When it comes to personal health, it doesn’t usually take much to work out that something is a bit awry. And a quick check of the pulse can give an immediate indication of potentially serious problems that may be lurking.
Pulse checks are becoming increasingly popular in the workplace, too. But there, it’s less about two-fingers-on-a-pressure-point.
What’s a pulse check?
A pulse check is a people management tool that helps HR, managers, and other senior players in a business understand the mood of their workforce. It helps them gauge employees’ happiness and contentment levels and, crucially, find out about things that aren’t going so well.
Think of a pulse check as a survey that an employer asks its workforce to complete. But unlike some traditional surveys, a pulse check is very brief, to the point, and won’t take up much of an employee’s time. It’s supposed to give a snapshot of how individuals are feeling at a particular time, and so it’s something that employers should repeat regularly.
The key to these checks is: short, sharp and frequent. Forget pages and pages of open questions that call for detailed answers and hours of effort. There may still be a place for those types of in-depth surveys in your business (maybe once a year), but pulse checks are something different altogether. They’re snappy. They take five minutes, max, to complete. And they’re usually run every few weeks.
What will a pulse check tell you?
It depends on the questions you ask, but you’ll usually get a flavour of how ‘onboard’ your employees are, how they’re coping in their roles and the level of workforce morale. You may spot patterns in the answers – a general lack of motivation in the workforce, for example, or frustration about a particular change you’ve implemented.
Setting pulse check questions
Remember you’ll be running these checks regularly, so you shouldn’t try to squeeze everything into a single one. Pace yourself!
Aim to include no more than about eight questions. Base them around general enquiries about how employees are doing, and how they feel about things that have happened in the business (anything from a new keycard system, to a switch to healthy snacks in the vending machine, to an updated social media policy). The best questions are framed clearly and narrowly, so the employee can effectively whizz through them without becoming bogged down in detail, confusion or indecision.
Tazio has a bank of commonly used questions that our clients can choose from, so these can be a useful starting point. Our system has the flexibility to add bespoke questions, too, so you can focus on particular things that are relevant to your business.
Whichever way you go about this, try to have a mix of questions each time, so you get an insight into a few different things, from personal happiness to relationships with colleagues, to feelings about their development opportunities.
You could ask things like:
- How happy do you feel at work?
- Do you feel you’re progressing well in your career?
- Do you think we provide the right training?
- Do you feel valued at work?
- How is your relationship with your manager?
- Do you have the right work/life balance?
- Is ours a friendly working environment?
You should also carefully plan when you’ll send the pulse checks out. First thing in the morning works well. It’s a way of people easing into their day with their first coffee, as opposed to being landed with something else to do when they’re in the middle of a busy schedule.
What are the benefits of pulse checks?
Employee engagement is not a new idea, but it’s one that, thanks to new technology and developments in HR, is becoming far more sophisticated and adding real value to businesses. Pulse checks are now an important part of this. They are key to understanding the dynamics at play in the workplace, as well as the particular issues and challenges (and the positives – don’t forget those!) that may be affecting your workforce.
Of course, employee engagement can happen in various ways, and there’s sometimes no substitute for a face-to-face conversation. But pulse checks can be an excellent catalyst for those discussions, drawing out issues and trends that might otherwise pass employers by (until it’s too late and the employee leaves or the issue has become a far bigger one than it originally was).
Pulse checks can also be a useful alternative to pressurized annual review meetings or surveys. Employees don’t necessarily want to raise their gripes directly in a one-to-one meeting with their manager; they think that would rock the boat, or that it’s too small a thing to be making a fuss about. Pulse checks let them do that anonymously. And not only do employees sometimes feel more comfortable about giving feedback in that way, employers get to see that a ‘small’ issue is actually something that a few people feel quite strongly about. Tackling those things early means that they’re not festering and growing into unnecessary, unwieldy (and potentially expensive) problems.
Other benefits of pulse checks include:
A series of snapshots
Feedback is best when it’s given regularly, over time. Think about an annual employee survey. It will give you lots of valuable information, but an employee will usually be completing that survey on a particular day. It might be a good day; maybe a bad day. Their answers to questions about satisfaction and happiness could therefore be skewed by the way he or she feels at the time.
Pulse checks show you how an employee feels at the time, too. But, crucially, you’ll follow that up by another pulse check a month or so later. Does he or she feel the same? Worse? Better? Pulse checks let you track the highs and lows, get a fair overall picture, and deal with issues as and when they crop up.
Quick and easy
Pulse checks are an online tool. Employees will usually complete them on their desktop (with their morning coffee, remember?), or on another compatible device like an iPad or phone.
Feedback from our clients is that their employees take pulse checks in their stride. They quite enjoy doing them, and they appreciate being asked for their thoughts. That acceptance of pulse checks is largely because they’re not an inconvenience. They don’t take much time, and they can be done on the move. These are really significant advantages over other types of engagement.
Pulse surveys are low-cost, and the technology platforms do much of the work that would otherwise have to be done by admin staff, management, and HR.
There can be some unexpected benefits to pulse checks. A question about the office environment (‘Is it nice to work here?’), for example, that’s repeated over a course of pulse checks could lead to employees deciding to improve their working area. They might start hanging up their coat; bring in a pot plant; implement their own personal clean-desk policy. Small things! But these are things that could catch on, and spread to everything from relationships with colleagues, to work/life balance, to productivity.
One of the biggest frustrations for employees is feeling that they don’t have a voice in their organisation. Pulse checks show them that they do.
Pulse checks are an employer’s commitment to inviting, listening to, and acting on the views and feelings of their workforce. If employees know they have these open lines of communication, and that their employer really is serious about checking in in this way, the result is usually a far more engaged, far more productive, and far happier and more loyal group of people.
Acting on feedback
This is crucial. There’s no point in asking for employees’ honest thoughts if you’re not going to do anything with the information you get back.
Some pulse check platforms generate a neat summary report of the feedback. Either way, it’s really important to work through employees’ responses and note the positives and the negatives. Also look for themes; has more than one employee said they have a difficult relationship with a particular manager?
Is one department consistently giving negative feedback about their work environment?
Some of the negative feedback will be easy to address. Other situations might take a more strategic approach involving HR, management and perhaps other colleagues. Bear in mind that some issues (eg ‘I’m not paid as much as Andy’, or ‘I’m pregnant, so I wasn’t promoted’) will need to be handled particularly carefully, taking account of employment law implications.
One thing employers sometimes forget to do is to shout about the things they’ve done. Be proud! Always tell an employee about the changes you’ve implemented as a result of their feedback. It’s so important that they know their input was valued and acted on. It also makes it more likely that they’ll engage in a useful way with pulse checks in the future.
Good communication is vital throughout the whole pulse checks process. Tell employees that you’re planning to introduce this new way of gathering feedback, and make clear that it’s a great opportunity for you and for them to start doing things differently and better. Let them know exactly how the pulse checks will work and what you will do with the information you get back.
It’s also a good idea to make someone in your organisation in charge of the process – preparing the questions (usually in consultation with management, to make sure the right things are covered); dealing with any employee queries; analysing the results. With careful planning, and an appetite for improvement, pulse checks really can boost the health, happiness and performance of an entire workforce.
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