Spring Fever: COVID-19 and the Employee Pulse Survey

We’re halfway through March 2021, and the spring fever is extra intense — at least twice as intense as normal, it seems. Think about it. Your employees have been in some form or other of COVID-19 lock-down since late Q1 of 2020, when the novel coronavirus arrived to rob them of perennially much-anticipated fun in the sun, exercise at the gym, spring cleaning, live concerts, and all the rest. And, depending on your industry and the demographics and purpose of your business and workforce, many or most have been working from home all this time. Even work has kept them home, in other words, and whereas some of your staff have enthusiastically embraced this, as they see their home as their own little oasis, others have struggled. Small apartments, home schooling, financial and health issues, and the rest of their lives have conspired to take their toll on your teams.

This year the spring fever is a full-throated cabin fever, yes, and brings to bear the force of two long winters and a global pandemic. People want to get out. People need to get out.

Wouldn’t this be a good time to take their pulse? That is, administer an employee pulse survey. Sure, if you’re an organization whose approach to the employee experience is progressive, your company’s leaders have been checking in with employees (and each other) on a regular basis for at least a year now. We’re talking something more formal. It’s time now to launch a well-thought-out inquiry to glean some macro, aggregate qualitative data that will inform your approach to the new normal.

A Good Time to Take a Pulse

There’s a mixed metaphor in here about annual doctor’s checkups and prison. We’ll hew to the former. Your employees’ blood is pumping for a long-awaited release from captivity, suffice it to say. A year into COVID–19, now is the time for organizations to conduct a a pulse survey, an annual checkup of their workforce.

“That sounds like an oxymoron,” you may say. This observation isn’t exactly false. Annual employee surveys are the antithesis of pulse surveys. This one just happens to be a year after lock-downs began, however. The timing in this sense is incidental and more like a milestone, less of a mere perfunctory pleasantry.

“What would we be taking the pulse of anyway?” you may ask. This is a good question. The would be the pulse not of employee engagement per se; that’s what annual surveys traditionally measure. This would be a spot check on employee morale, the most important thing at any moment — and especially at this moment in time, in 2021….

Why Now? Protecting the Employee Experience

The employee experience is everything. At once loosely and undeniably proportionate to an organization’s survival is the quality of employees’ experience working there. From their experience flows the extent of everything else — productivity, profits, staff retention, customer retention… the list goes on, and all of it is an outgrowth of that at once intangible and palpable thing we call employer culture.

The employee experience has been under major assault from the disruption of COVID-19. The critical mistake right now would be to assume employees will emerge from this pandemic ready to return to the way we were. You really need to check in with them in an official manner. See how they’re doing. Solicit their honest feedback. Figure out where their heads are at. A genuine attempt to gauge their morale right now will breed mutual goodwill and yield you actionable intel on how to move forward in protecting their employee experience — and, therefore, your organization’s success — over the coming months.

Easy Peasy

According to Bonusly, a provider of employee recognition technology, employee “pulse surveys are quick and easy surveys sent to employees throughout the year to gather feedback. […] Rather than addressing every issue under the sun, pulse surveys target a few specific pain points.” And take a loot at Qualtrics’ “ultimate guide to employee pulse surveys” for additional elaboration on just what employee pulse surveys gauge. After exploring those links, if you remain unsure of what to include in your pulse survey to gauge employee morale, take a look at this template from Zoho.

Plenty of providers of end-to-end suites for human capital management include functionality for pulse surveys. Paycom is one. And don’t necessarily assume your vendor can’t or won’t equip you to do pulse surveys just because it’s not a capability listed on their website. As PeopleStrategy Founder Randy Cooper shared on a recent #HRTechChat, smaller companies haven’t necessarily reached a point in their maturation where they see the immediate need or practicality in conducting a pulse survey, so he likes to make them light-lift, workflow-friendly for small organizations to do.

No organization needs the excuse of a waning pandemic to conduct a pulse survey. Technology has evolved. Like power windows on passenger vehicles, most systems have the capability today. Use COVID as inspiration to begin administering a pulse survey every now and then, on thoughtful whims or according to well-laid plans. A growing cadence and frequency will suit any employer well.

Thinking With the Company’s Whole Brain

In a way, an organization that places value in the results of an employee pulse survey comprehends the connection between success as understood by those watching the general ledger and satisfaction with the job as understood by the employee. We launched industry analyst activities at 3Sixty Insights on the premise that these concrete and abstract aspects to being in business have always coexisted, that the concrete have for years enjoyed most of the attention of business leadership, but that the astract are equally important to success and more about leadership. Think of it as a balance in the company between left-brain and right-brain thinking. In relation to HCM specifically, we posit that for every aspect of HR and related activities readily quantifiable from a financial standpoint (concrete), there is an abstract aspect affecting employees’ emotions that is just as important. The concrete, the line item in the general ledger, still gets most of the attention. But attitudes are changing. This symbiosis must be cultivated, ultimately, in the C-suite, as Accenture noted very recently, in mid-2019.

The not-so-implicit charter is even more important today, as we finally look forward to leaving the worst of this pandemic behind us. Employee morale now, let alone any other time, is not exactly a line item in the GL. But if it’s low, this means your efforts to provide a palatable employee experience conducive to work is failing, and the ultimate metric for accountants, the company as a going concern, is imperiled. When? Who knows? That’s the problem. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I know of no measure that shows, unequivocally and reliably, every time, that once employee morale sinks below a certain quantified level, the organization has X amount of time before the accountants must liquidate all assets. This is too bad. It becomes easy for those in charge of the purse strings to neglect employee experience. This is usually the beginning of the end. How long the end lasts can be excruciating.

The End of a Dark Winter

Speaking of endings, our two-year-long winter is finally coming to an end. Spring is in the air, as they say. And, as with any spring, people are chomping at the bit to emerge from hibernation and get out there. As an employer, check their pulse — i.e., the pulse of their morale, of their satisfaction with the job. You don’t want any top talent equating the coming metaphorical escape with an escape from their current employment, into the arms of an organization better at thinking in two ways, concretely and abstractly.


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