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People Management

When Should Employee Feedback Surveys Be Anonymous vs. Attributed?

April 20, 2022
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6 mins

Anonymous versus attributed employee feedback surveys can oftentimes deliver very different insights. Learn the pros and cons of each.

Linda Le Phan
Anonymous versus attributed employee feedback surveys can oftentimes deliver very different insights. Learn the pros and cons of each.

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Fostering a healthy workplace culture without employee feedback is like traveling across the country without a map. Even if you’re headed in the right general direction, the journey will be difficult and you’ll take many missteps to find the destination.

To nurture a strong workplace culture, use employee feedback from engagement surveys as your map to guide the way. 

Employee feedback surveys help you stay in tune with how your employees feel and what they need to:

  • Be engaged.
  • Practice empathy.
  • Improve communication.
  • Uncover blindspots.
  • Give recognition. 
  • Make better business decisions.

When conducting an employee feedback survey, ask yourself: What do you want to learn? How can you take action with the results? And, will your survey be anonymous or attributed?

Should employee feedback be anonymous or attributed?

An employee feedback survey, at its core, is a list of questions you ask your employees. Asking these questions doesn’t guarantee candid or complete responses, but these two common options might change that: make the survey anonymous or attributed. 

Anonymous employee surveys don’t require or share any information identifying employees. Attributed surveys are just the opposite; they attach the employee’s name to their survey responses. 

The level of psychological safety (or lack thereof) in your workplace will lend itself to whether or not you attribute names to your surveys. We recommend a balance of the two to ensure you’re covering all of the bases as a leader. 

Let’s explore the pros and cons of anonymous versus attributed employee surveys to help guide how you can effectively deliver surveys in your workplace. 

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Pros of anonymous employee feedback surveys 

1. Garner honest answers from those in fear

Employees who know their names will be on survey responses may filter their responses if there is a lack of psychological safety in your workplace

It’s a protective measure against judgment or repercussions, even when not sharing anything particularly critical. Anonymous feedback will garner raw feedback if you’re worried that employees aren’t honest in attributed surveys.

2. Spotlights common issues

Since anonymity might give your employees the courage to be completely honest, managers can pinpoint and address issues that show up repeatedly across employee responses. 

For example, several employees may share that Ted is rude to customers in an anonymous survey, but might fear it will get back to them in a non-anonymous survey.

3. Helps passive employees use their voice

Some people are naturally more confident and actively share their opinions, while others might be shy and reticent. Employees who are part of the latter group may feel uncomfortable sharing their thoughts in feedback with their names on it. Removing identifying factors helps everyone get to the heart of their opinions without pressure. 

4. Less bias

There’s something called social desirability bias that comes into play in employee surveys. Social desirability bias is a human tendency to underreport socially undesirable attitudes and behaviors. 

In employee surveys, that manifests as respondents choosing answers to make them look good in the eyes of others rather than give accurate answers. This doesn’t apply to anonymous employee surveys, which means employees are likely to give more unbiased responses. 

Cons of anonymous employee feedback surveys 

1. One-way conversation

Since there’s no name attached to anonymous feedback, it doesn’t spark two-way communication between managers and employees. 

Suppose managers want to clarify a situation or get to the root of an issue brought up in a survey. In that case, anonymous surveys aren’t as helpful for follow-up dialogue.

2. Can lean negative

The hope of an anonymous survey is to receive both positive and negative comments where applicable. But sometimes, the safety of anonymous surveys results in them being a forum to gripe and complain. 

While valid negative feedback has its place in strengthening company culture and employee engagement, overly critical comments (without solutions) are unhelpful and can damage morale. 

3. Decreases accountability

Many business leaders want their employees to feel accountable for their work actions. Anonymous feedback doesn’t foster that type of environment. 

Moreover, hiding behind a survey does little to involve the team member in the problem’s solution. It creates distance between employees and the feedback itself, doing little to increase engagement or ownership thinking.

4. Doesn’t promote a culture of trust

Anonymous surveys shield employees from being vulnerable, but vulnerability is crucial if you want to promote trust in your organization. 

