Smart companies now survey employee satisfaction daily, not annually

“Pulse survey” services provide frequent, realtime snapshots of a workplace’s mood

Man with elaborate measuring device strapped to his head

(Andrew Rich/Getty)

Do you feel happy today? Would you recommend your workplace to a job-seeking friend? Does your manager really listen to you? How positive are you feeling about your work-life balance? Are these questions starting to drive you crazy?

If so, get used to it. More and more companies are using “pulse surveys”—frequent, real-time workplace polls—to evaluate how engaged and happy their employees are.

Employee surveys aren’t new—most companies have done annual or semi-annual polls of their workforce for decades. But critics of these once-a-year-or-so attempts to gauge office sentiment say they don’t happen often enough to capture meaningful ebbs and flows of happiness: If your survey takes place in September, it won’t capture employees’ frustration at having to schlep through snow for 20 minutes to get to corporate headquarters from the nearest transit station, points out Simon De Baene, co-founder and CEO of Montreal-based GSoft.

De Baene’s software company is a major investor in Officevibe, one of a slew of new startups offering pulse survey programs and platforms to employers, and he says the weekly staff surveys Officevibe conducts in his workplace help identify undiscovered pain points. “Once you grow past the stage where you’re working in small teams—say you’ve got 50 or 100 employees, like we do—you can lose track of what your people are thinking. This helps us stay on track.”

De Baene isn’t contemplating moving GSoft’s office as a result of the survey feedback. But he says the results suggest it may be time to look into offering a shuttle service from the station. “You need to adapt when you get these sorts of comments,” he says. “If you wait too long, you’re going to lose employees.”

Pulse survey startups like Plasticity, Know Your CompanyTinyPulse, Waggl, Niko Niko and Officevibe typically charge companies a monthly fee to administer polls—usually via email or a mobile app—and collect the data. (Officevibe charges anywhere from $50 per month for firms with up to 50 to $400 for a company with 500 people.) Other companies, like U.S. department store chain Nordstrom, have developed their own proprietary tools: Nordstrom’s online “moodometer” offers a group of its tech employees an opportunity to indicate their feelings that day by clicking on one of five faces that express a range of emotions that starts at “excited” and ends with “angry.”

The new popularity of pulse surveys reflects a growing workplace preoccupation with big-data analytics as well as a rising interest in agile development—a software development methodology that’s gaining traction outside the tech world. Mood-tracking is a key metric for agile development firms, which use tools called Niko-niko calendars to register employees’ emotional wellbeing. (Not surprisingly, the smiley-faced calendars originated in the country that invented emoji: Toyota reportedly pioneered the original Niko-niko tool.)

By examining frequent, real-time feedback from employees, companies can make small, subtle changes that are highly focused but could have a big impact on engagement, says Jacob Shrirar, Officevibe’s director of customer happiness. “You can do one little test, make a change, and see if it has any effect. It’s a quick, iterative mindset, which is how everyone needs to be thinking these days.”

But pulse surveys only work if senior management is prepared to listen to employee feedback—and demonstrate in a concrete way that the message has been heard. So even if you aren’t willing to offer a shuttle service to ease your employees’ commute, you need to find ways to show that you’ve listened to their concerns and considered them. (GSoft’s De Baene makes a point of discussing Officevibe feedback at a monthly all-staff meeting.)

When Officevibe client Dudnyk, a pharmaceutical advertising company, heard from employees that they wanted to have the opportunity to work from home, senior management realized it was time to develop a clear policy about remote working—something that managers had dealt with on an ad hoc basis until then. “We realized that we needed to get our heads around this issue,” said Kathie Carnes, VP of human resources. “So that’s what we’ve done. We need all employees to believe they’re being treated fairly.”

Dudnyk has only been doing pulse surveys for a couple of months (Officevibe launched in November), so Carnes describes her company’s experiments with real-time feedback as just beginning. “We see this as a great way to help us dig in to what employees are thinking in a real, measurable way,” she says. “Everybody loves data.”