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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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