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To Improve the Quality and Quantity of Employee Feedback, Make It Anonymous

Do you have an employee feedback program in place, and are convinced that you’re receiving open and honest feedback from each employee at every ask? The reality is that you’re probably not getting the kind of employee feedback you’re looking for.

A new report on “The State of Employee Feedback” finds that 74% of employees would be willing to give more feedback if the system to do so was truly anonymous. This means that if your feedback program doesn’t offer a way for employees to report anonymously, you’re missing out on key feedback that will give you insights into the workings of your workplace culture, increase engagement to keep your employees from leaving, and surface big issues before they turn into legal nightmares.

How can you ensure that you’re receiving honest and unrestricted feedback from all of your employees? Make it anonymous.

What is Employee Feedback?
The ultimate goal of employee feedback is to provide a channel of communication for an employer to hear from their employees. It’s to find out what’s happening in the workplace, to better understand the culture and temperature, where they’re succeeding around engagement and morale, and what issues need to be addressed.

Employee feedback programs can take different forms, and can vary depending on company needs and size. They can be yearly engagement surveys or weekly pulse check surveys, employees giving feedback at meetings with their managers or at larger staff meetings, or employees giving feedback through email or suggestion boxes.

But employee feedback shouldn’t be one-sided — it can’t be. Employers who want to understand more about their workplace should actively seek out feedback through the channels mentioned above. Employees then need to respond with open and honest feedback about their experiences and concerns. Employers can’t just collect the data and be done with it. They need to take action to put the feedback into implemented change.

But if three-quarters of employees say they’d be more inclined to report feedback if it were anonymous, this means that employees are less likely to report feedback if you don’t offer anonymous channels to do so. Here’s why anonymous feedback is the path forward.

How Anonymous Feedback Can Help
There are a number of workplaces who don’t want anonymous feedback. They believe that any feedback worth telling should be done face to face, and that employees should just get over their hesitations and speak up.

But these types of workplaces aren’t taking into account the reality of workplace dynamics, where those who have less power or status at the company, like new employees or those early in their career, may fear retaliation for giving truthful feedback — and since retaliation is the most commonly reported workplace issue according to the EEOC, it’s not an uncommon experience. They may also be made to feel like they’re not a team player, or may even lose that job, and they just can’t take the risk.

These workplaces are also not taking into account employees such as women and minorities who may have learned from past experience that their feedback isn’t valid, or told that they weren’t believed. For example, a Harvard Business Review article reports how 31 women who reported issues of harassment either weren’t believed or told to keep silent about it.

Having a workplace that doesn’t want anonymous feedback also assumes that they’ve created a culture where every employee feels completely comfortable speaking their mind and that leadership is receptive, encouraging, and open. It’s a wonderful ideal to strive for, but not reality.

This is why it’s so important to look at offering anonymous ways to deliver feedback, as it’s a way to even the playing field for all employees and give those who fear retaliation or who have been shamed in the past a way to feel more safe and inclined to contribute their voice. That should be the goal of every workplace’s feedback program: To hear from everyone at the company, not just the more vocal workers. Anonymity decreases the barrier to those who feel that giving feedback puts them at risk.

Anonymity Boosts Engagement and Retention
Since providing channels of anonymous feedback can increase the willingness to give feedback, it can offer a number of other positives for the company as well.

Allowing employees to give voice to their experiences and give feedback and suggestions on how to improve the culture makes them feel more engaged, and that they’re being heard and encouraged to contribute. This can lead to higher morale and productively. In fact, Gallup found that highly-engaged teams have a 17% increase in productivity and upwards of 59% less turnover.

Increased engagement also leads to higher retention, because not feeling heard, that your voice doesn’t matter, or that you can’t help shape the culture will push employees out the door. Keeping an employee is much more cost effective than having to spend money and time hiring and retraining those who you’ve lost. SHRM reports that the average cost of replacing a lost employee — including recruiting, hiring, and training — is six to nine months’ worth of that employee’s salary. High turnover can also keep you from attracting new talent.

Feedback Isn’t One-and-Done
While employers should start by ensuring that they’re offering anonymous channels for giving feedback, they still need to be proactive with the following:

Take feedback seriously: A feedback program shouldn’t be one-sided. After collecting feedback, employers need to look at all of it and take action. This communicates to employees that they’re being taken seriously, that their voices are being heard, and that they have a say in the company culture.

Normalize feedback in the culture: If employees are only given the chance to give feedback during a once-a-year survey, they won’t make it a habit to speak up about issues they see or concerns they have every day. Make efforts to normalize giving and receiving feedback, and make it part of the culture of your workplace.

Talk about the changes made as a direct result of feedback: In addition to taking action on feedback, employers can increase confidence that feedback is being heard by actively talking about the changes made due to the feedback received. This also shows that employers are listening to their employees, and makes them feel heard and engaged.

It’s possible to improve engagement, morale, productivity, psychological safety, and retention at your workplace — and it starts with offering the ability to give anonymous feedback to your employees.

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