The Anonymous Employee Feedback Debate
There are usually two key areas for anonymous feedback in an organisation. The first kind of anonymous feedback is directed towards the organisation itself. This may appear like a suggestion box, where employees may share their ideas pertaining to the company’s product or the company’s culture. The second kind of anonymous feedback is directed towards an individual. This is a type of 360-degree review in which colleagues rate each other based on performance. In this article, we will be discussing the pros & cons of anonymous employee feedback.
Team members are likely to be more honest if they can provide anonymous feedback. However, in some instances, it has been observed that anonymous feedback sometimes goes back terribly wrong. It even causes personal offence, and sometimes leads to an employee quitting the job.
Organisations which strive for honesty is seen to prefer anonymous feedback, while an organisation which wishes to be transparent opts for attributed feedback. There is no set rule that one of these feedback types is better than the other. The fact whether anonymous feedback will work depends on the organisation’s culture, especially its transparency level and the overall zeal for feedback.
The Reason Behind Anonymity
The concept of anonymity has been most recently in the discussion pertaining to online comments. This is a relatively new concept that has emerged with the internet. Some form of online comments is truly anonymous which facilitates a user to add his or her comment without providing his or her name. On the other hand, there are certain online comments which are pseudonymous and need a user to sign in. This ensures that the user builds a reputation as they submit their comments. For instance, YouTube is a good example. It identifies individuals by a single username which may not necessarily be their real name across the site. There are some other systems which need the users to provide real names. For instance, the comment system in Facebook is one which needs you to provide your real name.
A study conducted on online comments revealed that anonymity drove people to be uncivil in their attitude. According to the survey, 53% of anonymous comments were not civil, in comparison to 29% of attributed comments. It also revealed that anonymity encouraged greater participation amongst people. The observations based on online comments are likely to influence the behaviour of people in other online forums as well. Hence it is relevant to internal performance reviews as well.
The Flipside of Anonymous Reviews
One of the first things to consider concerning anonymous 360-degree reviews is the expected business value. It covers managers who are not quite well informed about the accomplishments or performance of their employees. The questions you need to ask include: Are there other means to extract that information, such as conducting frequent one on ones? Is there any distrust existing within the organisation?
One of the first types of risks is the potential for a breakdown in morale. The kind of criticism shared in anonymous reviews may make the team members feel unappreciated, despite being complimented in the process as well. This often makes individuals feel that they should put less heart into their work.
The second type of risk is the potential for planned personal attacks on individuals. This fact was highlighted by a recent report on Amazon’s company culture. Amazon’s employees mentioned the Anytime Feedback Tool which enabled them to share anonymous feedback to an individual’s manager. Owing to company politics, there may be individuals who may plan criticism against a peer in order to pave his or her own way for promotion or other vested self-interest.
Anonymous reviews also bear the risk of bringing out petty comments which may not be relevant at all to performance. For instance, an employee was reminded of the time a colleague asked her to correct her posture during a performance review.
Moreover, not every organisation is open and collaborative. There are times when managers prefer and need frankness to move things forward.
Situations when Anonymous Reviews are Appropriate
In organisations where regular feedback is the norm and employees are motivated, attributed feedback may be more effective. However, if that isn’t the case, the HR department of an organisation may prefer to implement an anonymous feedback system. 360 degrees anonymous feedback enables subordinates to provide feedback pertaining to their respective managers without jeopardising their relation with the boss or lose out on an upcoming raise or promotion.
On the other hand, people who are introverts or reserved personalities also benefit from anonymous reviews. These individuals may not often get their ideas heard and hence they find it comfortable to speak their minds with anonymous feedback.
There are again some personality types who try to avoid discussing issues with the thought of maintaining harmony. An anonymous review addresses the challenges of a team in such a situation with a lot of diversity. It helps to bring issues to the surface so that they can be dealt with sooner than later.
Best Practice Anonymous Feedback
Before launching anonymous feedback, it is suggested that some training is given on how to provide good feedback. Here are some tips to set up feedback in such a manner that it allows for some moderation to avoid the rudeness syndrome:
- Encourage employees to share feedback that is constructive and professional.
- Train your employees on how to provide feedback without hurting the sentiments of anyone.
- Provide ample opportunities to share feedback often, so that criticisms do not come across as a surprise.
- Provide the managers with access to review and delete (not edit) anonymous feedback to filter any personal attacks that are inappropriate for a performance review.
- Facilitate managers to view the identities behind reviews while keeping it still anonymous to the reviewee.
- Ask the managers to look out for any hidden agenda behind negative reviews, such as there may be two individuals competing for one spot.
Best Practice Non-Anonymous Feedback
One of the key risks with attributed feedback is that it may lead to encouraging fluff in the form of employees exchanging compliments sans any value addition. Here are a couple of strategies that may help attributed feedback to work:
- Strive to promote transparency and honesty across the organisation.
- Provide appropriate training to your employees on how to provide constructive feedback and approach challenging conversations with peers.
- Promote rewards and recognition to individuals for taking risks and displaying an attitude of openness towards mistakes.
- Avoid tying salary or promotions to performance reviews.
- Ensure to communicate a clear value proposition behind the reviews to encourage maximum participation of employees.