pulse surveys

Your guide to understanding and getting started with company pulse surveys.

Pulse surveys are a great way to collect valuable ongoing feedback from your company’s workforce. Pulse surveys are quite different from a typical annual engagement or employee survey. They are highly focused, usually very brief, and are designed to monitor changes to a particular aspect of an organization over time. Traditional surveys are a way to probe at every factor contributing to employee engagement, whereas pulse surveys are a more high-level and real-time assessment of perceptions that can affect the company – hence the term ‘pulse’. The results are displayed over time to reveal trends in employee engagement or perceptions – allowing company leaders to confirm or deploy positive changes.


Why Pulse Surveys?

American Business Magazine posted an article stating that employees who identified themselves as happy in their positions are productive 80 percent of the time at work. Comparatively, employees who identified themselves as unhappy were only productive 40 percent of the time. Bottom line – the way employees feel and how they perceive the company has a major impact on company production and profit. As such, it’s important to stay on top of these critical factors and pulse surveys are an easy way to do this.


The Benefits of Pulse Surveys:

  • Real-time feedback on topics of interest like satisfaction, engagement, safety, customer service etc.
  • Frequent polling of employees on a particular topic has been shown to increase awareness and help formulate positive habits
  • Companies can uncover improvement opportunities through monitoring and analyzing employee change over time
  • Reinforcement of a company’s commitment to employee satisfaction
  • Employees can easily access an outlet for feedback
  • Thanks to secure online survey tools, they are easy to administer
  • Employees can quickly complete the surveys typically containing 2-10 questions


What’s Asked In a Pulse Survey?

The questions and focus of a pulse survey will depend on your company’s unique priorities and long-term strategy. Proper planning is critical and requires the time and thought from multiple sources including HR, executives, and managers. We recommend working backwards from your company’s objectives, vision, and mission, to determine what conclusions you want to draw from the answers. From there, you can formulate questions to gather and diagnose.

For instance, if your company recently went through a merger, you may want to know the impact it has on company perception and employee team dynamics. Having this merger as the focus of your questions may lead to useful insights that could help your organization make changes accordingly. Similarly, if your company relies on a small, highly skilled workforce, satisfaction and retention may likely be the biggest priority. Hence, questions geared towards assessing those factors would be ideal. If your company is aiming to attract and retain a younger talent-base, pulse surveys might be geared towards diagnosing gaps in perceived culture.

A pulse survey should attempt to diagnose the health of 2-3 issues of interest:

Company Reputation Team Dynamics Employee Safety Customer Service
Employee Satisfaction Culture Employee Work Environment Effects of Change
Retention Succession Process Optimization Resource Availability
Performance Roadblocks Goal Attainment Bandwidth and Time Management


How Long Should A Pulse Survey Be?

Pulse surveys should be as short as possible to encourage regular participation and completion. If employees come to dread filling them out, they will not participate or worse, will rush through them without thought.

There is no set number or types of questions that should be asked in pulse surveys; however, a good rule of thumb is to limit the time it takes for an employee to complete a survey to 2-3 minutes. This is why focusing and balancing the questions is so critical. We often recommend that once clients come up with a set of questions, to get rid of half of them. For instance, if you are asking employees for their feedback on a new phone system that cannot be altered due to a 3-year contract, maybe those answers won’t be able to effect change. If you plan to ask open-ended questions requiring time and thought, balance it out with multiple choice or true/false questions.


How Often Should Pulse Surveys Be Sent Out?

The frequency of the surveys depends on your organization as well as the the focus of the survey and on how often or quickly changes will come about.

For example, if the survey is asking about a major company event, it might take 3-6 months for any changes to be steeped. There is no sense asking about the effects until they are felt.

Culture Amp recommends that you should only send out pulse surveys at about the same rate that you believe meaningful change might occur because there is little value in checking in with people before change occurs or is perceived by employees. This doesn’t mean you can’t survey different people or on different topics more regularly, but you should avoid asking individuals the same things at intervals too small for change to be apparent. It can be difficult to specify an interval, since it depends on what you’re surveying about. If the questions are about major culture changes, we might wait at least three months, but if you’re asking about a targeted behavioral change initiative (e.g., ‘meeting effectiveness’) then monthly (or less) may be appropriate(1).


Sample Pulse Survey Questions

Here are several of our own great pulse survey sample questions, as well as some from www.fridayfeedback.com. Again, pick a few for each survey to keep it as short as possible(3).

Employee Goals/Performance:

  • Were you able to achieve your goals this week/month/quarter?
  • Was there anything that prevented you from achieving your goals or accomplishing your work?
  • What’s one thing the company or your manager can do to make your work more productive?
  • How excited are you about the current projects you’re working on?

Employee Satisfaction

  • How happy are you at work?
  • Do you have what you need to be successful?
  • What was the best part of your week?
  • What was the worst part of your week?
  • What’s one employee perk you wish you had?

