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Companies gauge employee morale with weekly pulse surveys

Users say answers to frequent surveys are anonymous and can be invaluable in measuring employee sentiment.

With offices in the U.S., China and Europe, executives at Retail Solutions Inc. found it difficult to know what their 380 employees were thinking about their jobs and the company.

To solve the problem, the fast-growing company -- which provides big data analytics for the consumer products industry -- began "pulse" surveys of employees with cloud-based software from Seattle-based TINYpulse.

Once a week, employees get emails for pulse surveys, both in Chinese and English, that ask questions such as, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you at work? What are two to three things we could be doing for customers that we're not? Does your management team set clear company goals?"

Answers are anonymous and can be invaluable, said Karl Waldman, senior vice president of worldwide customers operations at Retail Solutions, which is based in Mountain View, Calif. "Our corporate culture is a critical part of our success, and if you build a strong culture and empower employees, their innovation and passion will result in better care of customers,'' Waldman said. "That is the ultimate goal."

He said the service costs the company $300 a month, or less than $20 a month for each executive who uses the information.

Waldman said the surveys have prompted some changes since they began in August 2013.

Managers used to meet monthly to discuss financials, he said, but the pulse surveys showed that employees believe the financials don''t change much month to month. So, the meetings were changed to add group updates, recognize interesting projects and facilitate knowledge sharing across the organization. The agenda was also changed to include feedback from teams in the field who are hands-on with retailers.

Waldman said he was surprised by some survey results. He discovered that some anonymous employees had health issues and he passed the information along to human resources to help employees deal with the issues.

"With a global team, it is hard to know all the challenges and what the company can do right," Waldman said. "There are some things you would never know."

Pulse surveys increasingly popular

Such "pulse surveys" have grown in use in recent years, part of a movement by companies to use more data in making decisions. The surveys are also offered by vendors such as BlackbookHR, The Marcus Buckingham Co., Qualtrics and Harris Interactive.

Evren Esen, director of survey programs at the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va., said pulse surveys are generally unlikely to replace annual surveys. Although some companies are ending them, annual surveys are important because they serve as benchmarks and provide a broader sweep of employee attitudes and job satisfaction, she said.

Anonymous daily, weekly or monthly surveys can still be helpful at certain organizations because they help employees feel part of the process and demonstrate that the organization values their opinions, she said.

However, companies must be prepared to take concrete steps to show they are listening, demonstrate they are recognizing concerns and perhaps explain the reasons employee feedback may not fit with the business strategy. Otherwise, employees might feel the surveys make little difference. Fewer workers will participate and the surveys could become ineffective.

Accolade for TINYpulse

Accolade, a fast-growing company based in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., launched TINYpulse in July 2014 to collect and respond to real-time employee feedback and improve the company's culture, retention and results. TINYpulse replaced an internal "one point in time," survey, said Courtney Schneider, senior manager of talent management at Accolade, whose health assistants help employees of self-insured companies negotiate the healthcare system. Accolade wanted to give employees an anonymous way to provide feedback every other week, she said.

The company gets "pretty good" mid-50% response rates from its 600 employees, she said. To gauge the effectiveness of the survey itself, Accolade asked employees what they thought of TINYpulse. Two hundred and fifty responded, and 80% were very favorable.

TINYpulse was "incredibly quick and easy" to implement, provides good support and integrates well with the Microsoft SharePoint, Schneider said. However, while the data from the surveys is easy to obtain, it takes a great deal of effort to drive optimal action with the findings, she said. Support from leadership and a strong executive sponsor are critical to bringing about change.

The surveys have been an important way of providing questions for CEO Tom Spann, who holds quarterly town-hall-style meetings with employees.

However, the company received mixed responses when it asked employees, "If Accolade were an animal, what would it be and why?"

A leopard, an elephant, a loyal dog and a chameleon were among the answers. Some workers liked the question, but others said the survey should be serious, Schneider said.

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How often does your organization conduct pulse surveys?
Our organization conducts pulse surveys twice yearly. Just like the human pulse is used as a diagnostic tool for the health of a person, a pulse survey for our organization helps us track the overall operating climate and the morale within the operations. By having twice yearly pulse surveys we can find any areas in need of tweaking to ensure positive morale within the workforce. Without pulse surveys the work flow would be impacted negatively.
carol482 - Thanks for the comment. What vendor do you use? It is interesting that your survey is only twice a year when some are once a week or once every two weeks.
After researching the multitude of pulse survey service providers my enterprise decided to contract with Spotlight Pulse Assessments. We decided to go with Spotlight Pulse Assessments because of the choice of timing for the pulse surveys and their scientifically sound and proven sound indices. The rates are very competitive and when we need assistance with any aspect of the pulse surveys, there is always a tech ready to address our needs.
Thanks, Carol482. There certainly is a multitude of pulse survey service providers. I went to the home page of Spotlight Pulse and the company has an impressive client list and history. I don't know if you have implemented any other HR software recently at your enterprise and would be willing to discuss the products in a comprehensive way for a possible story. We are always interested in speaking with users and people who have experienced first-hand HR software. My email is if that is possible.
In my business it can happen weekly. On more complex shows, we may even evaluate daily. It's vital for us to know exactly what's been accomplished at every stage of production, how much we've spent, and what's left to spend before we're done. Because film production can spend enormous sums of money (many millions) in a very short period (a few weeks or months) we always have to be sure we have the material we need and enough money to create the material we haven't gotten yet.
ncberns Do you use software for your surveys? Maybe you are taking surveys the old fashioned way.
Weekly surveys?  I could understand, once or twice a year, once a quarter, once a month, but weekly?  Is the workforce of such companies already so disengaged that surveying in this manner is really helpful?  I do think it can be if spread out a bit more, but I think the more often you run it, the less valuable the data may be. 
Veretax -- Thanks very much for the comment. I don't think it sounds that onerous to get an email once a week. For these types of surveys, responses are voluntary and anonymous. Also, at Retail Solutions, offices are around the world and some people work out of the offices. The surveys are a way to stay in touch. Separately, Accolade offers the survey once every other week. That's not bad, either.
Truth be told, I find most surveys to be annoying unless they are specifically tied with a given goal. A weekly survey would probably become something I'd avoid. However, doing a survey at the end of a release cycle, or at the end of a quarter, I think would be effective. The idea is that they are tied to milestone moments, and in those cases, mentally, I'd be more readily inclined to say what went well and what didn't. In a weekly survey, there's not enough context to really see if a problem is temporary or of greater importance, so the data collected might be skewed heavily week to week.
Michael Larsen -- Your comment and insights are much appreciated.
I don't see where these surveys would be effective. People having a bad day could throw off valuable findings because of an argument before work.
Ian365 -- These pulse surveys may have some benefits. Companies can find out how employees feel about potential problems and they might be able to detect small problems before they become bigger problems. Because the pulse surveys are generally anonymous, employees also get a free shot at flagging some problems. Sure, there can be some drawbacks with the surveys, but what's the big harm in getting an email each week?