Anonymous Feedback: The Good And The Not-So Good

anonymous_feedback

In an ideal world, anonymous feedback is utilized by employees to share feedback that they aren’t able to do so face to face, for whatever reason.

But in the real world, everything is not so cut and dry. Anonymous feedback can be used by employees to share views that they feel are particularly explosive or sensitive, but more often than not, it becomes a tool to air petty, mean, grievances.

If you want to introduce anonymous feedback at your organization, it is important to know what you are getting into. As with everything else, there are both upsides and  downsides to anonymous feedback.

Let us look at the downsides first.

Feedback is one-sided

Anonymous feedback cuts off any attempts at further communication. It’s a very one-sided mode of communication. When you receive anonymous feedback, you can offer a solution to the problem, but there is no way of contacting the person who put forward the feedback. The very nature of anonymity makes it difficult to engage in dialogue around anonymous feedback. This is especially contradictory, because as we have mentioned numerous times in various articles, feedback is a conversation between two or more people, a two way street of give and take.

Hate-mongering

Unfortunately in all organizations, there are a few bad apples, disengaged or unhappy employees who seem to enjoy derailing employee morale, not improving it or enhancing it. Disengaged employees will definitely see anonymous feedback as an opportunity to settle various perceived slights or wrongs or they could use anonymous feedback to lead mean-spirited attacks against people they don’t like. As hard as it is to fathom this, it’s important to realize that all organizations have a few employees who are malicious and who are going to misuse anonymity.

Small feedback-pool

Who’s to say where all the anonymous feedback is coming from? For all a manager or a HR administrator knows, all the anonymous feedback could be coming from one source. Sometimes it is easy to pin-point where it is coming from, based on how the feedback is worded or submitted, but more often than not, it is hard to pinpoint where anonymous feedback is coming from. What seems like a major problem could actually be much smaller, but there’s no way of knowing for sure, not without defeating the purpose of anonymity.

Lack of context

Anonymous feedback can sometimes be hard to interpret because it lacks context. Not all anonymous feedback is written equal. Some feedback is easily understood and can be acted upon. But when feedback is vague, or poorly worded or plain confusing, what do managers and HR administrators do?

Anonymous feedback is not all bad though.  There are a few upsides as well.

Allows for honesty

Anonymous feedback, especially in the context of  360 degree reviews, allows users to express views honestly, without any fear, or worry that they are hurting their colleagues. Moreover, when people know that in a review process their anonymity is assured, they are more inclined to participate in the process.

Everybody gets a say

While normal feedback processes may not make it easy for employees who are hesitant to speak-up, anonymous feedback gives everybody an opportunity to have their say, especially the ones who are unable to voice their opinions out loud.

Forces you to confront facts

Most anonymous feedback tends to be of the harsh, brutal variety. And while its not always palatable, it does force you to confront certain problems head on. Alternatively, it could even get managers and employees to accept certain truths that though harsh, are revelatory in nature.

So there you have it, the downsides and upsides of anonymous feedback. However, there’s one aspect of anonymous feedback that managers and HR administrators must keep in mind. It is important not consider anonymous feedback to be the only aspect of a situation. It is important to investigate, especially if it is an accusation or a particularly inflammatory statement. Because, while it is easy to hand out punishments or make rash decisions, the blowback from anonymous feedback might not be worth the trouble.


Engagedly’s Feedback module makes giving and receiving feedback a breeze. To see how the module works or how we can help your organization, request a demo today!

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