Feedback is essential in any relationship, especially between employers and employees. Regularly obtaining employee feedback is vital to retaining staff and ensuring the longevity of a business. The feedback employers receive can provide insights on how to improve company culture, increase accountability and develop a more loyal workforce.
One type of feedback that can be particularly powerful is anonymous feedback. Allowing employees to give feedback anonymously may incentivize them to provide a candid assessment of your business and what it’s like working for you. However, this method comes with a few drawbacks to keep in mind.
Regardless of the type of business you own, obtaining anonymous employee feedback can be a great way to solicit ideas for company improvements. It can be just as critical as getting customer feedback. Here are some of the advantages of allowing workers to provide feedback without attaching their names.
Every company has employees who readily voice their opinions and those who stand on the sidelines and don’t express their concerns openly. Invitations for anonymous feedback allow those who typically don’t speak their minds to address any issues without fearing retaliation or worrying about speaking up in front of others. Promising anonymity and confidentiality can be just the motivation shyer workers need to give their candid opinions.
Achievers, an organization focused on helping businesses improve employee engagement, found that 90 percent of employees are more likely to stay with their current employer if the company “takes and acts on feedback.”
When questions are asked face to face, many respondents lose focus on the content of the question and instead give the response they think the interviewer wants to hear. In contrast, when employees have time to sit with the question without worrying about an instantaneous reaction to their response, they can give more thoughtful answers that truly reflect how they feel — not how they think someone expects them to feel.
It is common for people to be afraid to ask questions that they fear may be considered stupid. But if you provide staffers the opportunity to ask questions anonymously, they don’t have to worry about their identity being tied to the question. Workers can submit inquiries on topics they may otherwise be embarrassed to ask about.
Encourage employees to think outside the box and not be afraid to ask leadership-challenging questions when giving their feedback. The responses may help you see where there are gaps in company communication, or you could get an innovative idea no one would’ve thought of in a group brainstorming session.
While soliciting employee feedback can help staffers feel more connected to the company, there are a few downsides to consider when deciding if this is the right type of feedback for your business.
If you distribute anonymous employee surveys with biased questions, you can decrease the effectiveness of your effort. For example, questions that lead respondents in a certain direction, vague questions or questions with a negative framing could impact the way respondents give their answers. Flawed questions lead to flawed feedback. Additionally, if only a small group of employees are participating in your feedback initiative, their opinions may not be representative of your workforce as a whole.
Because opportunities to provide anonymous feedback aren’t two-way conversations, responses can be misinterpreted. When you’re engaging with someone face to face, it isn’t hard to ensure both sides comprehend the points being made. But without that context, it’s all too easy to misjudge intent, tone and other aspects that impact understanding. You also may be collecting data that lacks nuance and therefore isn’t giving you an accurate picture.
Without knowing who provided what feedback, it can be difficult to follow up and resolve the issues identified. In other cases, it’s easy just to drop the ball and let things go. But not following up on employee feedback is worse than not asking for feedback in the first place. If employees are consistently giving feedback and not seeing any action taken as a result, they may become disengaged and resentful.
Having a pulse on company morale is more important than ever with staffing issues fueled by trends like quiet quitting and The Great Resignation. Fortunately, in the digital age, it’s never been easier to collect employee feedback. Here are a few popular ways to solicit anonymous feedback.
Google Forms, SurveyMonkey and other tools allow you to build custom forms and surveys in just minutes. You can use a variety of question types, such as multiple choice, short answer or ranking, make some questions required and add various bells and whistles. Once your survey is distributed, it’s simple to export the results into a spreadsheet for analysis.
Anonymous surveys work especially well for potentially controversial topics — employees are more likely to feel comfortable addressing such subjects knowing their names aren’t attached to their responses.
Employee feedback software from vendors like Officevibe, Leapsome and Assembly allow you to schedule questionnaires, polls and surveys for regular distribution. Scheduling employee feedback opportunities helps employers consistently engage with employees and proactively recognize areas of concern before issues boil over. These programs can track and analyze feedback via various reports that alert you to trends and growing problems.
To set up a suggestion inbox, you can create an evergreen, one-question online form that simply asks, “What is your suggestion for our company?” and regularly include the link in company communication. You can route responses so they’re delivered to an inbox monitored by your human resources (HR) team. This option ensures workers always have a way to anonymously submit feedback without waiting for the next survey or poll to come around. The only caveat is that monitoring the inbox and analyzing the suggestions require more time and effort than using survey software, which typically include automation and artificial intelligence tools.
If you struggle to get honest responses to questions during interviews or open employee meetings, anonymous communication channels may be the solution to gather truthful, detailed information from employees. Anonymous feedback has many business uses, from helping increase transparency in your business to collecting peer-to-peer insights for employee performance reviews. To harness its full power, however, be aware of the drawbacks we’ve highlighted here and ensure your efforts don’t suffer from the same missteps.
Julie Thompson contributed to this article.