Anonymous Employee Feedback: 5 Cases For and 5 Against (Including Company Examples)
With a spate of tech layoffs, Silicon Valley workers have been flocking to apps to vent and provide anonymous feedback about their experience.
Blind is one app, in particular, that's popular with workers from companies like Meta, Twitter, and Uber:
- Users sign up anonymously from an encrypted and verified email address for work.
- They gain access to private company channels and privately discuss everything from office gossip to more severe modern workplace culture issues.
- Employees never connect their real name to their profile and are encouraged not to share identifying information about themselves.
- But employers can easily monitor private company channels to gain an impression of what employees feel disgruntled about and decide what action to take.
In this example, employees are taking matters into their own hands and finding a way to deliver candid opinions without using an official company feedback system.
But should organizations implement anonymous internal communications or opt for a more transparent culture?
This guide will break down the pros and cons of each. Then, we will show how companies use an anonymous feedback process.
If anonymous feedback is the right fit for you, you'll also find examples of how to collect it from your people.
🤫 What is anonymous feedback?
At its core, anonymous feedback is exactly what it says on the tin—it's the type of feedback you can't trace back to any individual employee.
The idea is that by collecting regular feedback in secret, you're establishing a space of psychological safety for employees to speak up without fear of retribution.
But is all employee feedback entirely anonymous?
Isn't there always someone who can identify the feedback-giver? Generally, there are two types of anonymous comments:
- Contextual identifiers: the feedback includes no names, but information such as roles, teams, location, or tenure might exist to provide background to the input.
- Non-identifiable: the feedback is entirely anonymous. However, an admin may have access to identifying data depending on the employee feedback tool. It's then down to company policy to safeguard this data.
No matter what type of anonymous feedback tool you opt for, it's essential that employees feel comfortable with their anonymity. Otherwise, you could risk creating a culture of distrust.
The bottom line: you need to be careful not to create an environment where employees fear speaking their minds.
👍 5 Benefits of anonymous employee feedback
Anonymous feedback has both fans and critics. To get started on a positive note, we've isolated five reasons why anonymous employee feedback loops could be a game-changer for your organization.
Creating a safe space for honest feedback
Companies benefit when employees feel able to speak up and voice their opinions or concerns. But many workers don't feel able to.
Harvard Business Review cites two main perspectives on why employees don't speak up for themselves:
- Personal factors: if the employee is an introvert or doesn't feel they can articulate the topic.
- Situational factors: when employees don't feel that the company culture will welcome their opinion, they fear their manager may punish them.
HBR concludes that although the factors are not mutually exclusive, situational factors are dominant. Employees may feel the risk is present if they choose to speak up.
The pandemic has heightened this perceived threat, with a Workhuman study revealing that only 26% of workers felt psychologically safe.
Anonymous feedback can address this: companies will hear all voices by offering a channel for employees to provide their thoughts in a secure environment.
Protecting privacy in the face of fear
Employee privacy has taken a hit with the rise of surveillance technology and a sense of mistrust.
Even before the pandemic, an Accenture study found 62% of organizations were exploring new tools to collect data on employee productivity.
From stealth monitoring and keystroke recording to location tracking and live video feeds, the lack of employee privacy is causing stress, fear, and burnout.
But The Washington Post reports that employees are "hesitant to speak up about the constant monitoring for fear that any criticism could lead them to join the more than 30 million Americans who have filed for unemployment aid."
Even in companies that don't rely on surveillance technology as a productivity tool, employee privacy should remain a top priority. Collecting anonymous employee feedback (or even just offering to) can reinstate trust in your working relationships.
Only 20% of global employees feel engaged at work.
Low engagement rates are a problem because engaged employees are more likely to be productive and loyal to an organization.
The solution here is to empower employees and give them a chance to express their complete viewpoints without fearing repercussions.
Employees in any rank or role have valuable insights into the day-to-day running of a business. When you empower them to offer thoughts, ideas, and concerns via an anonymous employee feedback tool, you're creating the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue that benefits everyone.
Ensuring that even silent employees have a say
A workforce includes an assortment of personalities, some louder and more confident than others.
But the Academy of Management Journal research reveals that employees are hardwired to remain silent at work.
"An Exploratory Study of Employee Silence: Issues that Employees Don't Communicate Upward and Why" found that as many as 50% of employees choose to keep quiet.
