While new feedback culture requires continuous feedback for employees, more and more companies are therefore using handy tools and apps with which employees can inquire and provide feedback. Nevertheless, the use of these tools varies. One of these situations is the example of anonymous feedback that will be analysed in this article. Should feedback be anonymous or not? What is the effect of anonymous feedback? In this blog, we share our vision and answer these questions.
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Why anonymous feedback to employees?
The main reason why organizations choose anonymous feedback is the fear that employees will not be honest or do not dare to express their opinion. By making feedback anonymous, everyone can express their honest opinions, without being held responsible. People tend to be more open and also develop negative comments that maybe did not feel comfortable to state differently. However, the advantages of anonymous feedback do not outweigh the disadvantages. Good constructive feedback can only be obtained when a conversation goes both ways, from the giver to the receiver and vice versa.
Follow-up is crucial
Perhaps the most important reason for not making feedback anonymous: there is no follow-up. Real performance improvements come from continuous conversations. The feedback giver can indicate which behavioural changes has observed and how they can be improved. The recipient has the opportunity to ask further questions and indicate the different ways that previous feedback helped in the development process. Thus, both the recipient and the giver gain a better understanding of the situation and the desired outcome. Without follow-up, you only have a single snapshot without confirmation for the recipient whether he has started to perform better and whether the behavioural changes have the desired effect.
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Anonymous feedback leads to inadequate insights
Another pitfall of anonymous feedback is that there is a high chance of incomplete information. It is impossible to find out exactly what someone means. The way someone expresses himself/herself in many times is not clear, so the objectivity of the feedback is compromised. What someone says and what someone means is sometimes far apart. Keep in mind that giving feedback is not easy for everyone. By making feedback not anonymous, the receiver and the giver can start a dialogue in which both points can be discussed and therefore, lead to the desired outcome. This practice can significantly reduce the chance of misunderstandings.
Responsibility is an essential factor
When feedback is anonymous, the feedback giver cannot be held responsible and this is something that does not benefit the quality of feedback. The giver does not have to substantiate his opinion and can sometimes there are other intentions than improvement. For example, anonymous feedback can be used/misused for bullying and convictions. A good rule is that you should not give online feedback that you would not give in a face-to-face conversation. Unfortunately, with anonymous feedback, this rule is easily broken. Responsibility is an important factor in good feedback, as it obliges the giver to think about how the feedback comes across and evaluate with objectivity.
Is anonymous feedback really anonymous?
Results of surveys show that companies with experience in anonymous feedback exposed another major disadvantage. Many feedback tools have not included the option for anonymous feedback. Therefore, anonymous feedback often turns out not to be that anonymous at all. For example, there are examples where this process was categorised into evaluations from managers, colleagues and customers, but in the meantime, the recipient had only one manager. Immediately, it was clear who was the giver of the feedback.
Why anonymous feedback encourages a negative corporate culture
Besides, anonymous feedback appeared to promote an unhealthy culture, in which the recipients tried to find out from whom feedback comes from. This instils a culture of suspicion. Even more dangerous is when anonymous feedback was attributed to the wrong colleagues. Employees tend to make assumptions, but this often turns out to be incorrect and can have consequences in their working relationships.
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Working on a positive feedback culture
Constructive feedback is a continuous process that cannot be arranged within one day. Maybe, giving and receiving feedback can sometimes be experienced as “scary”. However, making feedback anonymous is not the solution. What is important is to work on a new workplace environment in which everyone understands that the purpose of feedback is to help and improve each other. Start by giving positive feedback and compliments so that everybody can get used to feedback. Employees and managers can also be trained in this process to learn how to make it easier. Using online feedback tools can be an effective way of establishing a feedback culture within a company. However, these tools should not support anonymous feedback, nor should they serve to replace offline feedback.