The opportunity to provide anonymous feedback is everywhere - suggestion boxes, reviews and feedback requests for work, subjects and courses many of which state within the first instruction paragraph ‘This feedback is anonymous and nothing will be linked back to you’… Why? Employers believe that by allowing anonymous feedback options the response rate and communication in the workplace will improve. However, all it does is highlight an underlying issue of fear of consequences within the organisation and sets an organisation up for a decrease in engagement.
Subtext = It’s not safe to share your concerns and feedback openly
By allowing anonymous feedback you are essentially informing your employees that there would be adverse consequences had they brought their feedback to your attention openly. By creating a channel that employees can hide behind to share their true opinions of the workplace reduces the likelihood that your staff will approach you when a problem or idea arises — for fear of consequences. As such they are likely to wait until you send out your next anonymous survey by which time the concern has had time to fester and the brilliant, perhaps million dollar idea, is forgotten.
Anonymous feedback can reduce the very factor you’re trying to improve, engagement
The goals of many organisations are to enhance employee engagement, trust and as a result — the overall performance. However, if staff are reluctant to be identified in the answers, lack of trust is already a significant problem in the workplace. If workplaces are encouraging their team to be open, honest and accountable, sending out an anonymous survey sends a message of incongruency. Allowing employees to remain unidentified actually reduces the factors you’re trying to improve and increases the factors the survey is designed to overcome. Anonymous surveys use a method that lacks transparency and accountability where the survey aims to improve engagement and accountability.
Honest answers don’t equal valid answers
University of Michigan’s Survey Research Centre found that honest answers do not necessarily guarantee valid answers. If the responding members are anonymous it becomes impossible to determine the reasons behind their ratings and thus they may be inaccurate, biased or self-serving. Confusing or mixed responses can cause employers to go searching for clarification from employees by calling meetings or putting employees on the spot. This sending out of an anonymous survey followed by an open witch hunt for clarification sends a very mixed message to staff and will only result in confusion, frustration and retreat. If that survey had asked for open feedback, however, management could easily follow up on responses and instead, employees will interpret this response as being ‘heard’.
Anonymous feedback leaves management guessing who provided the feedback.
Especially if you work within a small or start-up company your anonymous feedback may leave managers trying to determine who left the feedback. If employees feel that their feedback only leaves their boss trying to figure out who left it they may be less inclined to leave honest feedback in the first place.
Anonymous feedback is less likely to offer a solution
I learnt a valuable lesson in my workplace, being I won’t approach my manager unless I have a solution in mind. Makes sense right? Bosses don’t want to be dumped on with a plethora of problems - they are looking for solutions and you can’t assume that they will have one. Encouraging employees to develop their own solutions also develops their skills and sense of value in the workplace.
All the above is true — provided you are a decent manager. If you do not take action in response to the feedback you will damage the rapport you have with your employees. Evidence shows that your employees have something to say and much can be learnt from their feedback. Management must respond to feedback positively and transparently - if employees see that their survey responses are taken seriously and acted upon, the more respect they will have for their workplace and engagement will improve. Conversely, little to no response to survey results will damage the workplace environment and relationship to management — it will also drop responses in the next survey. Openness creates a positive feedback loop that involves a commitment by all staff.
Direct feedback, as opposed to anonymity, improves employee/management transparency, builds open and honest work relationships, increases accountability and improves overall work ethic. Employees that provide open and honest feedback are more open to coaching and discussions that will enhance performance thus employees care about their own and company growth. Open communication between management and employees builds a better and more productive workplace, which enhances performance and progress.
Harbour an environment that encourages discussion in your workplace, ask your employees to bring you solutions and not just problems, act on feedback and finally create an environment that encourages employees to be themselves… Because how can you trust someone you would prefer not to know?