To Know or not to Know? Why Anonymous Employee Feedback is Important for Honest Feedback
Let’s kick things off by being clear that there is no right or wrong way of collecting feedback in terms of it being anonymous or non-anonymous. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages for the organisation and your people, and it's something you must carefully consider before you start to collect employee feedback.
If you've gathered feedback from employees in the past, you may have an organisational approach to whether the feedback is anonymous or non-anonymous. If you haven't collected feedback in the past, you'll need to think about what you want to achieve from the feedback and select whether you go with an anonymous or non-anonymous approach. This goes back to your company and people strategy, but there are some factors to consider:
The Importance of Feedback
If you don’t ask for feedback from your people, it's difficult to understand how employees feel about working at your organisation. Not only does feedback help the organisation to identify the positive and negative aspects of the workplace, but it also allows employees to have a voice.
If an organisation asks for feedback and acts on it, people may feel more engaged and valued and feel a sense of belonging because they are being listened to. By building a culture of feedback, then it becomes the norm for both employees and leaders, and managers to give and receive feedback rather than it only occurring on sporadic occasions.
- A survey last year highlighted that only 38% of employees believed that feedback leads to complete change in the organisation.
- 18% said that feedback results in no change. Furthermore, feedback needs to be taken seriously and acted upon.
- In the same study, 41% of the respondents said they'd left a job because they didn't feel like they were listened to.
- And a whopping 37% have left a job because they didn't feel their organisation took their feedback seriously.
Should Feedback be Anonymous or Non-anonymous?
There is no exact science to how you approach feedback in your organisation. Whether you ask for anonymous feedback may depend on the following:
- What you've done in the past, and the success, usefulness, and honesty of the feedback gained.
- The methods you’re using to collect feedback. For example, you may decide to make your employee engagement surveys anonymous and hold regular focus groups where feedback will not be anonymous; a combination approach can work well.
- What the feedback is for. For example, you may want to ask your people their opinion about the workplace facilities and what they would like to see improved. In this example, it doesn’t really matter if you know who says what because it’s safe ground, and they may be honest regardless of whether the feedback is anonymous or non-anonymous. However, if you want feedback about a more sensitive issue, for example, pay or about the performance of managers, if you ask for the feedback anonymously, you may get more genuine input. But if you need to take any action, you won't know the source of the feedback.
- Another consideration revolves around your organisational culture. For example, suppose your culture is one of transparency and trust, and your people trust the company and leadership. In that case, they may be more willing to feedback openly and non-anonymously because they trust who they work for.
The Benefits of Non-anonymous Feedback
If the feedback you receive is not anonymous, you will be able to make better analyses and assumptions from the feedback you receive. You may also be able to solve more issues if you know who has given specific responses. By asking individuals to identify themselves and give their feedback and opinions, you share that the organisation cares about their individual input.
The Disadvantages of Non-anonymous Feedback
It's pretty obvious, but some individuals in the organisation may not be comfortable being identifiable. This could stop them from being completely honest and open about their feedback, which doesn't serve the company because it may not represent true feelings.
In some situations, employees may feel the information they give (especially if it's not positive) may be held against them and negatively impact their careers. Therefore, it's easier for them to hold back and either not give the complete picture or not give feedback at all. For example, a recent study showed that 21% of employees did not provide input to their organisation because they feared the repercussions or felt that it wouldn’t be confidential.
The Advantages of Anonymous Feedback
Anonymous feedback may be more comfortable for many of your people because they feel like they can be honest and open with their input because they are not identifiable. In this respect, completion rates may be higher than with non-anonymous feedback, as it's been found that 74% of employees were more likely to share feedback if they thought it was truly anonymous.
However, anonymous feedback doesn't guarantee full participation, as 11% said they wouldn't share their input regardless of whether it was anonymous or non-anonymous.
Another positive of anonymous feedback is that it may decrease turnover in the organisation. This may be because if disengaged employees have an opportunity to give feedback anonymously via at least one channel, they may not only feel heard, but the organisation may do something about the issue. In addition, if improvements are made due to feedback, then it could stop people from leaving.
The Disadvantages of Anonymous Feedback
One drawback of anonymous feedback is that if you have some serious issues or concerns that come from the feedback, you won't know the source of where it's coming from. This can make it challenging to implement change or improvements or intervene where help or support might be needed.
In some circumstances, like an employee survey, where you decide to collect anonymous employee feedback, you could add an option for employees to contact HR if they have further concerns that they would like to discuss more openly or in person so that you don't close the door for full disclosure.
In most circumstances, it will be a case of trial and error when deciding whether to gain feedback anonymously or non-anonymously. If you select an option that doesn't give you enough feedback or a lack of employee openness, then you'll learn from that and potentially try it differently next time. It's likely that several factors will influence your choice around anonymity, including what works best for your culture and objectives and fits well with your organisational values.
Anonymous feedback is beneficial for giving all employees a safe, comfortable, equal forum to give feedback. In addition, it may benefit inclusivity as individuals won't feel like factors such as age, minority, and gender will impact what they say. However, the fact remains that whatever ways you use to gain employee feedback, you must act on it; otherwise, it can be detrimental to your people and organisation.
A technology partner like Sorwe can help with feedback processes by giving employees an easy way to record feedback sessions, have two-way feedback conversations, ask for 360 feedback, give positive feedback in the form of recognition, and get feedback through surveys, among other things.