I am a whole-hearted believer in the power of employee feedback to help companies understand their team members’ collective experience. It allows leaders to gain clarity on what’s working well and what is getting in the way of employee engagement and overall business performance.
Employee feedback is only valuable, however, if employees feel comfortable and safe in providing their candid thoughts and experiences and believe their input will influence positive change. The most common ways of providing this level of assurance is to conduct anonymous or confidential surveys – and yes, there’s a difference!
Anonymous Approach: Pros and Cons
What Defines an Anonymous Survey?
An anonymous survey does not include any identifying information, and therefore responses can not be tied back to any individual participant.
These types of surveys are most often deployed by giving all potential respondents the same survey link, removing any administrative burden from the employer. An employer would simply send one mass email to all employees with one common link.
Since the survey link is not tied to any particular employee record, a single employee could take the survey multiple times, skewing the response rate as well as the overall results. If trying to gather demographic factors, such as their position, department, or geographic location, there is a higher likelihood of error, whether from user error or a deliberate desire to mask their identity. In addition, research indicates that accuracy can slightly diminish on anonymous surveys. In an act referred to as “satisficing,” respondents may respond with less effort or thought, since they know there is no way to trace responses back to any individual.
Confidential Approach: Pros and Cons
What Defines a Confidential Survey?
In a confidential survey, responses are tied to the individual participant’s record held in the survey administrator’s system. The participant’s identification is not revealed to their employer in connection to their responses unless the participant specifically gives the administrator permission to do so.
Because a unique survey link is assigned to each participant, each individual may only take the survey once, allowing an accurate response rate. Demographic information is based on data directly from the employee record provided by the employer. Plus, research indicates accuracy increases because although employees understand their identity will not be shared with their employer without their permission, their responses are tied to some sort of record, and therefore they are willing to put more thought toward the questions and represent themselves authentically.
In order to ensure the most accurate and useful reporting, there is some administrative work to define the company hierarchy and demographic categories as well as provide all employee email addresses.
What I Recommend for Your Employee Engagement Initiative
In order to get the most insightful and actionable information from employees on an ongoing basis, I encourage confidential surveys. By partnering with a third party provider, leaders offer their employees the reassurance that they can provide input without fear of negative repercussion and that their feedback can influence change. Most important, employers receive data that is accurate, easy to analyze by position/region/location, actionable, and can be benchmarked.
Understanding what’s helping and what’s hindering employees’ success is the first step in making decisions that can increase employee engagement, retention, and company performance.