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The evils of anonymous employee feedback

Why anonymous employee feedback is counterproductive and should be avoided in the workplace.

I recently realized that I’m in the minority of this opinion, so I wanted to write about it.

Why don’t I believe in anonymous feedback?

It’s because the whole point of feedback is to do something about it. If you don’t know who gave the feedback, then how can you act on it? How can you change anything you were doing previously if you don’t know the specifics of what you should be changing?

Anonymity also breeds mistrust. When you get anonymous feedback, all you end up thinking is, “Who said it?” On the other end, the person who wrote it is slightly petrified, probably just wondering, “I wonder if they’ll find me out?” The feedback becomes all about the messenger, instead of the message.

Either way, anonymous feedback doesn’t perpetuate a healthy company culture. It furthers the disease.

In spite of these reasons, the majority of business owners I talk to insist on the importance of anonymous feedback.

“How else do you get people to tell you the truth?” they’ll say to me.

To me, that’s the wrong question to even being asking. If you feel you need anonymous feedback in order to get the truth, it’s an indicator of a deeper issue. It means you don’t have an environment where people trust each other enough to speak their minds.

This is true of most companies. Few companies (if any) have environments where people feel completely comfortable speaking up. It’s really, really difficult to create that kind of work environment.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

If you feel like people aren’t telling you the truth, instead of reacting by saying you need anonymous feedback, why not tackle the underlying source of the problem itself? Why not dig into why they don’t feel comfortable giving honest feedback? Is it because you don’t ask for feedback regularly? Or that you’ve been sitting on a bunch of feedback, so people have become reluctant to bring things up to you? Or how have you been coming off a bit defensively in your one-on-ones? Or when was the last one-on-one you had?

Resorting to collecting anonymous feedback is a knee-jerk reaction. You might feel you need to do it to appease the “grumblers.” But if you want to actually solve the larger issue of lack of trust in your company, the LAST thing you want to do is ask for anonymous feedback.

“Appease” versus “solve.” Which do you prefer?

So instead of spending your time and energy rolling out an anonymous feedback survey, spend the same time and energy creating a work environment where people feel they can speak up openly and honestly. Focus on creating real trust in your company.

Then, you won’t even need anonymous feedback. And you’ll avoid all the ways that it’s evil.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.