HR Management & Compliance

Three Reasons to Unmask Your Anonymous Employee Surveys

Organizations that continuously motivate employees reach their business goals faster than those that don’t. This makes developing an engaging, performance-based employee environment the primary aim of forward-thinking HR leaders.

FeedbackThe number one characteristic of successful teams is trust. People need to feel psychological safety within their work teams and the ability to speak freely with their managers both about work and life in general. This level of trust only comes about when people can develop their relationships through “real-life” conversations and shared experiences.

To create this environment, HR must work to develop the employee experience that motivates a workforce comprising unique, talented individuals. They need scalable ways of learning what this complex workforce wants and needs — but the overreliance on anonymous pulse surveys has 3 serious flaws which thwart HR’s efforts:

1.  Anonymous Is “Average” (and Individuals Are Never “Average”)

When organizations rely on anonymous surveys to inform decisions about their employee experience, they fall prey to the dangerous myth of the average. By erasing the individual perspective, HR and managers don’t know what motivates each unique person and instead focus on the most commonly-heard comments as a solution for everyone.

Not one of the unique, talented individuals in your organization absolutely conforms to the “average.” That’s why your organization needs scalable means to discover and understand the perspectives of each employee, especially those of the “outliers” whose voices are often lost in an avalanche of the average. These outliers likely include your top performers and your organization won’t be able to retain them if you’ve never paid attention to what they had to say.

Anonymity is believed to give your workforce license to speak freely. But, coaching managers to have regular, open conversations with their team members is a far better way for your organization to glean insights it needs on how best to keep everyone in your workforce motivated.

2.  Anonymous Isn’t Actionable

When specific suggestions for improving your organization are provided anonymously, it’s difficult to put them into action. Without being able to discuss an idea further with the person who suggested it, how do you ensure that you’ve interpreted it correctly or that your solution is the right one?

Another dangerous effect is that anonymous surveys remove employee agency. They encourage employees to upwardly delegate issues, pushing them back up the hierarchy for HR or their functional leaders to “handle” versus taking appropriate action themselves.

As a result, anonymous feedback is only actionable for people who don’t have a complete understanding of the issue and don’t know who to turn to for further guidance. It’s no surprise then that one-third of employees feel that no-one is listening to their ideas.

3.  Anonymous Doesn’t Help Develop Future Leaders

One of the biggest flaws of anonymous surveys is that they are not helping your managers or employees build the skills they need to develop into the leaders you need in order to meet tomorrow’s challenges.

To grow and develop, people need opportunities to practice having potentially uncomfortable conversations about performance and providing constructive feedback to become more effective at coaching each individual on their team. For employees, the ability to take, hear, and accept feedback is an important part of developing their own talent, as is owning the relationship with their boss by advocating for themselves and negotiating with power.

Having uncomfortable or difficult conversations is a skill each of your organization’s future leaders needs to have and it must be continually coached, practiced, and refined.

Unmasking Feedback

HR can’t craft exceptional employee experiences using anonymous averages because your workforce is comprised of actual people—unique, complex, amazing, and frustratingly unpredictable people with radically different experiences, insights, and perspectives.

In a recent survey, 89% of HR professionals agreed that higher levels of performance are driven by more personal interactions and coaching between managers and individual team members. Encouraging this important relationship building takes more time and effort than absentmindedly ticking some boxes on an anonymous survey, and HR can support this cultural change at scale with a continuous performance process.

By replacing anonymous surveys with a personal approach to talent management that guides frequent and open conversations between managers and employees, while being transparent about how each individual’s goals align with those of the organization, you’ll motivate your workforce at scale, retain and grow your top talent and help your organization compete and win in today’s challenging business environment.

Deborah Holstein is the Chief Marketing Officer at Betterworks.