Do Anonymous Surveys Work?

Surveys can be an agile and impactful way to collect valuable data. However, it’s always important to be selective about the data you’re seeking to gather. Collecting irrelevant or intrusive information can taint the survey’s efficacy. Yet, there is also a chance that failing to consider certain data points can result in you losing important opportunities for growth.  

One of the survey elements points many company leaders find themselves uncertain about collecting is identifying data. On one hand, connecting a name to answers can help you build and react to an ongoing profile for that person’s interactions with your business. On the other hand, anonymous surveys set the taker loose from the shackles of company and social expectations. You may find they answer more honestly or frank, resulting in chances to make impactful change.

It can be a difficult issue to navigate. So, let’s explore it a little further. Do anonymous surveys work and what should you bear in mind when making the decision to use them?

When Anonymous Surveys Work

In short, anonymous surveys do work. This doesn’t mean they’re always going to be suitable for every situation. But as with any tool, the efficacy of an anonymous survey really comes down to knowing what the most appropriate circumstances for their uses are. 

This tends to come down to some key areas, including: 

As Part of a Wider Program

An anonymous employee engagement survey is an excellent tool for learning more about your workforce. But there are very few times it should be treated as the only source. Rather, it’s best utilized as an intelligence gathering device that is part of a larger strategy. For instance, the data you gain from the survey can act as a top-of-funnel discovery element. You’ll then use other tools to perform further exploration and assessment into the key areas your survey insights highlighted.

When you simply try to use an anonymous survey alone to make changes, you generally have a lot of information but not a great deal of context to make decisions on.

When Dealing with Sensitive Subjects

There may be times in which you’ll be performing an employee survey to get to the root of problems within your organization. This may be as a result of questions surrounding the diversity of your business, the behavior of those in leadership roles, fair payment systems, or failures in the internal discipline process. While there will be some employees that are vocal about these elements, not all of your staff will feel comfortable attaching their name to their thoughts on these subjects. 

Often the best way to learn about the true extent of the tough issues that are trending in your business is to provide anonymity in an initial survey.

When Honest Criticism is Needed

Your business is not perfect. If you thought it was, you wouldn’t be seeking to make improvements. Nevertheless, while you know your company is not as effective as it might be, it can be difficult to pinpoint the specific elements only from your own perspective as a leader. This is why asking employee engagement questions is vital.

The problem here is that employees might be hesitant to provide the honest criticism of the company you need for fear of retribution. This can be the case if you have a strong company culture built around a positive image of the business. Some workers may be too intimidated by a member of management or have a strong personal relationship that stops them from honestly highlighting issues. It doesn’t mean the problems aren’t there, just that your team is reluctant to rock the boat.

An anonymous survey can give your employees the confidence to criticize with some personal protection.

To Spur Innovation

Your reasons for gathering engagement intelligence are unlikely to just be about improving worker retention. It can also help to understand how you can better connect with your workforce in ways that result in innovation. These types of revolution aren’t just limited to developing cutting-edge products or services to offer your customers, but also to innovative internal working practices and programs. 

Unfortunately, not all your workers will have the confidence to step forward and offer their ideas. Their perspectives and insights may have the potential to change the organization or even the industry as you know it, but a lack of self-confidence here can scupper your strategy. An anonymous survey can give employees the courage to make suggestions and present ideas they would otherwise be too shy to vocalize.

To Mitigate Bias

Bias can be the downfall of any employee engagement survey. Part of the problem here is that these prejudices don’t have to be entirely intentional. The ingrained biases of a business leaders’ personality or background can impact their reactions to certain staff demographics when analyzing results. Employees may subconsciously adjust their responses if they know they can be identified by their answers. 

An anonymous survey can be an important tool in mitigating the biases that may otherwise be present in the survey process. There’s no space for the result analysis to be colored by a reviewer’s personal perspectives of specific respondents. Though, it’s important to note leadership still needs to make sure there are other measures in place to reduce the potential for bias to negatively affect the results.

When Anonymous Surveys May Fail

Having covered some of the instances in which anonymous surveys work, it’s important to understand what their limitations may be. These are not necessarily reasons to avoid anonymous surveys completely. Rather, they are useful sources of knowledge you can use to make adjustments to your survey process and tailor it for better use. 

The points at which anonymous surveys can be problematic include:

When You Need to Follow Up on Specifics

Possibly the biggest hurdle for anonymous employee surveys is the limited scope for follow-ups. This can be particularly frustrating when you are asking some qualitative questions and an employee provides an insightful answer you want to know more about. You have no information that helps you to go back to the employee and dig a little deeper. It may even mean the employee misses out on opportunities to be part of internal improvement teams as a result of their keen insights.

However, this issue can be addressed to some extent when you’re treating the survey as part of a larger engagement intelligence process. You can use the insightful answers you want to know more about to dictate the direction of the next round of intelligence gathering or to invite in-person exploration at meetings.

When Workers Don’t Take the Process Seriously

Anonymity can be a tool for confidence, but it’s worth considering how this can also bring out the worst in people. If your company has a serious engagement problem with your employees, the protection afforded by anonymity can be an excuse to cause chaos with impunity. Workers with an axe to grind may direct unfair criticism at specific leadership. You may find some workers simply take a randomized or whole negative approach to their answers, perhaps even providing humorous or crass responses to qualitative questions. 

While it can feel like your workers are wasting your time in this instance, it also tells you a lot about the culture in your company. If your employees don’t respect the business enough to answer honestly and seriously, it may be that they don’t feel the same level of respect directed to them by the company. It’s a serious problem, but it gives you a good control to measure from as you start to make improvements and perform new surveys later on. 

If Trust is Already Lacking

The only way anonymous surveys work to their full extent is if your employees believe their answers are truly anonymous. If you already have trust issues within your company, you may find that your workers are either hesitant to provide honest responses or even respond at all due to the risks involved. Even if you don’t ask for identifying information, most workers today will be aware of how data may be tracked online through alternative methods — it happens to them every day. You may be confident in the fact your survey platform doesn’t track respondee details, but workers won’t if they don’t trust your business. 

Firstly, if this is an issue, your first port of call is to put some serious work into improving employee confidence in the business. Secondly, it can be worth providing information about the survey before issuing it. Give your workers information about how anonymity is facilitated through the Workify platform you’re using.

To Wrap Up

An anonymous survey can be an effective tool to measure employee engagement. But often its impact can depend on your approach to the survey process. It is often most effective as part of a wider engagement program and can be a key to limiting bias during analysis. While there are times anonymity may be less suitable, you’ll often find these issues can be mitigated or even serve to give other insights into your workforce. 

If you have any questions about how an anonymous survey could fit into your program, you can book a free 30 minute consultation with a Workify engagement expert.