Getting the Most from Pulse Surveys: Tips from Expert Communicators

Pulse surveys are a great tool for gaining insight into employee satisfaction and the employee experience. Typically just 5 to 20 questions, they tend to focus on a near-term objective or change management initiative and, unlike larger engagement surveys, are distributed multiple times per year.

Pulse surveys have many benefits:

• Their brevity increases employee response rates.
• Results can be analyzed quickly so feedback can be swiftly acted upon.
• They can surface minor issues before they become bigger problems.
• It’s easy to see trends over time to determine if actions are having an impact.
• Regular pulse checks show employees you care about what they have to say.

During the pandemic, pulse surveys became indispensable for helping companies quickly capture employee sentiment on a rapidly changing workplace. We spoke with  several HR and communications experts to explore how they’re using pulse surveys now, and get tips and insights on how to get the most out of this valuable tool. Here are the highlights.

Angela Sinickas, CEO – Sinickas Communications, Inc.

Q: When is it best to use a pulse survey versus a larger survey?
Pulse surveys are a great way for employers to touch base in between larger engagement surveys that are usually conducted every other year. They’re also really helpful when you are rolling out a new initiative – like a return-to-office approach or a new communication channel – because you can get a baseline on how employee sentiment has changed by doing one before the change and another after implementation.

Q. What is your one tip for getting a good completion rate on a pulse survey?
A. I always caution my clients that it’s critical to not bury a pulse survey in an existing channel, for example, the intranet or a newsletter. Not only will it be harder for employees to find, but if you do this, you’ll essentially be over-surveying the heavy users of that particular channel. We have much better success rates – and more reliable results – when we send one-off emails with a direct link to the survey.

Q. Many employers have “non-desk” populations, for example, those in healthcare or manufacturing. What’s the best way to reach those populations with a pulse survey?
A. I find that print is a successful approach with this population. Most non-desk employees have a common meeting space like a breakroom where they can fill out a paper survey and place it in a sealed box. We’ve also made surveys accessible on work-provided mobile phones. QR codes that go directly to the survey are also great.

Q. If you don’t want to send out a formal pulse survey, what are some creative ways to get a quick pulse check?
A. Giving users the ability to click a thumbs up or down emoji after reading something is good. Also, I like putting bins near the door at in-person events like town halls. As people leave, I ask them to put a ping pong ball in one bin if they felt the event was useful, or in another if they felt it was a waste of time.

Another idea to gauge awareness or understanding at an event is to ask for a show of hands on a particular question both before and after the material is presented to show how it made an impact.

Andrea Herron, Head of People – WebMD Health Services

Q. How are you using pulse surveys at WebMD Health Services?
A. Before each employee town hall, I send out a quick pulse survey about a few relevant topics. The feedback I get helps me focus in on the issues that are most important to our people in a particular moment. This strategy was hugely helpful as we navigated through all the different phases of the pandemic. I personally find pulse surveys to be really useful and a lot more effective than larger cultural surveys.

Q. As a corporate well-being provider, how do pulse surveys help your clients get a read on what employees need when it comes to well-being?
A. Our clients often include pulse surveys on their well-being portals about a number of important topics like employee sentiment on flexible work arrangements, returning to the office, mental health, manager support, feelings of belonging and inclusion, and even how well people are sleeping! They’re a great way to zero in on a particular aspect of well-being you want to know more about in real time.

Oonagh Power – Director, Associate Communications, TIAA

Q. TIAA has an ingrained practice of seeking employee feedback. How is the company using pulse surveys this year to deepen understanding of how employees are feeling?
A. Pulse surveys have been a helpful tool for us, and we increased usage during the pandemic to get feedback on new ways of working and other company-wide changes. We’ve been lucky to get good responses rates on our surveys—around 80% to be exact. Our Associate Experience team is continuing this approach and supplementing it with an in-person listening tour and focus groups at regional offices.

Q. What do you find is the best mix of pulse and long-form engagement surveys?
Last year we sent three surveys – two pulse and one full engagement survey – which worked well. This year we’ll send a full survey in the first quarter and one additional pulse survey, but that could change depending on the needs of the business. That’s the great thing about pulse surveys – you can be more nimble and add them quickly since they’re just a few questions.

We also have surveys on our intranet home page that pop up once every three weeks. These are perfect for getting general employee experience or technology feedback.


Our experts agree – pulse surveys remain a valuable, effective tool for gauging worker sentiment. In today’s tight labor market, it’s one you’ll want to keep in your toolbox. Need help crafting and executing an effective employee listening strategy? Contact us today.