Company Values and Direction:

  • Are our company values clear?
  • Do you think we are heading in the right direction as a company? Why? Why not?
  • What’s one small change you would make to how we work as a company?
  • What’s one big change you would make to how we work as a company?
  • What part of the business would you like to see us improve?
  • Have any company changes affected your working environment in a positive or negative way?
  • Does the company support your career and personal development?

Company Culture:

  • Would you recommend a friend to work for this company?
  • Why would/wouldn’t you recommend the company to a friend?
  • What’s one thing we can do to improve our company culture?

Team Dynamic/Recognition:

  • What’s one thing we could do to improve communication as a team?
  • Do you feel that overall, your team members pull their weight in projects/tasks?
  • Is there anything preventing your team from working together effectively?
  • Does your department encourage teamwork?
  • Are work assignments distributed fairly?
  • Is there anyone who deserves special recognition for going above and beyond the call of duty?
  • Do you feel you deserve recognition for going above and beyond the call of duty?

If you would like help launching effective pulse surveys in your organization, contact us to learn about emPerform’s eSurvey module – included as part of our all-inclusive employee performance management software.



1Pulse Survey FAQ’s Culture AMP https://academy.cultureamp.com/hc/en-us/articles/204529939-Pulse-Surveys-FAQs

2Happy Bosses + Happy employees = More Profits By Mary Hladio. American Business Magazine October 4, 2013 https://www.americanbusinessmag.com/2013/10/happy-bosses-plus-happy-employees-equal-more-profits/

3Pulse Survey Sample Questions Friday Feedback https://www.friday.app/p/pulse-survey-sample-questions

Using 360° reviews, pulse surveys & ongoing feedback to identify and address toxic behavior before it spreads in your organization.


Last week I sat down at my desk armed with a hot coffee and a stack of some of my favorite HR Publications. I usually save them up then binge-read them once every few weeks to stay on top of the latest news and trends in Business, Leadership, and Human Resources. I have been doing this for many years and today was the first time that one topic appeared in ALL magazines. The topic was that of toxicity in the workplace.

Each article had its own focus but they all alluded to the growing awareness of people-driven workplace negativity and damaging behaviors and their toxic effects on an organization. We learn from an early age that a bad apple will spoil the bunch, and that negativity and bullying, if left unchecked, will corrode even the best group-setting. We also learn that one bad manager can make an amazing job feel like prison and reduce employees’ trust in the company’s leadership abilities.

Workplace bullying and toxic behavior aren’t new- they have been happening since the dawn of the cubicle- but the way organizations are confronting the issue is. Because organizations can link employee satisfaction and engagement to cold hard dollars, they are simply not tolerating any avoidable forces that can hinder a productive atmosphere. In fact, many organizations are using a combination of pulse surveys, 360° reviews, and ongoing feedback to actively identify any signs of toxicity in order to prevent and treat it.

What makes an employee toxic?

The truth is that it isn’t people that are toxic – it is their actions and behaviors. Toxic behaviors in this context are the direct actions by employees that have a negative impact on others, either immediately or cumulatively over time. These can include bullying, harassment, volatility, slander, and overall negativity. These behaviors adversely affect how other employees (and likely customers) feel and their level of comfort at work.

Although research clearly indicates that workplace ‘bullies’ or anyone who knowingly demeans others is the result of their own weakness and insecurities, that reality doesn’t make experiencing it any less damaging. It is essential to target the people exhibiting these trends in behavior and address them immediately in order to quell the effects and re-enforce the company’s commitment to employee and client satisfaction.

What are the costs of toxic employees?

Not only is valuable time wasted dealing with the aftermath of toxic behaviors, but they also unleash an invisible cloud of poisonous negativity that can suffocate team collaboration, satisfaction and the overall perception of the organization. Loss of productivity, increased sick-days, employee turnover, and divided teams are just some of the costs of letting toxic employees corrode an organization, not to mention the potential legal (eek) implications. Danger also lies in the precedent that it sets for existing and new employees. Toxicity breeds toxicity.

Let’s take a step back and face the reality that some of the toxic employees in your organizations could be managers. Managers aren’t immune to toxic behavior and in fact, are more likely to have their actions go unnoticed due to their rank in the organization. Toxic managers erode teams and their performance, resulting in top talent and future leaders walking right out the door.

Toxic employees can also destroy customer relationships. If you have a customer-facing employee who is negative, disorganized, volatile or inappropriate, they risk losing clients and staining your company’s reputation.

In short, toxic employees are a liability. We have met many company leaders who would terminate even the most high-performing employee if they were toxic because the costs of this lethal behavior outweigh any potential benefits.

Challenges with identifying toxic employees:

Leadership is often in the dark: A big challenge with identifying toxic employees is that these behaviors are not often witnessed by or shared with leadership. Everyone tends to put on their Sunday-best around managers and leaders, leaving toxic actions unrecognized and unaddressed.  Or worse, leaders are the source of the toxicity in which case subordinates are less likely to report.

