Employee Engagement Surveys - Is Anonymity the Best Course?

Employee engagement is being recognized as an important metric of workplace culture and productivity, and a critical force behind profitability. And employee engagement surveys have become the most common way to measure, or at least begin conversations around this topic. These surveys are mostly geared towards knowing what employees feel about various aspects of the organization - from policies, to culture, to specific interactions at work.

The willingness to understand employee sentiments, and taking their opinion on diverse topics is of course a great way to involve and engage teams in a larger conversation. But do these surveys really have to be anonymous?

The Problem with Anonymous Surveys

Let’s take a look at what do anonymous employee engagement surveys promise:

  • The superiors do not know who said what. So opinions that go against accepted company policy cannot be attributed to anyone in particular.
  • Employees, especially introverted ones, feel free to express unpopular opinions.
  • Any management with an ulterior motive will have no opportunity to carry out chastisement based on survey responses.

If you take a close look, you will notice that the sense of security that anonymous survey promises is based on the “accepted notion” that an unpopular or contrary opinion, or a negative response, freely expressed, will invite flak. There is an inherent fear that criticism of company policy will lead to bad repercussions, in overt or subtle ways.

If this is true for your organization, if there is a “fear of repercussions” inherent in your employees, you might be dealing with issues far bigger than lacking employee engagement. You actually have a culture problem.

According to Liz Ryan (CEO and founder of Human Workplace) on Forbes’ Q&A about Employee Engagement Surveys;

“…beyond that, any culture that has to make a survey confidential in order to get people to talk is a broken culture, to begin with”

If your employees are afraid to freely express themselves, and you have unwittingly fostered a culture of fear and secrecy, there are some real negative consequences for your business:

  • You cannot enjoy the diversified abilities/competencies of your employees if they don’t have collective freedom to exchange ideas and forge strategies. Simply put, you are not leveraging your teams actual potential, if they are constrained by fear.
  • It is important for employees to be able to criticize a method/policy/strategy logically and intellectually; to find better solutions. If they are afraid to point out the flaws, the company might incur severe losses due to a bad decision.
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How Do You Fix It

Now that we’ve established the link between anonymous surveys and the culture of fear, let’s explore what we can do to get around the issue.

Create a Culture of Honesty

To begin with, open surveys can be the first step to breaking the culture of fear in an organization. granted, it might take some time, and multiple surveys before people begin to freely answer the questions. But it’s a step in the right direction.

With each new survey, there will be one or two people who voice contrary opinions. When they see that there are no repercussions, they will start to feel more comfortable. When the management decides to discuss their opinions publicly, and actually appreciate the candour, it’s a clear message to the rest of your team. They can see that honest opinion is actually appreciated, and taken into consideration. That will, in turn, encourage more people to open up for the next survey.

As you can see, there’s a virtuous cycle here that can break through the fear and need for secrecy. Once honest critique is perceived as valuable, there is not need to couch it in anonymity.

Know What Your Employees Truly Feel

Secondly, when open, your surveys also have a greater chance of truly capturing the state of your workforce. It allows you to understand the specific problems of your employees, and helps craft solutions that will work for them. You have real data to work with, which leads to better, more effective decision making.

Actually Improve Engagement

And lastly, open surveys truly improve you employee engagement levels. Because now they are a way to participate actively in the workplace, rather than another form to fill. When you employees know that their responses carry weight, they are more inclined to share opinions that lead to positive changes in the organization.

So yes, we think employee engagement surveys do not need to be anonymous. But you need to build trust within the workforce before people are comfortable filling in open surveys. And that might need some other forms of employee engagement that builds trust and transparency between the management and the employees.

The Journyz platform is a great way to get this started in small formats. You can try new campaigns and initiative that involve small groups of people, or applaud and shout out new ideas from your employees. It can help start and nurture the trust-building process, and empower your employees to be more open and honest in your surveys.
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