Group of anonym people hiding face

According to David Hassell, CEO of employee engagement software firm 15five, the concept behind anonymous feedback is a holdover of a bygone era where, in many organizations, the leadership of a company was at odds with its employees.

“What was good for the company wasn’t necessarily good for the people. We’ve actually moved into an age where what’s good for the company is what’s good for the people. That’s what workers want; that’s what companies want—as opposed to in the industrial revolution when the companies wanted the cheapest, hardest-working labor at the lowest cost. It wasn’t very good for the people involved,” said Hassell.

He said there needs to be a move away from viewing employees as human resources, assets or human capital. “Where it leads us to, unfortunately, is that we start to view employees as things the company owns and parts of this machine that we can interchange. That leads a worker to feeling like a cog or just a number,” said Hassell. “That’s often the reason they state for why they leave a certain organization.”

Anonymous feedback is based on the premise that people will not feel safe about being truthful, he said. In reality, only about 10-20 percent of the feedback a person is willing to share results in discomfort and a desire for anonymity.

Hassell_David
David Hassell

He said companies give up a lot when they allow anonymity in employee feedback. “By it being anonymous, they don’t know where the issue is. They don’t know who’s having the problem. They can’t engage with that person to address specifically or loop in other peers and collaborators to work on it right there at the team level,” Hassell said. “You have a piece of feedback that goes all the way up to HR, all the way to the CEO. You have no idea who and where it is in the organization, and there’s no way to address it.”

On the other hand, if the feedback is open and transparent, the issue can be addressed right away. “You know who’s involved, there’s collaboration, and you’re now building and creating more trust between the manager and the employee,” Hassell added.

In addition, overreliance on anonymity can lead to company leadership having a false sense of security that they do have a transparent culture. “Great culture…and engagement goes hand in hand with creating safety and trust for people to actively be engaged and to surface issues,” said Hassell.