Press Release

Switzerland at the forefront of agile self-managed employee surveys

Willis Towers Watson Survey Monitor 2017

November 9, 2017
| Switzerland

ZURICH, 09 November 2017 – Swiss companies are early adaptors of short, topical, self-managed employee pulse surveys. This is shown in the Survey Monitor, a yearly study conducted by global HR consultancy Willis Towers Watson.

Pulse surveys are part of an “active listening strategy”, an emerging trend in HR analytics dedicated to making a positive impact on people and business outcomes by monitoring the employee experience throughout the employee life cycle. This reaches from before joining to on-boarding, performance management, development, and eventually leaving the company.

Most companies use an all-employee census survey as the backbone of their listening strategy, to identify key insights on a range of topics and gain momentum for follow-up measures. The census is supplemented with topical pulse checks, allowing companies to gather employee input on a more ongoing and targeted basis.

Of the Swiss participants in the Survey Monitor, 38% reports that their company still relies exclusively on census surveys, while 35% supplements a census survey with pulse checks. A further 17% of participants conducts only pulse checks but no census survey. The remaining 10% does not conduct census or pulse surveys at all. As a comparison, in the 2016 Survey Monitor only one in four participants conducted pulse surveys, while a further 11% considered to start using them.

This implies that pulse surveys are now relatively common in Switzerland, whereas in other European countries still only a minority of companies conducts pulse checks (Figure 1). Also entry and exit surveys are more popular in Switzerland than in the rest of continental Europe. Moreover, almost half of Swiss participants conduct pulse surveys with self-managed technology, while in other European countries a large majority involves an external provider to manage their pulse survey.

Figure 1: Survey types employed in Switzerland versus the European average

Survey types employed in Switzerland versus the European average

The way that Survey Monitor participants describe their company’s census and pulse surveys illustrates the difference between the two. Participants report that their census survey contains 30-40 questions (34% of participants), is conducted every second year (40%), and might involve paper questionnaires (43%). Pulse checks contain 15 questions or fewer (76%), are conducted occasionally (68%), and only high-level reports are created (72% does not report to all managers). For census surveys, a response rate of 70-89% is typical, creating momentum for follow-up, while 50-59% response is more likely for pulse checks.

The differences between pulse and census surveys are also reflected in the different reasons that participants have to conduct them at their company (Figure 2 and 3). Pulse checks are used as stand-alone measure to gather opinions on planned initiatives or check the mood in specific teams, and as a supplement to census surveys in order to check progress. Census surveys, on the other hand, are typically conducted to identify opportunities and to involve employees. Motives related to improving business performance, for example using the results as KPI, are less common, although Willis Towers Watson established a clear connection between company performance and employee engagement, combined with enablement and well-being.

Figure 2: Reasons for conducting a census survey in Swiss companies

Reasons for conducting a census survey in Swiss companies

Figure 3: Reasons for conducting a pulse survey in Swiss companies

Reasons for conducting a pulse survey in Swiss companies

In line with an agile survey approach, a quick turnaround of results is already common for pulse surveys, while for census surveys turnaround generally takes longer (Figure 4). The results of one in two pulse surveys are released within one week, one in three are even available real-time. Conversely, the majority of companies conducting census surveys release the results only after five weeks or more. One reason might be that nearly half of participants still use paper census surveys, which take time to process. Still, one in ten companies are able to release the results of their census survey to all managers within one week, suggesting huge potential for improvement.

Surprisingly, a majority of participants in both Switzerland and other European countries reports that their company still distributes static offline results reports, such as PDF documents. As in previous editions of the Survey Monitor, only around one in three participants uses interactive online reports, although participants that do so are more likely to agree that their reports are very user friendly than those that still use static offline reports (19% vs. 9%).

Figure 4: Reporting timelines for census and pulse surveys in Switzerland

Reporting timelines for census and pulse surveys in Switzerland

Including pulse checks in the listening strategy might help mitigating follow-up challenges. In line with previous years that the Survey Monitor was conducted, when asked for the greatest challenge in the employee survey process, the majority of participants (57%) names the survey follow-up process. This surpasses other typical challenges, like enabling managers (27%) or internal coordination (10%). However, of the participants from companies that use a combination of regular census surveys with pulse checks to measure progress, significantly fewer (46%) experience follow-up as major challenge.

In sum, according to Willis Towers Watson’s 2017 Survey Monitor, Swiss companies are more likely than the continental European average to combine their census survey with agile pulse checks. Census surveys are the analytical backbone of a listening strategy, with company-wide involvement and potential for action planning. Pulse checks are indispensable for the complete picture, administered occasionally to check progress on specific initiatives or in specific teams and inform the census follow-up process. A combination of census surveys with pulse checks, integrated in a wider listening strategy including check-ins throughout the employee life cycle provides a thorough understanding of organizational culture, employee engagement, and their links to business performance to ultimately create a better employee experience.

Background information on the study

In the yearly Survey Monitor, Willis Towers Watson asks HR professionals about their company’s employee survey approach in order to gain insight in whether active listening strategies are already common practice in European companies, and what the consequences are for reporting and follow up.

This year, 181 HR professionals participated across continental Europe, of which 48 are located in Switzerland. Participants come from diverse industries, and represent both locally and globally operating companies.