The Loop

How Pulse Surveys Can Improve Benefits

Filed under: Benefits

A pulse survey is a metaphor for what it sounds like – a way to measure the vital signs of your organization. They should be quick, concise and conducted often, much like a pulse oximeter is used to track your pulse rate, a sphygmomanometer gauges blood pressure, and a stethoscope listens to your heartbeat. Over time, these quick monitoring devices can track patterns that signal sustained good health, a declining condition, or an anomaly that should be dealt with right away.

While an annual engagement survey may be more in depth, pulse surveys are a less invasive way to check the current temperature (morale) of your workforce and, in many cases, obtain actionable data.

An employer cannot cater to the wishes of every individual worker, but it can compile insights on the collective voice of the workforce. If your pulse surveys reveal common complaints over the short term or a sustained long-term theme, these insights can help you discover underlying causes behind some of your organization’s problems.

Survey Logistics

A pulse survey is differentiated by its length and frequency – generally every few weeks or few months. The number of questions should be no more than 10 to 15, preferably fewer. It also can be more engaging to give each survey a theme, so workers do not feel like they are answering the same questions every time. In the benefits space alone, themes many cover a wide variety of topics, such as:

  • Professional opportunities (training, educational attainment, promotions)
  • Direct supervisor practices (communication, support, availability)
  • Financial benefits (tuition assistance, debt and budget management, investing literacy)
  • Work flexibility (remote work, schedule flexibility, home office stipend)
  • Health benefits (mental health benefits, wellness resources, condition management support)
  • Family benefits (family planning, paid parental leave, dependent care)
  • Individual benefits (student loan payment assistance, travel perks, paid sabbaticals)

By asking workers about their interest in specific benefits (and offer space for suggestions, as you may discover a new benefit), you could even request that workers prioritize their preferences. This will help determine which types of benefits resonate with the largest number of workers. Be sure to include a multiple-choice answer along the lines of “no interest at all.”

A quick way to uncover timely issues is to ask a single open-ended question, such as “what do you dislike most about your job, and why?” In 2021, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) analyzed 34 million online profiles of workers who recently left their employer. The study revealed that the foremost reason for quitting was a toxic work environment, often exacerbated by direct supervisors.


Obviously, getting to the heart of worker angst requires confidentiality and no threat of retaliation. Watch for patterns of answers that indicate toxicity and consider following up with a pulse survey asking for recommendations on the best way to handle poor management skills (e.g., coaching, diversity and inclusion training, sexual harassment discipline). The most salient benefit of pulse surveys is to identify trends and be able to address them in real-time.

Response Rates

Because pulse surveys tend to be quick, they typically have higher response rates than more comprehensive surveys. This can be especially advantageous when management needs to make a timely decision. For example, if HR is deciding between two different types of benefits to offer, send out a quick pulse survey to see how the workforce responds. If the response rate is high and leans in one direction, it is great to have this data to support the decision.


Note that pulse surveys are not just about gathering data, their purpose is to enable an employer to be responsive – which rewards workers for their engagement and candor. As much as possible, it is important to respond to common themes with action, or at least communication. And once a change has been implemented, use pulse surveys to learn how it is received by workers and request feedback for continual improvement.


Much like open enrollment is a seasonal event, consider using pulse surveys as a tool in your HR calendar to gather feedback as you make decisions and upgrades throughout year. It may also be useful to conduct a post open-enrollment survey to gauge worker experiences (e.g., was it seamless, confusing, cost more than expected, were you disappointed in the options). Consider pulse surveys as a perpetual feedback loop to help your organization strive to meet worker needs and desires. The effort, and the action that backs it up, make pulse surveys a strong tool for retention and employee satisfaction.

Value Their Opinions, Respect Their Time

Because pulse surveys are quick, workers often respond viscerally; their answers may be more honest than when they take time to answer a longer survey. In fact, workers may feel more liberated to respond to survey questions than in conversations with their managers. After all, feedback regarding company problems may not always move up the corporate ladder, but it does move laterally. In other words, workers who do not feel comfortable sharing their problems with their supervisor are generally comfortable sharing them with coworkers. So, the message moves outward, not upward.

Anonymous pulse surveys give workers the opportunity to share genuine insights with upper management – so make sure upper management hears them. Moreover, when the C-suite encourages supervisors to actively support completing surveys, individual workers will be more likely to take five minutes to answer the questions. The higher the participation, the more robust the data.

But beware, when you ask workers to take time to complete frequent surveys, even short ones, they expect a return on their invested time. If their comments continue to be ignored, they will stop making the effort – both in completing the survey and perhaps even in their job.

Positive Reviews

Bear in mind that pulse surveys are not just a purveyor of bad news, employers also are likely to get positive feedback, especially over time after changes are made in response to worker comments. And fortunately, after an extended era of dissatisfaction and “the Great Resignation,” the employment tide has turned.

Thanks to higher wages, more open and accepting corporate cultures toward mental health and diversity, and better opportunities for upskilling, learning and career development, more workers are opting to stay at their current job situation. According to research by ADP, the number of American workers quitting their jobs has dropped by five percent since 2022.

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