Should Your Employee Survey Be Anonymous?

by Energage

If you want to know where your workplace culture stands, an employee engagement survey is the best way to get the insights you need. But there’s an ongoing debate: Should your survey be anonymous? In your opinion, which scenario is better?

  1. Leadership knows from its latest employee survey that several workers are struggling and feeling disengaged from the organization.
  2. Leadership knows the engagement scores of Ronald, Celeste, and Patrice recently fell into the red, allowing their manager to ferret out and “fix the problem.”

The need to name names is human nature

It’s human nature to want to resolve workplace issues at the source.

But managers in fix mode often make matters worse by blaming, berating, or misunderstanding workplace dynamics. Often, they aren’t prepared to properly handle negative feedback, especially when it’s aimed at them. They tend to lack the emotional intelligence needed to truly understand people and relationships in the workplace.

And in this case, the real source isn’t Ronald, Celeste – or even Patrice.

Instead, know what truly motivates your team

The real problem here is the manager. Why? Because she doesn’t know her team well enough to understand what motivates them intrinsically.

She only knows what she sees, which is the top of the employee iceberg. Ronald is good at analytics; Celeste is the go-to person for ideas; Patrice is a creative problem solver. But that’s about all she knows. She doesn’t know anything about their outside interests or personal lives.

And that means she doesn’t know how to fully engage or motivate her team.

After working in this industry for well over a decade, we know engagement data on an individual level doesn’t really reveal much about a specific employee. It just lets the manager know the person thinks the organization has been unsuccessful at creating a healthy workplace culture. And managers often forget that engagement isn’t an action; it’s an outcome.

We say it’s better not to know whodunit

Customers ask us why we don’t collect names on surveys.

Our research on Top Workplaces tells us that for employees to feel psychologically safe enough to provide honest feedback, their responses have to be anonymous. If we breach the confidentiality threshold and provide employee-level data, we create a perverse incentive for managers to confront their employees. And when managers start on this fix-the-employee track, the entire foundation for engagement crumbles.

For all these reasons and more, Energage advocates for anonymity in employee survey results. We know that for workers to freely and openly share their views, they must trust they are doing so in a safe environment free of repercussions.

Anonymity is freeing for employees and good for your survey insights

With an anonymous employee survey, individuals are more willing to share observations, insights, constructive criticisms, and new ideas. With an anonymous employee survey, management reinforces an environment where engagement can grow. Without anonymity, employees fear their responses will become known and that they’ll be labeled with a virtual badge that says: I’m a disengaged problem that needs to be fixed.

An anonymous employee survey strengthens the foundation of your culture. What we’ve learned from our Top Workplaces research is that the best way for an employee to be heard, and for management to understand what’s going on deep within the organization, is through confidential feedback. That’s where the seeds of innovation and performance exist, as does the opportunity to benefit from a truly engaged workforce.