Bob Sutton of Stanford explains why valuable feedback doesn't always reach the top of the food chain:
"Bearers of bad news, even when they aren't responsible for it in any sense, tend to be blamed and to have negative feelings directed toward them. The result is the 'mum effect:' subordinates with good survival instincts soften bad news to make it sound better, or avoid passing it along to their bosses at all. Therefore, in a steep hierarchy, it is a happier and happier story that reaches the top ranks."
Offering anonymous employee feedback programs ensures that all employees can express themselves without anyone dismissing their opinion or talking over them. And management can benefit from this candid approach.
Generating new ideas
Anonymous feedback platforms allow employees to express their opinions and use their creativity to innovate.
Example: Magda is a junior sales professional but has some fantastic ideas to redesign her company's lead scoring system. But she's too nervous to speak up in a meeting or present her ideas for fear of stepping on the toes of her sales manager.
Using an anonymous feedback platform, Magda can share her thoughts and suggest how to improve the system without worrying about the backlash.
👎 5 Drawbacks of anonymous feedback
Anonymous feedback isn't without its drawbacks.
When employees have valuable insights to give, don't you want to know who they are in relation to the topic?
Let's explore these five drawbacks in more detail.
Detrimental to transparency
In a Slack study, a whopping 87% of employees hoped their next job would be transparent.
Transparency is the new gold standard in workplace communication, with employees wanting to know everything from the pay packets of fellow workers to their employer's approach to diversity hiring.
But transparency is more than just sharing information; it's also about establishing trust.
So, it has the opposite effect when you collect opinions behind closed doors. Employees become distrustful of their coworkers and wonder what bombshells they're dropping in private.
Implies it's risky to speak up
The old proverb "you're damned if you do, damned if you don't" applies here.
The reason for providing anonymous feedback channels could be to remove the risk from an employee so they're free to speak their mind.
Potential for miscommunication
Employers can misinterpret anonymous feedback. Even if it's clear and concise, the lack of context means it will only sometimes be understood. Especially if no role or rank identifiers are attached to the text.
There's also a risk that the person receiving the feedback might focus on a tiny area of it instead of considering it in its entirety.
In "The Cost of Poor Communications" by David Grossman, a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees reveals an average company loss of $62.4 million yearly due to miscommunication. Concentrating on actionable feedback systems could dramatically reduce this number.
Higher risk of unproductive feedback
Getting frustrations off your chest is considerably easier when there's no accountability for your words.
But unfortunately, this is where anonymity can quickly lead to mindless venting with a lack of actionable insights.
Josiah Humphrey, co-founder, and co-CEO of Appster, a software development firm, explains why a constant stream of negative comments impacted morale, causing the company to seek an alternative.
He explains: "We were using a system of feedback that relied on what employees wanted us to 'start,' 'stop,' and 'keep,' but after a while, we realized that the feedback started to become very spiteful and angry. The whole process took a turn for the negative because no one had to stand up and own their words."
Decreasing moments of encouragement
Anonymous feedback systems can also stifle positive comments, which would otherwise be a powerful motivational tool.
Increasing motivation is a part of the feedback cycle you want to take advantage of.
Let's say an employee provides an anonymous note saying,
"Bill often provides me with project briefs late, so I have less time than I need to produce great work."
A response with their manager in a face-to-face setting could look like this (which would be missing in an anonymous setting):
"I'll have a conversation with Bill to see if he needs anything to speed up the brief creation. But from our side, you're consistently producing exceptional work, and we've seen a 15% increase in sales since we brought you into the project team. We really appreciate all your hard work."
🔍 Is anonymous feedback always a good fit?
There's a time and a place for anonymous feedback.
However, here are some situations where more candid feedback may be a better fit.
How new joiners arrive at your organization can set them up for success or prompt them to run for the exit.
For example, let's say you ask onboarding questions like "Do you feel fully prepared?" or "Do you need more training?" Your ability to support the new employee depends entirely on you knowing their identity.
Stay interviews should always be in-person to be able to:
- Identify employee engagement levels.
- Pinpoint areas of concern, such as low compensation, team dynamic, or well-being issues.
Anonymous feedback here won't allow you to solve individual problems or offer adequate support.
The questions you ask at the end of an employee's tenure better understand why someone has chosen to jump ship.
Some all-encompassing topics like "company benefits" may impact your entire staff, so you wouldn't necessarily benefit from knowing the actual feedback giver's identity.
But when an employee leaves due to poor leadership, it's helpful to pinpoint a specific manager or issue that led to the employee leaving.
🗄️ 5 Methods to collect anonymous employee feedback
If anonymity is a good fit for your business, there are several ways you can collect feedback from employees.
