Anonymous Feedback: Why Managers Don’t Love It (But Really Should)

August 1, 2019

Building a company that not only meets obvious measures of growth (upward trending sales, revenue and hires) but also has a thriving and positive company culture takes a lot of commitment. One action you can take to work towards that – if you haven’t already – is defining a process by which you can recruit and retain high performers who fit into the type of culture you want to cultivate. Another action you ought to take is making a consistent effort to understand what your employees actually want (and don’t want!) in their work lives, so that you can strive to give that to them.

The common thread that ties both of these actions together is employee feedback.

Not only does getting employee feedback help you prevent roadblocks in your team members’ day-to-day work, it is also key when it comes to keeping employees engaged and satisfied at work overall, which directly correlates to employee retention. From performance reviews to email surveys and online reviews, smart employers need to be consistently asking for honest information from their team members.

When employee feedback is anonymous

There are a lot of different ways a company can approach getting input from their employees, but the one type of employee input that elicits the most mixed feelings is anonymous feedback. You can probably imagine why –

When the anonymous feedback is negative, it brings up that old saying, “why don’t you say that to my face??”. Meanwhile when it’s positive, the natural tendency is to doubt whether what’s been said is genuine or fake.

To better understand why there are so many mixed feelings about anonymous feedback, let’s talk about four main reasons beyond the obvious why managers don’t embrace anonymous feedback, followed by five reasons they really should.

4 excuses for not embracing anonymous feedback:

1. Discourages Transparency

Some managers feel that anonymous feedback is too cloak-and-dagger, and the process doesn’t spark two-way communication. They instead prefer to know who says what so they can get to the bottom of and flesh out why the employee developed the opinion, and then discuss how to handle the information.

2. Can Be Too Negative, Not Productive

The hope with an anonymous survey is to receive more of a frank explanation of the employees’ opinions. Sometimes it ends up being a forum to gripe and complain. While valid negative feedback is invaluable to employers trying to strengthen their corporate culture and employee engagement, overly critical comments are not only unhelpful but can damage the very goal for the feedback!

3. Decreases Accountability

Many business leaders want their employees to feel a sense of accountability for their work actions. Anonymous feedback, in their opinions, doesn’t foster that type of environment. Hiding behind a survey does little to involve the team member in the solution of the problem or the developing of the idea. It actually creates a more aloof, hands-off feeling for employees, doing little to increase engagement or ownership thinking.

4. May Be Self-Serving

“Jane needs a raise.” Hopefully every employee would be smart enough to not try this type of feedback, but some managers look at anonymous feedback as a way for individuals to further their own agendas. Suggesting expensive office investments, generous bonuses, and other ideas that serve greedy goals is a key pushback from managers when considering anonymous feedback.

So that’s why some managers don’t really love anonymous reviews. Now let’s talk about why they should. 

5 reasons managers really should embrace anonymous feedback:

1. Managers Gain More Honest Information

Face it: If their names are on it, some employees are not going to be completely honest on surveys asking their opinions. Fear of repercussions is a main reason. An anonymous feedback strategy encourages openness and honesty, and a secure forum to voice concerns and ideas.

2. Gives Employees Power

Showing that an organization values its employees’ thoughts increases job satisfaction and employee engagement. By giving them a chance to offer feedback anonymously, team members can feel the company cares about them and their needs and wants in the workplace.

3. Spotlights Common Issues

Because employees feel safe in being honest, anonymous feedback helps managers pinpoint and address issues that show up repeatedly. For example, one person may say Ted is being rude to customers, while others, if the feedback is not anonymous, may not mention it. If identities are omitted, more people may mention Ted’s lack of customer service skills, which allows management to address the issue.

4. Helps Passive Employees Have Their Voices Heard

Some people want everyone to know their opinions, while others are shy and reticent. Employees that are not naturally forthcoming may be uncomfortable sharing their thoughts through feedback with their names on it. Remove the identifying factors, and managers can get to the heart of their opinions. Getting a higher percentage of employees to fully participate gives managers a more realistic, robust view of the company’s processes.

5. Levels the Playing Field

Younger employees or those who haven’t been on board long may avoid giving completely undiluted feedback. Maybe they haven’t built enough trust with their managers, or they don’t want to rock the boat. Sharing it anonymously removes these barriers.

Whatever side of the issue you stand on, asking for regular employee feedback is crucial in building a strong corporate culture and increasing employee satisfaction and motivation. If handled in a positive and constructive way, anonymous feedback helps accomplish that by providing a more complete, 360-degree outlook of what your team members are feeling underneath the surface. As a leader, you can then be empowered by this information to make better decisions that impact your most important business asset – your people.


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Linda Le Phan
Senior Content Marketing Manager at kununu.

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