Sharon van Donkelaar, CMO and Head of Growth at Expandi, makes a great point about how anonymous surveys don’t align with a culture of trust:

“If trust is something that you are promoting as part of company culture, then the benefits of anonymous employee surveys do not apply to you. I mean, your employees wouldn’t have to fear repercussions (one of the main things employees value about anonymous surveys).”

Pros of attributed employee feedback surveys

1. Quantitative and qualitative insights

Since there’s no need to withhold identifying information in attributed feedback surveys, you benefit from the demographic information linked to each employee and their role, department, and more. This helps when drilling down into qualitative and quantitative insights to understand the key differences among your employee population.

2. Shows direct actionability

Knowing your employees’ stance on different topics in a survey allows you to have helpful follow-up conversations and tailor an action plan to support them. 

Cons of attributed employee feedback surveys

1. Forced responses

When asked about certain topics in an attributed feedback survey, some employees might feel obligated to add a response or opinion even if they were neutral or indifferent. These forced responses can skew your survey data and give you an inaccurate picture of the employee experience. 

2. Non-responses

Similar to how anonymous surveys help draw out opinions from less vocal employees, attributed surveys can deter them from giving any response. As a result, there’s a chance your survey won’t garner enough insights for it to be useful. 

How to protect the identities of your employees

If you decide to run an anonymous survey, preserve your organization’s integrity — and your employees’ trust — by ensuring no identifying information slips through your survey results or intake process. 

Here are some ways to ensure employee feedback stays anonymous if that’s what’s intended: 

  • Use a survey collection platform that enables anonymous submissions and doesn’t connect responses to unique employee information like employee IDs and emails. Some examples include Google form, Typeform, and Airtable.
  • Don’t include questions that require employees to share unique identifying information.
  • Don’t include questions that only apply to a small number of individuals or teams, as the answers may narrow down a person’s identity.
  • Be transparent about the intent of the survey and what the results will be used for.

Devon Fata, CEO, President of Pixoul, cautions company leaders against trying to figure out employees’ identities in anonymous surveys, whether innocently or intentionally: 

“There is no quicker way to destroy your employees’ trust than to act on personal details gleaned from an anonymous survey. While it can be tempting to lie to employees in these situations to get a better idea of what they really think, you should be prepared for this approach to backfire on you, especially if your employees have the technical expertise to accurately determine if their feedback can be traced back to them.”

How should you use employee feedback in your organization?

Once you have employee feedback, you owe it to your people and your entire organization to take action on what you’ve learned. 

When using employee feedback, be sure to:

  • Show your people how you are using the information to make improvements.
  • Speak to managers about the feedback they received to help create an action plan for them.
  • Always discuss the survey positively, even if it shines a light on tough or negative topics.

Are surveys anonymous or attributed at Kona?

At Kona, we rely on our own tool for daily check-ins to understand how each employee approaches work every day. Kona asks a simple question: “How are you feeling?” and each team member responds if they are feeling green, yellow, or red paired with an emoji and a line or two of context. 

These are non-anonymous because being people-first is at the heart of our business. That means we support each other in approaching work as our true selves — being vulnerable is celebrated and we cultivate an empathic workplace. 

The attributed feedback allows for colleagues to support one another naturally, provides managers with the feedback they need to take action, and gives leadership a birds-eye view of employee morale in one concise health dashboard. Because we garner daily insights this way, we’re on top of burnout prevention and can make changes in the moment, not at the end of the quarter. 

In support of the growth of our team, we also send out quarterly anonymous surveys. These allow us to catch if there is a lack of psychological safety, as well as further measure and improve our employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) against our daily Kona trends to confirm they’re consistent. 

Anonymous and attributed surveys are two distinct approaches to employee feedback with their own merits. With this list of pros and cons of each type, you can confidently choose the right approach when you need feedback about your employee experience. 

Meet the Author

Linda Le Phan

Linda is a Boston-based content writer with 10 years of experience crafting content for human-centric B2B brands. She covers topics like remote work, productivity, recruitment, mental health, and more. Her goal is to promote transparency, empathy, and honest introspection within companies and their leaders.

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