Frequent Pulse Surveys Are on an Upward Trajectory

Covid-19 is the first link in a chain of reactions usurping life as we’ve known it. Schools and businesses shuttered. Citizens in lockdown. Remote learning and working where ever and whenever possible. Restrictions cautiously lifted as cases fall. Readjusted as cases climb. What’s undeniable is how profoundly this contagion has united the world as we follow its progress from one continent to another. One country to another. Region by region, city by institution by individual. But this global unification is far from being a singular pandemic phenomenon. We’re also seeing unified fronts rallying around inequity and racialized disparity with protests erupting around the world in support of Black Lives Matter and as an expression of general discontent.

This combination of Covid-19, Black Lives Matter and heightened malaise has fast-forwarded employee listening approaches – propelling a shift from conventional “once-every-year-or-two” engagement surveys to more frequent pulse surveys.

Over the past several months growing numbers of organizations are pulsing regularly, following the active listening model supported by WorkTango. They’re adjusting to the gobsmacking reality that the lives of their employees, their very health and wellbeing, matter more than ever during these times of uncertainty and change.

Traditionally a lot of surveys (pulse surveys included) are set in stone; the main intent being measurement and trending. We use these surveys to monitor how our organizations are shifting and improving. And we typically ask the same questions each and every survey to be able to compare apples to apples.

But we’re marching to a different drummer now.

Frequent pulsing is fluid. It lets us put into context how major change impacts people. Think of it as an ongoing process to gather and understand sentiments around all the moving parts of your organization as issues and changes and concerns present. It’s a diagnostics tool around what’s happening to the employee experience in real-time. It may not be trend-able data all of the time, but importantly, gives you the insight to deal with what’s in front of you, right now.

frequent pulse surveys - work from home

As the COVID crisis waxes and wanes, for example, you’re able to ask really targeted questions. Able to understand the effectiveness of remote work and how it might be impacting the psychological health and safety of employees. You’re able to keep tabs on feelings of isolation, fears of missing out, worries of potential exposure. And you’re able to feed this information to leaders so they can act.

The insights surfacing from these frequent listening surveys are proving so valuable, many organizations are embedding employee experience questions around diversity, equity and inclusion into their recent active listening strategies; the issues raised by Black Lives Matter serving as the impetus. This opens a window of opportunity to elevate DEI initiatives, delve into how diverse your organization really is, and take actions to make improvements.

Those hearing the voice of employees around DEI for the first time are forming a baseline to learn specifically about what work they have to do. Feedback could point to the need for unconscious bias training, or a review of recruitment and promotion practices, for instance.

Black Lives Matter has drawn attention to understanding how racialized women compare to white women in the workplace. Since the movement has captured headlines worldwide, recent data is showing us it’s not just an issue of gender and isolation but gender and race combined. WorkTango has seen some interesting outcomes indicating that racialized women feel significantly less supported in their growth and development, don’t feel they can bring their authentic self to work, and experience harassment and discrimination more than twice as often as their white counterparts.

Frequent surveying is on the uptake

Until COVID hit, pulse surveys hadn’t been on the radar of a significant number of companies. Many had reservations about frequency impacting participation rates. Others didn’t realize it was even an option.

But the trend toward “more is better” is on an upward trajectory. More than half of those organizations supported by WorkTango that weren’t already pulsing or using the active listening model have started to shift. And many are seeing higher participation than ever with many receiving upward of 85 to 90 percent response rates. Why? Because when surveys are contextually relevant to an employee’s experience, they want to give feedback – it’s about what they’re dealing with today. And what employees are dealing with today is what organizations need to know and deal with as quickly as possible.

Take the example of one of the largest Canadian not-for-profits. In the last quarter of 2019, they wanted to roll out a single employee engagement survey as part of their plan, with the potential for a follow-up pulse survey six months later. But with the pandemic in motion, it didn’t take long before the organization shifted their position. They’ve deployed seven pulse surveys in as many months.

Similarly, an independent energy company with an exemplary approach to employee engagement surveying (but no history using an active listening model prior to the pandemic) recently deployed their fourth pulse survey. They’re encouraged by the feedback, saying the insights they’re soliciting are coming exactly when they’re needed.

The themes associated with frequent pulse surveys can be around anything – whatever’s important at the moment. Organizations that have stuck to the tried and true annual or biennial survey, are finding the need to hear the voice of their employees in between cycles and are seeking frequent pulsing of their own accord. They have internal initiatives that they’ve formed and are reaching out for support on those initiatives, using this time to pilot and evolve their employee surveying methods.

Bottom line, COVID has triggered a whole rethink. A lot of that triggering comes from organizations going partially or fully remote for the first time. There’s a reason why they want to talk to employees: people are less in touch – especially managers who lead large teams – and it’s tough to see, much less deal with smoke before fire. Frequent pulse surveys have become the new norm, go-to tool for organizations to understand and act on how employees are feeling in this new world of being.

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