Anonymity can play an important role in an employee feedback program by fostering authentic and reliable insights. As we’ve written in the past, it creates a sense of safety and trust within a workforce, empowering them with a resonating voice that isn’t constrained by fear, judgement, and penalty. When instilled within a feedback strategy, anonymity also provides decision-makers with a reliable perspective on a workforce’s honest opinions and thoughts, creating a foundation for improved engagement, productivity and, ultimately, success.
However, anonymity in and of itself does not induce actionable people data for an enterprise. That only occurs when an organization collects anonymous employee feedback within a structured set of rules and guidelines, ensuring the authenticity and reliability of the resulting feedback. Therefore, an organization should keep these best practices in mind when implementing a strategy that leverages the potent insights anonymous feedback can provide:
Define anonymity for the workforce
Establish anonymous thresholds
Incorporate anonymous direct communication
Maintain a hospitable environment
Act on feedback
A workforce will likely view and define anonymity within context, so an organization can develop expectations and ground rules around anonymous feedback to make sure everyone is on the same page. For instance, if someone was to submit feedback cast in a negative light, employees likely wouldn’t consider it a breach of anonymity if third-parties were brought in to resolve the matter. This type of situation may even further bolster that critical sense of trust and safety that anonymous feedback helps promote in the first place.
When explaining how anonymity works, an organization’s managers can emphasize that management will never have access to user identities, but others might, depending on the circumstances. Leadership can -- and should -- continually reiterate this point, reminding employees what anonymity entails -- no names, titles, or any other identifiable trait -- every time they discuss the feedback program or when an employee takes a survey.
Aside from defining the anonymous nature of the feedback and reinforcing that notion throughout the process -- including all communication discussing the matter as well as the survey itself -- other precautions will help preserve anonymity throughout the employee feedback process
Enterprises should establish “anonymity thresholds” within feedback software for instances where the feedback segments are too small. For example, if management is trying to drill down to specific information within a customer service team that has 13 females and one male employee, filtering by gender would compromise the male employee’s anonymity.
Using a threshold that is high enough to prevent managers from correctly guessing identities will help preserve the anonymous nature of the feedback. Remember to take this into account when choosing a feedback software vendor as not all feedback systems in the marketplace provide this critical function.
There are times when someone in HR or a manager might want to probe a bit further into a user’s feedback but, for obvious reasons, cannot do so with direct communication when using anonymous feedback. Implementing a feedback system that provides an extra layer for anonymity when using direct messaging allows management to delve deeper into responses without knowing the user’s identity.
Organizations should use an employee feedback tool that lets a manager send a private message to an employee but funnels it through the system, scrubbing all identifiable information like name, phone numbers, or email addresses. This way, the manager can probe deeper into a specific issue with an employee without ever knowing their actual identity. When an anonymous message comes from the system rather than the manager, it helps employees feel assured their anonymity remains intact.
In the age of internet trolls and aggressive commentary throughout the digital landscape, maintaining a hospitable feedback environment is healthy and productive for managers and employees alike. For example, when an employer adopts strict policies regarding acceptable language and etiquette -- both in the physical and digital environment -- it creates definitive boundaries that employees must follow, including anonymous feedback. Anonymity is not carte blanche to say anything that comes to mind but must still abide by a code of conduct.
Whether anonymous or identifiable, in-person or online, workplace communication must sustain a level of civility and respect that fosters further dialogue. There’s a balance between constructive criticism and courtesy that all employees should strive to maintain. When an organization reinforces that balance through training programs, positive recognition, and active coaching, everyone benefits.
Lastly, remember that feedback -- both the open and anonymous varieties -- is only powerful when acted upon. An enterprise that takes the time and effort to instill an effective feedback system but doesn’t take action on the resulting insights is wasting an invaluable window into the authentic concerns of its workforce.
If feedback goes unaddressed over time, even the sense of trust and safety developed by anonymous feedback systems won’t be enough to boost participation rates, eventually harming the entire organization. In fact, according to a BlessingWhite survey, nearly 20% of employees report being disengaged when they perceive their feedback isn't acted upon by their company. Workers will only speak up if they feel their voice is listened to and essential to the decision-making process.