At risk of sounding repetitive, something we've said before will always bear repeating – adopting the most innovative technology, systems, and procedures will do you little good if they're not implemented to best take advantage of the efficiencies and insights they can provide. Employee feedback programs serve as the perfect embodiment of this notion, where their benefits can only truly be realized if the information they provide can be readily transformed into actionable insight.
To that point, employee feedback systems require a specific approach in order for the people data they generate to create effective guidelines and courses of action. Towards the top of the list of specific approaches is the need to infuse feedback platforms with anonymity in order to maximize engagement and the overall effectiveness of such measures. As innovators in the space, Hyphen has isolated six specific reasons why anonymous employee feedback helps improve feedback and in turn, employee engagement.
While not particularly earth-shattering, it’s important to remember human nature when deploying a new or revamped feedback program with your employees. More precisely, the many different factors that can inhibit openness and honesty – ranging from retribution to convenience and many points in between – can often prevent people from speaking in an authentic, unfiltered voice. Obviously, such behavior can eliminate much, if not all, of the impact of even the most well-organized and comprehensive feedback programs.
In other words, employees must feel like they're being given the opportunity to freely and openly discuss their true thoughts and opinions. When properly instilled, anonymity can allow employers to broach particular topics that might otherwise be difficult to openly discuss, especially when feedback questions concentrate on sexual harassment issues, office politics, or similar hot button issues.
In fact, these types of sometimes controversial subjects are often the issues employees have the most difficulty being honest and open about. Fostering an authentic, pervasive sense of anonymity provides employees a necessary feeling of insulation, protecting them from any unwarranted negative repercussions when simply trying to be honest. Specifically when dealing with sensitive subjects, anonymity is the linchpin to a productive and enlightening discussion that can better inform an organization of the many dynamic currents that course through any given employee base.
Similarly, people are also more likely to share positive feedback through anonymous channels, once again harkening back to human nature. Anonymity removes the possibility of positive feedback responses being misconstrued as inflated opinions fueled by ulterior motives. Simply put, whether for self-preservation, protection, or fear of being misinterpreted, a cloak of anonymity allows employees to state their true and honest feelings and, thus, maximize the effectiveness of the responses to shape organizational policies, procedures, direction, and goals.
The concept of individual employee empowerment can work hand-in-hand with anonymity to provide a reliable foundation for feedback platforms to be built upon. According to recent Gallup report, State of the Global Workplace, a shocking 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. This, of course, can negatively impact an organization across the entire spectrum of operations.
Designing and maintaining structured, well-organized, and deliberate opportunities for employees to share their honest thoughts is an absolute necessity to create an atmosphere where a workforce feels valued and engaged. When an organization doesn't provide employees sufficient opportunities to share those uninhibited thoughts – both positive and negative – management can become disconnected from the workforce and, in effect, try to steer the corporate ship without a functional rudder.
However, when employees are consistently asked for their feedback, they feel valued and empowered, truly believing that their opinions are important to the organization and always taken into account when developing guidelines and goals. If that sort of atmosphere is missing from the workplace – a phenomenon that is unfortunately prevalent in modern corporate culture – employees can feel as if they are expendable, easily replaced cogs in the company wheel, and that management is, at best, indifferent to their thoughts and concerns.
When an employer develops a feedback system that takes these notions into account and is designed to place a significant amount of importance to individual responses, employees will in turn feel more connected and engaged. Furthermore, when such systems are developed to also rely on anonymous feedback that protects the employees from any backlash when sharing their truest thoughts, a workforce will realize that a significant amount of time and resources were invested into the system in order to maximize its effectiveness. When employees sense organizations have devoted such efforts, they are likely to feel far more valued and, thus, engaged with their employer and the overall organization.
Working in conjunction with individual empowerment, employees must feel they have a proper platform to share their grievances. Otherwise, they will feel undervalued and, therefore, never devote the level of attention and importance to their job that an employer expects. In this type of environment, employees are far more likely to leave an organization when they lack a proper forum to discuss sensitive issues.
