The future of employee engagement is not anonymous, say HR experts

Anonymity in employee surveys can create a disconnect between people and their responses

Debated this week at a London HR Connection event, Piers Bishop, co-founder of engagement survey platform WeThrive argued that anonymity was not essential to employee engagement surveys.

He suggested that by asking people to answer anonymously employers are essentially saying “I’d love to be able to help you, but I don’t know who you are”.

Anonymous surveys can lead to employees feeling as if they have no connection to the answers they give. This will mean your data has little to no connection to the people you have surveyed, Bishop told the room of HR professionals.

He said: “Asking employees to answer surveys anonymously will mean they feel no responsibility to do something worthwhile,” he said. He added that if staff feel this way while responding to surveys then authentic feedback is not going to be given.

Workers are not likely to give their employers intimate information, Bishop reasoned. “Employees do not want to tell you about their vulnerabilities.”

If employers require this level of detail then Bishop suggested they can use anonymous surveys, however they must ensure that these have been designed thoughtfully.

They must be formatted so that employees feel as though the answers given could have an impact on the company, even if given anonymously.

Chief people officer at the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), David Blackburn, gave examples of how the FSCS had created a culture of listening, learning and doing using employee engagement surveys.

He suggested that listening surveys, heatmaps and word clouds could all be used as alternatives to anonymous surveys that will engage employees.

Blackburn also said that employee engagement surveys only give a ‘snapshot’ of a person’s viewpoint and feelings at a particular moment.

By leaving anonymous surveys in the past, and using more personal and talk-based surveys, Blackburn asserted that HR can gather more detailed and applicable data.

Further reading

The difficulties of speaking truth to power

Is engagement fact or fiction?

The employee engagement gap: From debate to action

Your engagement survey could be fake news