The Power of Anonymity for Employee Feedback


  1. If you struggle to get honest responses to questions during interviews or open employee meetings, anonymous surveys may be the solution to gather truthful, detailed information from employees.
  2. Anonymous employee surveys have many benefits, such as the ability to provide honest opinions and personal thoughts, and may encourage management to change their thoughts about certain projects and company topics.
  3. There are pros and cons to almost everything, including anonymous surveys. For instance, anonymity may skew the results through inflated anger and misinterpret feedback.

In theory, employee surveys are extremely useful in getting feedback from employees, but there is one small concern with rather large implications. It’s anonymity – or lack thereof. Let’s set the stage.

A 2015 Gallup poll evidences a higher level of employee engagement when there’s an open line of communication between employees and managers. More specifically, managers who are open and more approachable allow employees to feel more secure and comfortable asking questions or providing feedback. Of course, the more approachable manager will get more honest feedback, but even the most approachable managers lose out on the really valuable feedback.

Data from the Cornell National Social Survey shows that, of 439 full-time respondents who weren’t self-employed, 42% said they withhold information when they had nothing to gain or something to lose. Furthermore, a quarter of the respondents said they withhold feedback – the kind that helps a business identify “routine problems” and areas of improvement – for fear of consequence. How, in the face of these alarming statistics, are you supposed to get honest feedback from your employees?

Pros of anonymous surveys

Regardless of the type of business you own, your employees can provide insights that may be beneficial for managers as well as other employees. Employee surveys are an excellent way to gather this knowledge, including ideas for company improvements, employee safety or ways to increase profits. Anonymous employee surveys are a great way for employees to speak their minds without fear of rejection or negative consequences.

These are some pros of anonymous employee feedback surveys.

1. Even the silent have a voice.

Every company has employees who readily voice their opinions as well as those who stand on the sidelines and don’t express their concerns openly. Anonymous employee surveys allow those who typically don’t speak their minds to address their concerns without fear of retaliation. Anonymous surveys work especially well for topics that are extra personal or potentially controversial, allowing people to provide open and honest responses.

2. Employees will focus on the question, not the response.

When questions are asked face to face, many people focus on the content of the question and give the response they think the interviewer wants to hear. Answering questions anonymously allows employees to provide honest responses, oftentimes without an opportunity to contemplate the answer. They simply provide the first thing that comes to mind, which is usually their honest opinion. So, the person answering focuses on the question and their personal response rather than the way they feel the interviewer thinks they should respond.

3. It prevents the fear of “stupid” questions.

It is common for people to be afraid to ask questions that they fear may be considered stupid. Anonymous surveys provide a way for the person to speak up and ask the questions they feel are personal or possiby irrrelevant. People taking anonymous surveys have the opportunity to ask the questions they may otherwise be embarrassed to ask. These “irrelevant” or “stupid” questions may ultimately help your company see the gaps in its understanding of the projects or missions and challenge management to think outside of the box.

Anonymity drawbacks

No employee wants their own problems, or their problems with other employees, to be aired out in public. Keeping employee surveys anonymous will let employees voice all of their concerns honestly, allowing your business to resolve issues and become more cohesive.

There are a few reasonable concerns, though, that are worth keeping in mind as you move toward this anonymous approach. Chris Cancialosi, organizational psychologist and entrepreneur, lists a few areas of concern in anonymous employee surveys:

  1. Skewed results: An inflated amount of anger and dissatisfaction from a small group of employees
  2. Misinterpreted feedback: Misinterpreting data for lack of context
  3. Lack of follow-up: No way to approach good or bad feedback to dig deeper for a solution

You should consider these three issues with any data you receive and analyze when conducting anonymous employee surveys. To account for some of these issues, however, anonymous surveys are a great example as to which questions you should ask, and how, in order to set some context while still keeping things anonymous. For example, questions about tenure, position, department, age, gender and other identifying characteristics will go a long way in helping you build on the feedback you receive. Your survey should have various types of questions that allow your employees to answer freely without feeling trapped into predetermined or steered answers.

Solutions to get feedback from your employees

In the digital age, it’s never been easier to conduct and analyze anonymous employee surveys. Companies like Officevibe are setting the standard in digital (and anonymous) employee surveys that are a win-win for companies and their employees. Such applications provide customized questions and frequent feedback from remarkably easy-to-use surveys that can be delivered and accessed by email. These anonymous employee surveys can even be integrated into popular cloud collaboration platforms like Slack and Microsoft Office 365. With all of these benefits, there’s really no reason to put off implementing your own anonymous employee survey.

What kind of company culture advocate would I be without touching on how anonymous employee surveys benefit culture? When going this route, make sure your employees know that the survey is prepared with love. It’s all about positivity and growth, and if your efforts are perceived as constructive, the result will be the same for your business and its culture.

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