Investing in employee feedback tools doesn't just simplify anonymous feedback. It can also revamp your entire employee communication culture.
Incorporate a wide variety of feedback using 360 degree performance software to collect valuable feedback from peers, direct reports, managers, and even business partners.
As a result, your employees will receive insights from all directions about their performance.
Regular surveys provide a convenient method of collecting employee insights at any time. Ask the right questions, and you can collect anonymous feedback that informs your decision-making, helps to identify risks, and improves processes.
➡️ Check out Zavvy's Feedback & Survey templates with inbuilt setting customization to easily create anonymous employee surveys.
Anonymous email box
Set up a dedicated anonymous email account. All employees can send feedback and suggestions to it without being identified.
This option is an easy way to get candid employee feedback.
Still, you must consider how much time and resources you need to analyze the data.
This idea comes straight from the school classroom.
Place a physical suggestion post box in your office, and encourage employees to post anonymous feedback.
Tip: Remember to check it regularly and respond to suggestions and complaints.
The digital version of an anonymous feedback box uses an online form that you can embed on your company intranet page.
This online suggestion box approach is more discreet, as coworkers can't see you dropping a note.
Anonymous chat apps
Apps like Blind are entirely anonymous and encourage users to review and provide honest feedback about their employer from behind their computer screens.
300.000 companies have already registered, but you need at least 30 people from a single organization to sign up before a private channel is available for your company.
🏢 3 Examples from companies with anonymous employee feedback
Check out how these successful companies incorporate anonymity into their positive and constructive feedback cycles.
- Aryaka receives accolades for its honest and ethical approach to management, which includes incorporating independent, anonymous employee feedback. The results of these surveys highlight work-life balance and welcoming culture as crucial company values of this network and security employer.
- Kona sends quarterly anonymous surveys to measure and improve its employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) and crosscheck for consistency with internal daily trends.
- Google uses a 360 degree feedback system, and its peer-review content is entirely anonymous. However, managers can see the identity of the specific reviewers.
But, sometimes, anonymous feedback doesn't take off.
In the case of Netflix, when they first tested annual written 360s, Netflix implemented anonymous feedback. It was a way to ensure that people could leave honest feedback without fearing retribution. Yet, to management's surprise, people preferred signing their feedback.
💡 Check out our full Netflix: Performance Reviews and Feedback Case Study. You will discover a breakdown of how to run performance reviews like Netflix.
🔁 Candid feedback: Your alternative to anonymous employee feedback
Anonymous is one of many ways to extract meaningful insights from your workforce.
The alternative is to engage in candid feedback, a la Netflix.
Providing face-to-face or signed written feedback will still build trust, empower your people and help them grow as part of a high-performance team.
The key is to create a safe environment where people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.
Grace He, People and Culture Director at Teambuilding.com, makes a great point about establishing an effective feedback culture first, then adding anonymity to it as an enhancement.
"Anonymous answering can increase participation and honesty. However, anonymity can also make employees feel that it is not safe to speak up in person and leave employers unsure of how to enact real change within specific departments. My ideal approach is to normalize honest discussion in various forms in the online workplace!
Employee feedback should be a regular and constant part of our workplace instead of an annual happening. An ongoing dialogue is a better model for remote teams.
- Create a company culture that welcomes employee feedback by having frequent 1:1 meetings between managers and employees.
- One-on-one sessions allow managers to ask employees for feedback directly and then work together to formulate a plan for improvements.
- Creating an environment of trust and respect.
- Encourage managers to be honest and genuine with their direct reports about their struggles or changes they want to implement. Honesty given will encourage openness in return.
- Using feedback to drive real change.
There is no worse feeling to an employee than the impression that the feedback they give is being ignored. Employees will quickly stop participating in surveys if they feel like there is no follow-through. Enact a plan to present feedback to our teams and discuss organizational changes related to that feedback.
Once employee feedback is normalized within the organization, anonymous feedback becomes an efficient and highly effective way to analyze employee engagement."
➡️ Create a growth-driven feedback culture with Zavvy
Have you decided which side of the anonymous feedback fence you sit on? Regardless of your stance, Zavvy makes it easy to create a positive feedback culture where employees feel empowered and heard.
Use our anonymous online survey tool to collect:
- Team-level feedback
- Leadership development surveys
- Peer-review feedback
- Remote engagement surveys
- Pulse surveys
- And so much more!
Remember: our tool includes advanced anonymity settings, so it's entirely up to your company who sees what!