People & Culture

Anonymous employee feedback – friend or foe?

It isn't without issues, but anonymous feedback allows you to hear otherwise unheard voices.

I read an interesting article on Forbes called “How Junk Science Set HR Back Fifty Years” where the author cites a number of HR “enthusiasms” from the last few decades that she really doesn’t rate and thinks caused more damage and harm than good. “360-degree feedback” is on the accused list, in particular the anonymous nature of it and the damage to culture and trust that it created.

It got me thinking about whether feedback should be anonymous or not and it’s a subject we’ve discussed a lot here internally here at Reward Gateway.

I know from experience that doing an anonymous employee survey, we will get a higher response rate than if we do one that is not anonymous. Despite working hard on creating a culture where everyone can speak freely and is encouraged to have an opinion, some people are just more cautious, shy or maybe even cynical and don’t want to respond with their name attached. I know in some places there is a worry, whether it is real or perceived, that honest feedback could get repercussions.

We’ve run many annual surveys, pulse surveys and other feedback projects  in the last ten years that have been launched as anonymous or not and where they are anonymous we’ve made that really clear. But I’ve often really worried and wondered if it is the right thing to do.

The first problem is that anonymity strips away context. Without knowing where someone is in the organisation, what country, department or job they are in, you can be left not really knowing what to do, or simply unable to react. There’s nothing worse than asking people what they think and then not acting on it, but if it’s anonymous and you don’t know specifically enough what part of the business or project the person is working on then you don’t know where to go to find out more or do anything to try to help.

And I also worry that sometimes it might create the wrong behaviour. It can seem, and I hope this isn’t too strong a word, cowardly to not put your name to an honest opinion.

One of the Reward Gateway values is Speak Up and when I read the “RG Standard” we set against that value in our Culture Bookthen it’s quite clear:

“RG People are sharp, insightful and speak their mind. They discuss, debate, share views, listen, and develop their position. They are confident, but never bullish.

Their passion for the best outcome means that they don’t always agree but they respect diversity, differences and decisions made after debate. They give feedback freely and take feedback gracefully.”

So I feel overall I think that the best outcome is to try to create a workplace centred on trust and safety where people can speak up, give their honest feedback and give freely knowing it might be accepted, loved, ignored or rejected but it’s important that its given anyway. I know that can be a stretch in some workplaces, even in ours. I’d be kidding myself if I thought we’d get a 100% score on people feeling they can speak freely; it isn’t that easy.

I do think Anonymous feedback has a small role to play in the overall feedback picture. We like Glassdoor very much and the feedback we get there is totally anonymous but gives us some unique angles we don’t see elsewhere. But I think overall most of your feedback should be attributable, it’s the only way you can discuss things openly and attempt to get to resolutions and changes.

So I guess I’m probably with Liz Ryan, at least on this aspect. How about you?

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