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  • Writer's pictureTaryn M

What to ask in pulse surveys - Strategies for uncertain times

Updated: Nov 21, 2021

Ever hear of a pulse survey? A pulse survey is a short set of questions that should be focused on a single topic. Ideally, it should take no longer than 5 minutes to complete. While you can use a pulse survey to get a snapshot of staff engagement (by asking a subset of questions from your engagement survey), you can also leverage a pulse survey to:

  • Determine how employees are feeling about specific events or changes

  • Determine employee needs or preferences

  • Involve employees in broader decision-making processes by soliciting input

Implementing short, but regular, pulse surveys can be a game-changer for leaders seeking to engage their workforce, solicit employee input, and practice effective, informed change management during these unprecedented times.

With employees already feeling burned out and overwhelmed, I would not recommend doing a full-scale employee engagement survey at this time.

However, for the unique circumstances in which organizations find themselves, a pulse survey is an ideal tool: short, easily implementable, accessible, and with the power to provide clear, key insights into how your employees are feeling at the moment.

Organizations should use whatever survey tools are already at their disposal to conduct a pulse survey, such as Survey Monkey (my favorite tool).

Anytime, leadership is interested in implementing a survey of any kind you should be prepared for the following responses:

  1. Will the management act on the responses? Do not ask questions soliciting employee input if you are not able to incorporate, fully or in part, their recommendations, and preferences into action.

  2. Who is receiving the survey? A survey can be distributed to a subset of employees (either a randomized group) or the workforce, depending on the topic.

  3. Why are you surveying us? Before sending out a pulse survey to employees, communicate the explicit purpose of the survey. Are you looking for input, actionable recommendations, or simply to see how people are doing?

  4. I do not have time! Be sure to indicate how long it will take the employee to fill out the survey (again, it should ideally take no longer than 5-minutes to complete.)

  5. What will you do with the information? Communicate how the organization will use the information obtained in the survey. This level of transparency is a big motivator of survey completion and signals a clear commitment from the organization about the importance of the pulse survey.

Here are a couple of topics you could consider a pulse survey for:

Fears of returning to work

As organizations transition staff back to their typical work settings, it is essential to understand how they are reacting to changes in their work environment and concerns about their future.

Topics may include:

  • Logistical concerns around childcare and transportation

  • Perception of organizational resources to assist staff to meet their basic needs

  • Types of organizational support required to re-integrate employees effectively into the worksite

Feelings around safety

Organizations around the world are reporting that their workforce’s single greatest concern is around the safety of their work environment. Many who have adequate PPE and safety protocols more than CDC guidelines still report major staff concerns about their safety. Soliciting staff input about workplace safety signals organizational commitment and helps employees feel involved in their safety.

Ask questions to understand:

  • Employee perception of the adequacy of PPE available

  • Training

  • Sanitation routines and what they expect to see back in the work environment


Communication is key when implementing any kind of change and/or policy. It should be addressed to minimize employee concerns, boosts engagement, and simultaneously minimizes the rumor mill—for some this is a tall order. That is why targeted pulse surveys can help ask about the effectiveness of communication during Covid-19.

Potential topics to survey:

  • Frequency of communication and preferred methods of communication

  • Perception of organizational commitment to transparency

  • Determining areas of organizational strategy that staff may be feeling uncertain around (i.e. layoffs, reductions, work schedules)

Working from Home

For some transitioning staff back to the office, this is a critical time to understand how employees have responded to the experience of working from home. It can also help address those policies that may need to be updated or revised for those continuing to work from home.

Areas to consider for a pulse study:

  • Effectiveness of organizational communication during remote work

  • Perceived productivity during remote work

  • Technology availability & virtual support of remote work

  • Future interest in working remotely

For more information on how to start a pulse survey or for a list of proposed questions, please contact Taryn M Consulting.

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