Keeping a Finger on the Pulse of the Office

As workplace communication continues its rapid evolution in the digital age, Pulse surveys are becoming a trendy tool for company execs looking to frequently gain deeper insights into how their employees feel about their jobs.

As workplace communication continues its rapid evolution in the digital age, Pulse surveys are becoming a trendy tool for company execs looking to frequently gain deeper insights into how their employees feel about their jobs.

Effective communication has never been more important than it is in today’s fast-changing workplace, where social media has replaced the water cooler.

But interestingly enough, few American workers say their companies practice the kind of open communication that helps them do better work. A recent Gallup poll found only 17 percent of workers say open communication exists at all levels of their company, and a meager 27 percent strongly agree that the feedback they get leads to a stronger job performance.

As company execs continuously search for ways to speed up production and improve results, one tool is emerging as a potential game changer in today’s world of constant workplace communication: the pulse survey. The surveys tend to be short, and questions could touch upon anything from whether the new desk chairs are supportive enough for your lower back to the dreaded “Are you happy at work?”

As daunting as that might seem, the surveys are designed to elicit quick feedback about a range of job-related issues and employee needs. And as Annamarie Mann and Jim Harter recently wrote for Gallup, the surveys are proving a versatile tool for tackling all sorts of communication challenges in the office.  

“When used strategically and as complementary tools for larger initiatives, pulse surveys provide valuable data to companies that want the ability to respond quickly to change or increase employee feedback as company initiatives evolve,” they said. “Many leaders know the value of regularly tracking financial metrics. Pulse surveys also allow them to monitor crucial people metrics.”

Instead of falling back on a traditional approach, like annual company surveys, the pulse survey allows employers to reel in feedback from employees throughout the year. The tool gives company leaders a way to follow real-time experiences and develop deeper insights into company culture and how changes affect particular subsets of the office.

“By receiving insights into what employees are thinking about workplace changes – whether they are reacting to a new rule or policy, a new leader or organizational restructuring – leaders and managers can use data from pulse surveys to recalibrate actions, resources and priorities to achieve peak performance,” Mann and Harter said.

Of course, there is also a downside to the pulse survey. Beware that excessive surveying can lead to survey fatigue, Mann and Harter warn. And keep in mind that pulse surveys should be considered a complementary tool as opposed to a solution to a workplace problem.

“Pulse surveys can provide additional perspectives on existing organizational problems or strategic initiatives, but they can't solve problems or improve performance on their own,” Mann and Harter said. “They are best used to support or reinforce other measures and actions.”

Justin Runquist is CFM’s communications counsel. He is a former reporter for The Oregonian, The Columbian and The Spokesman-Review. Away from the office, he’s a baseball fanatic with foolhardy hopes that the Mariners will go to the World Series someday. You can reach Justin at  justinr@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @_JustinRunquist