How to Choose the Right Employee Survey Frequency

By PeopleFirst


You might find it difficult to believe, but the annual employee survey is almost a hundred years old! In the 1920s, big industrial companies began the practice of asking employees, once a year, about their job satisfaction to search for ways to improve productivity. One time a year was how frequently employee surveys were sent.

The so-called “attitude survey” was developed further during World War II, as a tool for measuring morale among the troops.

Needless to say, working environments have changed dramatically since. In the twenty-first century, every aspect of business moves at lightning speed. Besides, voluntary job changes are widespread. Thus, employee engagement becomes mission-critical.

Until recently, the annual survey remained the only tool used by most businesses to measure the level of engagement amongst their employees.

Now business owners want to seek actionable information in near-real time rather than relics left over from months ago. They aim to open new lines of team communication, improve retention, and boost productivity.

With these increasing needs and new usage, the time has come to take a fresh look at employee engagement surveys and their frequency.



Communication - The Key to Employee Engagement

There isn’t much debate anymore about the importance of employee engagement. As noted in an ADP Research Institute white paper on employee engagement, high performance and high engagement are strongly related. Since then, there have been similar findings from other sources.

At the most basic level, engaged employees are less likely to leave the company and often contribute more. A culture of engagement saves money, thanks to a lower turnover, and makes money from increased productivity. 

One important driver of engagement is the extent to which employees feel their input is valued. Another factor is the nature and frequency of communication.

According to the Gallup report, just 7% of U.S. workers strongly agree that communication is accurate, timely and open where they work. In fact, further research revealed that communication in most companies isn't great. Sometimes it's so bad that it drives people to quit.

Think about it. If you are sending out a long survey once a year to ask about your employee engagement, will that action not convince them otherwise?


Employee Survey Frequency: Annual vs. Periodically

Here's an idea:

An annual employee survey is a lot like an annual physical exam.

Once a year, it's helpful and necessary to get a thorough check-up on a broad range of health factors.

Is that, though the only time you need to pay attention to your health? Or should you give the most valuable possession of yours (i.e., your health) some thoughts throughout the year?

Pulse surveys, on the other hand, check in with employees on a regular basis. It gathers information about attitudes, ideas, and concerns as soon as they arise. You can do this in many different ways, but the overall goal of the increased frequency is to “take the pulse” of an organisation.


EngageRocket Belong Pulse Survey Dashboard
It's important to take the pulse ©EngageRocket


The pulse surveys complement, yet do not replace, the annual survey. Instead, their findings provide actionable information more quickly. Such value is becoming more apparent over time. Companies can carry out pulse surveys for a wide variety of purposes. Engagement experts Annamarie Mann and Jim Harter, for example, identify four key uses for pulse surveys: recalibration, diagnosis, monitoring, and creating momentum.

That is to say that there is no single approach to how a pulse survey works successfully in an organisation. How frequent you "take the pulse" depends on the conditions of your business.

Before choosing frequency, let's have a closer look at both ends of the scale.


The Difference Between Annual and Pulse Surveys

The most obvious answer is that pulse surveys are shorter and more frequent. “Shorter” can, however, mean anywhere from one question to twenty or more. By the same token, being “frequent” varies from weekly to quarterly and anything in between. 


Pulse surveys are narrowly targeted—focusing on a particular issue, or a subset of employees—while the annual versions are typically intended to poll all or most employees across a broad range of subjects.


As the latter is usually long, and full of questions that may not seem immediately relevant, it often results in a relatively low level of participation.  

An annual survey typically gives business owners essentially a one-time snapshot of how employees felt at some point in time. That information has some value in long-term organisational strategy. Can it help to discover problems as they emerge, or track trends as they shift? Unlikely! 

Short and targeted pulse surveys take less time to complete and stay relevant.

Thus, participation is likely to be higher. It’s also more feasible to conduct pulse surveys amongst a smaller group. 

As Ryan Fuller explains in the Harvard Business Review, annual reviews tend to measure how engaged employees perceive themselves to be, while pulse surveys have a better chance of finding out how engaged they really are.

Finally, it takes longer to analyse the results of an annual survey. Then the information is usually put into a big document that few people have the time or motivation to read. By contrast, HR can collect the results of a pulse survey quickly, and share it compactly. In some cases, it’s the difference between a fifty-page report and a half-dozen bullet points!


Do You Need Both?

There have been quite a few headline articles about the demise of the annual employee survey, and some organisations have completely abandoned it in favour of other tools. Most companies, with Google offering a great example, understand the benefits of combining a comprehensive, strategic annual survey with targeted and tactical pulse surveys. The once-a-year assessments offer the opportunity to ask big questions while pulse surveys can quickly reveal trends during the year, and provide actionable information in real-time.