Anonymous surveys can provide employers a powerful tool to prevent such attrition by creating avenues for their workforce to share frustrations and concerns without limitations or restrictions. In fact, when properly implemented, department leaders can be far more in-tune with any and all problems within their teams or workplace. Without such tools, management might not even be aware of issues that could be eroding employee productivity and negatively impacting workplace relationships.
To that point, a recent study estimated that disengaged employees cost organizations between $450 and $550 billion every year. Obviously, employers should do everything within reason to prevent this sort of production erosion and rely on effective tools like anonymous feedback platforms to better educate management about any underlying problems. Anonymous surveys, for instance, make it possible to address any issues before they become systemic and start affecting overall productivity.
Echoing our original statement, feedback systems will only be effective if the information they provide is used to create sources of needed change. The mere existence of a feedback program, no matter how thorough it might appear, will ultimately only be a short term remedy for disgruntled team members to air out their frustrations. Unless those team employees see actual changes stemming from their submitted feedback, attrition will only continue to grow in scope and severity as the workforce will see no end in sight to the problems they are experiencing.
Whether it's a four-year-old that's afraid to admit they've spilled their sippy cup or an employee that made a critical error while preparing a monthly report, the fear of consequences and retribution dominate our behavior from the time we are children to well into our golden years. Therefore, employers must deliberately create feedback systems that are immune to the skewing effects of fear that can distort an employee's true opinions.
Anonymity within a feedback program is a critical component to alleviating those distorted responses that can severely hamper the program's effectiveness to start with. Without procedures that can ensure anonymous feedback, employees will inevitably fear being judged by peers or managers or, perhaps more importantly, being treated differently and ultimately losing their job.
Preserving anonymity also minimizes the fear of losing privacy and security over personal information and opinions that could prove to be extremely sensitive within a work environment. Therefore, when employers are able to eliminate the aspect of fear in their feedback systems, employees will naturally feel the process is much easier, more convenient, and provides a safe forum where they will be more likely to openly and honestly share their thoughts.
Although it could be defined as a specific form of fear, anxiety plays significant enough of a role in inhibiting the effectiveness of feedback systems to warrant particular attention. For employees who are completely unfamiliar with surveys, polls, and other forms of feedback, anonymity can be an invaluable tool that allows them to adjust to such programs in a healthy and productive fashion.
Likewise, for employees that are just more introverted by nature, anonymous feedback platforms can provide employers an important source of new ideas that otherwise would remain hidden due to an introverted employee’s hesitancy to openly share and discuss matters. When useful, new ideas are coupled with effective execution, operations grow and the entire organization benefits.
Of course, it's not only the introverted employees that can be hesitant to share their thoughts and ideas, particularly when they might deviate from the norm. As any innovative thinker will tell you, however, deviation from the status quo is often a key component in progress and innovation itself.
Fostering such progressive thinking is one of the most significant benefits to designing and implementing an anonymous employee survey as it can directly lead to business growth if the resulting ideas are effectively implemented. In other words, when properly used, employee feedback can lead to new, invigorating concepts that can boost revenues for an organization when used in a way that is conducive to freethinking and open minds.
The notion of free and open thoughts is critical to this process since, as previously discussed, introverted or timid employees can be hesitant to let their voice be heard if they liken it to fighting city hall or, to put it another way, the procedures already in place should be taken as gospel. In this type of environment, employees can think any diverging thoughts have no chance of being heard, no matter how good they might be, and it's futile to even attempt to instigate change. Justified or not, if a workforce feels that management does not respond well to disruptors – even the healthy variety – anonymous feedback systems provide an organization the best chance for employees to frankly share their new ideas.
Anonymous feedback platforms should not be mistaken for a degree of lawlessness within an organization. Josh Bersin from Deloitte put it eloquently and concisely when he said:
“Our research shows that companies that value open feedback and communication outperform their peers. This does not mean, however, that an anonymous feedback tool should let employees do away with respect, honesty, confidentiality, and fairness. We urge companies that use these tools to set guidelines in place, and communicate that nobody should say anything online that they would not say in person.”
At Hyphen, we echo these sentiments and strongly suggest organizations implement anonymous feedback tools along with necessary constraints to ensure the information they provide is not only beneficial to the company but, ultimately, healthy as well. Like many things in life, checks and balances are needed to maximize effectiveness without destabilizing the bigger picture.