We all have a bad day: Even the best of us can have an off day where we are a little down or reactive. It is a challenge to discern one-off accounts (which we all have) vs. actual personality types and trends that indicate an employee might be toxic.

Lines aren’t defined: If an organization does not outline behavioral expectations or harassment/bullying policies, then employees might be unaware of the effects of their actions or others might have difficulty identifying occurrences as real issues. Similarly, if an employee’s culture isn’t centered on respect and positivity (and the leadership team does not perpetuate those ideals), employees are less likely to mimic those values.

12 months is a long time: If organizations are relying on traditional once-a-year reviews to target issues, then they are likely going to miss toxic behavior that is happening throughout the year or will have a difficult time identifying toxic trends that go undocumented.

Sifting Out Toxic Employees:

How can an organization turn on the flood lights and reveal employees who might be toxic? The answer is very simple: ASK!

Screen Candidates for Toxic Behavior: Organizations should attempt to prevent contamination altogether by screening applicants for potentially toxic personalities. Even though most candidates will show their good side during the interview process, there are questions that can serve as a relative Geiger counter to help identify levels of toxicity1. Did they complain about their last employer? Do they say ‘I’ a lot? How do they respond to negative questions? Are they open about areas in need of improvement? What did their references say about their interactions with peers? Did they have a positive demeanor?

Pulse Surveys: Pulse surveys are short and sweet questionnaires (2-10 questions max) that are sent out regularly throughout the year to assess the status (i.e. take the pulse) of a particular area of improvement2. Pulse surveys are anonymous and allow an organization to see trends in data over time to get a real-time view of their internal health. Although every organization approaches pulse surveys with a different focus, we believe that a few questions about teams and interactions with other employees is vital to hone in on any potentially toxic behavior. Questions like ‘I feel safe working with other employees’, ‘Interactions with my peers is generally positive’, or ‘I would recommend a friend to work at this company’. Pulse surveys might also reveal larger forces that might be contributing to toxic behaviors. Sometimes management or organizational issues can be the root cause of the sludge.

360° Peer Reviews: If a company’s leadership team is really interested in sifting out toxic workers, then 360° peer reviews are a great way to identify irregularities. Asking peers to provide feedback on their managers and peers by commenting on their skills and general working habits will reveal any caustic trends. Although 360°’s can be plagued by biased views and often do not take place as frequently as they should, they are very reliable in their ability to reveal trends. If an employee’s name continues to creep up in reviews or if an entire team unanimously identifies toxic behavior in certain staff members, then it’s usually a red flag (or at least a place to start). 360°’s might also help prevent toxic behavior. By creating an atmosphere of transparency and accountability, peers are more likely to be aware of their own potentially toxic actions before they surface.

Ongoing Feedback: Toxic employees need not be necessarily cast away. Often times, employees do not realize they are being toxic. This makes it even more crucial for managers to keep a keen eye out for toxic behavior as it happens and address with the employee immediately. Managers might not see it all but if they keep their ear to the ground they are likely to catch a whiff of any poisonous concoctions brewing. Often times, managers turn a blind eye or write the small incidences off as normal ‘spats’ between workers, but it’s important that managers are trained to recognize the smaller behaviors before they become even bigger issue.

By giving employee consistent feedback (positive & constructive), not only will the feedback be expected, but employees are given the proper changes to correct their actions. Frequent feedback also opens up the lines of communications between manager and employees, allowing managers to diagnose if behavior is an isolated event caused by personal issues perhaps, or a more permanent personality trait that isn’t likely to go away.

Overall, there is no such thing as a perfect place to work. Wherever there is a group of people, different personality types along with increased work pressures will result in strains of toxic incidences no matter which company. The important thing is that organizations realize the immense costs involved with allowing toxic behaviors to seep into teams and work to contain it. By having a well-defined culture of positivity and respect, poling employee satisfaction regularly, asking employees for input on their peers, and training managers to identify and deal with toxic actions on an ongoing basis, any organization can neutralize toxic effects.

If you would like to learn more about how emPerform can help create and automate pulse surveys, 360° reviews and ongoing feedback, we invite you to schedule a demo with a member of the emPerform team.


 1 Office Vibe: Why HR Needs To Invest In Employee Pulse Surveys by Jacob Shriar – December 15, 2014 https://www.officevibe.com/blog/human-resources-needs-invest-employee-pulse-survey s

2 BOS Staffing 7 Identifiers Of A Toxic Employee Before You Hire Them Posted June 22 2016 https://www.bosstaff.com/2016/06/22/7-identifiers-toxic-employee-hire/

Michael Williams, Joseph Youngblood II. “Workplace Bullying: Rage, Resistance and Reform.” Human Resources Executive Magazine June 2-2016. Page 32. Print.

Iain Hopkins, Anne Grant. “Putting our fires: Workplace conflict resolution.” HRD Human Resources Director. Issue 4.2. Page 36. Print.

Mark McGraw. “The High Cost of Caustic Workers.” Human Resources Executive Magazine May 2016. Page 10. Print.