Besides, the two formats can complement each other if used correctly. For example, issues that emerge while you "take the pulse" can be investigated in-depth with the year-end survey. On the other hand, pulse surveys can be used to follow up on information derived from the annual report of the previous year.

By linking the two, employers signal to employees that the organisation is taking their contributions seriously. People who spend time giving their opinions will appreciate seeing their input used. That may lead to an increase in participation. After all, who wants to spend time on something that just disappears into a black hole?


Getting Employee Survey Frequency Right

Pulse surveys have their merits. 

However, they only work if they are used in the right way.

Is there no magic formula for determining how often to conduct pulse surveys, or what kind of questions to ask?

Unfortunately, there isn't.

Here are some factors you need to consider:


Company culture

The most obvious one is probably the company culture. A nimble and active culture might benefit from weekly surveys. On the other hand, a culture that emphasises stability and continuity would be better off if surveying quarterly. 

You need to avoid survey fatigue: more is not necessarily better! 

Employees will start to tune out or even resent answering questionnaires that seem to come along as often as city buses.


Workflow and timing

To maximize employee response rates, consider scheduling outside of peak holiday periods. Many organisations have a rhythm of work that needs to be considered in scheduling surveys. For example, some companies are very busy at the end of the month. Therefore, sending out polls weekly or fortnightly would not work very well, since you might catch your staff when they are already overloaded. If you, however, time a monthly survey in the middle of a month, it could work. Employees have more bandwidth available, and they are more willing to give their opinions.

For a true reflection of employee satisfaction, it's best to avoid surveying during events that could bias the results, like during bonus payouts or peak stress times. These moments might not accurately represent the usual workplace environment, especially if you're looking to understand satisfaction over the standard course of business annually.


Organisational maturity

Companies with well-established engagement practices might need fewer surveys than ones just starting to work on the matter. 

On the other hand, if some employees are resistant to the introduction of a pulse survey, jumping right into it weekly or even monthly might be the wrong approach. Take a gradual approach and do it every quarter before moving on to monthly, and so on.


The Right Questions for Employee Surveys


asking the right questions


Here's what you should know: 

Employee survey frequency is just one aspect of the success equation. 

It’s not only how often you ask, but also what is being asked. 

Though no guidelines fit all organisations, the following are a few best practices (and one pitfall): 


Once a year, you carry out an assessment to look at broad issues. Therefore, the questions may be quite general. On a regular basis, you should ask about specific matters.



As mentioned above, a pulse survey can be used for a variety of purposes. Don't try to find a set of questions that fit all. Instead, make sure they align with a particular purpose.

A follow-up survey is usually designed to discover whether a project has been successful or a problem has been solved, so questions should be closely related to a central topic. By contrast, a survey designed to discover developing problems might ask about various issues.


Trend tracking

For this purpose, you can ask different versions of the same question in several surveys. If you circle back every month to the previously used questions, you can confirm a trend or find out how quickly it develops.

The story is different if you "take the pulse." It stands out in a shortlist. Besides, no one likes to answer a question that they don't feel relevant again and again every week or month. So if you carry out pulse surveys frequently, be sure every question counts.


Are You Ready for Pulse Surveys?

It's a great tool, but it might not be right for every organisation at every stage. Needless to say, introducing pulse surveys at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, could have an adverse impact. 

Like so many things in business, deciding when to start pulse surveys depends on intuition as much as analysis.

As long as employee engagement provides a competitive advantage, there’s certainly some room for growth in this area. The answers to these questions might reveal whether your organisation is ready to take the plunge or not.


The practice of annual surveys

If your company is already conducting annual surveys, how well are they working?

Pulse surveys could be the way ahead if you answer with

  • a high level of participation
  • usage of findings

On the other hand, if the annual review is not very successful, it’s important to know what the problems are before adding the other format to the mix.


The intelligence

Is there a plan for information gathered through pulse surveys?

If you don't, your employees might think that you are wasting their time to follow the popular idea.

It’s significant to have a complete strategy in place before you start rolling out pulse surveys.


Other engagement practices

Are there other engagement practices already in place?

If there hasn’t been much communication going on in the organisation, suddenly introducing periodic surveys may come across as odd or even threatening.

In some cases, it might be best to pave the way with other outreach activities and add pulse surveys later on. However, other companies have seen success in using pulse surveys to jumpstart an engagement campaign.

Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts involved with tuning employee survey frequency to the perfect pitch.  It will take some time and effort to get the most out of your survey strategy, and maybe some trial and error! But more and more companies are finding that a weekly, biweekly, monthly, or quarterly survey approach can benefit employee engagement and improve organisational effectiveness.


If you are ready for pulse surveys, check out the EngageRocket tool to set up and send them quickly and effortlessly.




Tags: Employee Engagement, EngageRocket, HR analytics, Leadership, Feedback Survey