.

Findings scenario: Through pulse surveys, you may discover that employees don’t have a clear understanding of your organisation’s goals.

Actionable outcomes: You could make the organisation’s goals clearer by incorporating them into the onboarding process and by discussing them regularly in town hall meetings.

Result: When employees understand the big picture and how their input contributes to it, they will be more aligned, motivated, and productive.

Workplace culture

You can use pulse surveys to measure the perceived culture of the workplace.

Example questions (answers given on a Likert scale):

  • [Organisation] is committed to improving the culture within the organisation.
  • I am happy to socialise with my [Organisation] coworkers.

Findings scenario: Through pulse surveys, you may discover that employees do not perceive your organisation’s culture as positive and nurturing, which may negatively impact retention.

Actionable outcomes: You may boost workplace engagement and morale by surveying employees, rewarding high performance, and hosting regular social events.

Result: When employees feel connected to the organisation and their coworkers through a positive culture, it improves morale, engagement and retention. 

Diversity, equality and inclusion

Pulse surveys can uncover employee perceptions around diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) in your organisation.

Example questions (answers given on a Likert scale):

  • [Organisation] has clear policies relating to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
  • Diversity is a key strategic priority for [Organisation].

Findings scenario: Responses to pulse surveys around DEI could uncover some areas of weakness that could be driving attrition and affecting employer brand.

Actionable outcomes: You could improve policies around equality, diversity, and inclusion in areas such as recruitment, leadership and remuneration.

Result: Improving DEI will make your organisation a more attractive workplace.

Environmental awareness

Use pulse surveys to identify whether your organisation could be more environmentally conscious.

Example questions (answers given on a Likert scale):

  • [Organisation] encourages staff to be socially responsible.
  • I feel informed about the measures [Organisation] takes to reduce its environmental impact.

Findings scenario: Pulse surveys can identify areas where the organisation can improve its environmental responsibility.

Actionable outcomes: You could invest in the organisation’s ESG (environmental, social, and governance): for example, implement environmentally responsible initiatives, partner with not-for-profits, etc.

Result: Becoming a more environmentally aware organisation will help you compete with other businesses to attract top talent.


A common area to measure with pulse surveys is leadership.

Example questions (answers given on a Likert scale):

  • My relationship with my manager is good.
  • I am confident in the decisions made by the leadership team at [Organisation].

Findings scenario: Pulse surveys can help understand perceptions of your organisation's leadership. 

Actionable outcomes: You may train leaders to become better people managers and strive to create a culture of openness and transparency by sharing wins and losses.

Result: Improving leadership skills will engage workers, boost morale and increase retention.

Career development and training

Better understand how your employees feel about development opportunities at your organisation.

Example questions (answers given on a Likert scale):

  • I have clear goals and a plan for my career at [Organisation].
  • I have all the resources needed to do my job effectively.

Findings scenario: Use pulse surveys to understand how your employees feel about your organisation's learning and development opportunities.

Actionable outcomes: You may consider internal mobility planning and implementing employee development training to ensure workers in different departments have career pathways within the organisation. 

Result: Offering career development opportunities will help to attract and retain top talent.

Salary and benefits

Measure sentiment around employee salary and benefits.

Example questions (answers given on a Likert scale):

  • I am satisfied with the benefits offered by [Organisation].
  • The salary and benefits offered by [Organisation] were made clear during the recruitment process.

Findings scenario: Better understand how your employees feel about the salary and benefits offered to them.

Actionable results: You may consider reviewing compensation packages, comparing salaries to industry rates, and adjusting how performance is measured and rewarded.

Result: Identify whether compensation is a reason for talent attrition, and adjust accordingly to improve retention.

It’s a process…

There is no overnight quick fix to improving employee engagement, so don’t stop at one pulse survey. Continually administer pulse surveys to identify the strengths and areas of opportunity for different areas of your organisation, and track feedback over time to know where changes are making a difference.

Take action on pulse survey findings and communicate intentions with employees. Not doing so will damage employees’ trust in the organisation’s willingness to take on feedback and risks them becoming disengaged.


Asking employees for feedback is essential for improving engagement and retention. While annual engagement surveys have their place, they cannot accurately capture employee sentiment throughout the year. This is where pulse surveys are the most effective feedback tool.

When used frequently, pulse surveys can provide actionable insights into various aspects of the organisation to help HR teams identify and address issues before they cause long-term problems that are harder to remedy. Better yet, continually asking employees to share their thoughts and feelings about their workplace is a great motivator and will increase loyalty, especially if they see you implementing their feedback that contributes to organisational change.

To learn about Xref Pulse Surveys and how your organisation can benefit, book a demo today.

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