People seem to like giving anonymous feedback. We get a bit of a thrill entering cards into suggestion boxes, writing Yelp Reviews, or leaving notes in our crush’s lockers. It empowers us to say what we want without any fear of repercussions.
However, you can probably think of an instance where someone (maybe yourself) went a little overboard, using the shield of anonymity to be hurtful or harsh. This is what psychologists call deindividuation. You’d probably see this best in the comments section on YouTube, or kids in masks on Halloween smashing pumpkins and TP-ing houses.
So when it comes to office environments, is anonymity a useful tool or a threat to the community? Below, we’ve laid out the pros and cons anonymity has on honesty, communication and improvement in the workplace, and tips on how you can make it work in your office using continuous feedback software.
The most obvious benefit of anonymous feedback is that honesty comes more easily. You might think it’s hard to give constructive feedback without making people hate you, so by hiding your identity, you’ll feel protected from the resentment others can feel towards you for criticizing them. It is generally the most controversial issues that people have the hardest time being honest about, so having the chance to speak up anonymously can bring sensitive subjects into discussion.
People are also more likely to give more honest positive feedback if their identity is concealed. Some don’t want their intentions questioned by the receiver, or just feel awkward giving compliments. There is something about the veil of anonymity that lets people to say how they really feel.
On that same note, letting people say how they really feel can easily backfire. When allowed to speak openly without a name being tied to the comments, people might use the platform to vent, which leads to inflated and jaded feedback. While they may be expressing honest emotions, this may not be the most reliable view of the situation.
Making it work:
Before introducing anonymous feedback into your workplace, make sure everyone knows that anonymity has been put in place to get people to open up respectfully. It should not be an opportunity for employees to vent or complain, rather it should be focused around work, productivity and constructive feedback or recognition.
Especially when it comes to juniors in a company, being anonymous can allow them to give feedback to more senior colleagues while removing the fear of any consequence. Anonymity can open this door of 360-degree feedback, so everyone in the company can give and receive feedback from anyone around them.
Anonymous feedback may actually prohibit productive communication in the workplace. Not knowing who the feedback came from can prevent a dialogue from occurring, which prevents solutions to come about.
Additionally, people may not react to feedback appropriately. Not knowing who provided the feedback may be frustrating and can lead the receiver to become suspicious and distrustful.
Making it work:
Anonymous feedback should be used as a stepping stone towards opening up in the future. Managers can promote this easily by praising people for providing anonymous feedback and encouraging non-anonymous feedback in the future.
Ashley anonymously told her manager Melissa that she doesn’t enjoy the one-hour team meetings on Thursdays and would like them to be shorter and on another day of the week. At the next meeting, Melissa asked the team to vote for a time and day change. The whole team agreed they would prefer half-hour meetings on Wednesdays. Melissa then tells everyone that they should be thankful to the person who suggested this change, but unfortunately she doesn’t know who it was.
In this example, Melissa acknowledged the feedback publicly and positively. This allowed Ashley to realize that providing non-anonymous feedback in the future could earn her recognition for her ability to enact a positive and practical change within the group.
Like in the last example, providing feedback can lead to improvement in the workplace. Because Ashley was at first awkward about telling her manager that she didn’t like something, having the opportunity of providing anonymous feedback allowed her to speak up fearlessly, which lead to her and her team’s increased satisfaction with team meetings.
Anonymous feedback can also hinder improvement, since you’re unable to work through a solution with the feedback provider. If the feedback is ambiguous, it could be interpreted poorly and wrong decisions may result. You also don’t know if the source of the feedback is credible, so the feedback may be ignored or demeaned.
Making it work:
Anonymous feedback is great for bringing problems to the attention of management and other staff, as long as it’s actionable on its own. Telling Joey anonymously that his presentation was downright lousy won’t help him improve, but telling him that he should speak louder next time is actionable. It may not be something you want to tell him outright, so using anonymous feedback to let him know works fine. Continuous feedback breeds continuous improvement, and anonymity might be the key to making staff feel comfortable providing that continuity.
What are your experiences with anonymous feedback? Has it done more harm than good, or did it let people get important thoughts of their chest? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet at us @therealWIRL.