Pulse vs Full Surveys: Which is best for you?

More and more not-for-profit organisations are introducing pulse surveys into their employee and volunteer survey rhythms.

But what are the advantages of pulse and full surveys, and which is best for your organisation?



What is the difference between a pulse survey and a full survey?

Pulse surveys are shorter, typically 10-15 questions, and more focussed in terms of scope. Whereas full surveys are longer, typically 40-60 questions, and are broad in scope.

Number of questions10-1540-60
Open questions1 max.2-5
FrequencyEvery 2/3/6/12 monthsEvery 1-2 years


What are the advantages of pulse surveys?

  1. An up-to-date picture of how your people are feeling is particularly important in a fast-changing environment.
  2. Track Progress on your initiatives to find out how well they are landing.
  3. Agile and responsive. Pulse surveys enable organisations to ask about and respond to topical issues.
  4. Two-way communication. Surveying on a regular basis helps to establish a culture of two-way communication where feedback is listened to and acted upon.
  5. Robust data. Running surveys regularly enables you to see trends over time and provides robust data on which to make decisions.


What are the advantages of full surveys?

  1. Wider scope. By covering more topics in one survey, employees and volunteers can feedback on areas that are important to them.
  2. A diagnostic tool. Including a wider range of topics with a larger survey can help to understand where things are working well, and which areas should be prioritised.
  3. Key driver analysis. It is important to understand the relationships between different questions in a survey. A full survey, involving a number of questions will create a more thorough analysis.


Which survey type is best for your organisation?

In our experience, there is no single best approach for all organisations. The chart below sets out some common options:

1) Full every 2 yearsFF
2) Full every yearFFF
3) Full every 2 plus pulse in intervening yearFPF
4) Full every 2 plus six-monthly pulseFPPPF
5) Six monthly pulsePPPPP
6) Quarterly pulsePPPPPPPPP


An Education sector client runs their pulse surveys twice a year (option 5) in November and June as their employees have more bandwidth to be able to complete the survey at these times. This helps them to maintain high response rates.

A UK Third Sector client uses pulse surveys every other year to gather feedback specifically on culture, equality, diversity, and inclusion to support their initiatives in this area.

An international client recently introduced pulse surveys into their survey rhythm to more regularly listen to their people as they go through organisational change. They use pulse surveys to focus on topics that are identified in their full survey results. This enables the organisation to be agile and responsive in a time of significant change.


When deciding the right approach, consider the following key questions:

Do you have a good handle on the issues in your organisation?

If so, perhaps pulse surveys may help to dive further into these areas. If not, running a full survey covering a range of topics can help to establish where the issues are and what your priorities should be.

How much improvement do you need to achieve?

The more you wish to achieve the more important it will be that you measure progress regularly and reduce the risk of pursuing initiatives that do not work.

How fast are things changing for your people?

If changes are happening quickly, pulse surveys can help you check-in more regularly.

What works best for your managers?

Consider your managers’ workload and ability to interrogate results and build action plans. Does it work better for your managers to look at smaller data sets more regularly, or larger reports less often?


In our experience, pulse surveys and full surveys offer valuable insight in different ways and the best approach for many organisations will be to use a combination of the two.

What survey rhythm is best for your organisation? Will your next engagement survey be a pulse or full?

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