Anonymous Employee Survey: The HR Guide

It’s important to know how your employees feel about their jobs, coworkers, and company culture. It can impact how engaged, happy, and productive they are at work.

Organizations with an engaged workforce see profits increase by 22% and productivity increase by 21% compared to other organizations. More engagement also shrinks turnover, reduces absenteeism, and increases customer ratings.

PerformYard offers an out-of-the-box ready employee engagement survey with data reporting.Learn More

Figuring out how your employees feel about their work environment doesn’t just happen. According to one study, only 47% of employees surveyed reported being completely honest with HR when giving feedback. Those who reported being at least somewhat dishonest cited a fear of retaliation for being completely open.

Most of those who report not being completely honest said they would be more likely to be honest if their feedback were anonymous.

That’s what this guide is all about.

We’ll parse out the difference between anonymous and confidential surveys. We’ll also explain when, why, and how anonymous surveys should be conducted. This article is your go-to guide for setting up and administering an anonymous employee survey to learn exactly how your employees think and feel.

Let’s get started with a question.

What Is an Anonymous Employee Survey?

An anonymous employee survey is a way for employees to answer questions and provide feedback without fear of retribution. Questions in an anonymous employee survey should be specific and easy to answer. For example, employees might rate their manager's level of support on a scale of one to five. Some companies also include sections for open-ended feedback.

Most anonymous employee surveys are conducted digitally. That’s the best way to ensure the information in the survey is truly anonymous. It’s also easier to organize and analyze findings.

Anonymous vs Confidential Surveys

It is important to understand that an anonymous employee survey differs from a confidential survey, even if they share some commonalities.

Both an anonymous employee survey and a confidential survey are meant to keep some information private from some people. That usually means employees answer the questions in a survey that can be seen by HR, but not their manager. It can make employees a little bit more comfortable knowing that their direct supervisor won’t know the feedback they provide.

It doesn’t guarantee complete honesty from employees, though. When their name is attached to their responses, it’s tempting to gloss over answers to prevent any possible retaliation from HR, even if they don’t think their manager will know.

PerformYard offers an out-of-the-box ready employee engagement survey with data reporting.Learn More

Anonymous employee surveys, on the other hand, keep the employees who are providing their answers a complete secret. When done properly, there is no way for anyone in management or HR to figure out who answered what. That level of anonymity invites complete honesty, which is invaluable to an organization that cares about employee engagement.

You don’t have to choose one over the other. There are still situations when confidential surveys might be valuable, but whether or not you use confidential surveys, you should still utilize anonymous employee surveys to get the most honest feedback from your employees as possible.

When Should I Use an Anonymous Employee Survey?

An anonymous employee survey is most effective when it is integrated into your routine. For example, you might send out surveys at regular intervals, like once a month or once every quarter.

You can also create a system of sending out an anonymous employee survey any time there is a major change in the organization, like when new management is hired or a new process has been deployed. You might also find an anonymous employee survey to be helpful if certain issues are being repeatedly raised and you want to gauge the progress that’s being made to fix those issues.

When you send employee surveys out regularly, your employees will come to expect them, and you’ll get more practice creating, deploying, and analyzing the data, which ultimately means they will have a greater impact on your organization.

When Should I Avoid an Anonymous Employee Survey?

Anonymous employee surveys can be invaluable, but that doesn’t mean they should be used in every situation. For example, exit interviews shouldn’t be anonymous, as HR needs to understand the reasons why people leave the organization.

Although consistent surveys can be extremely beneficial, you should also avoid swamping employees with surveys. The quality and honesty of answers can suffer if employees are asked to provide their feedback too often.

The more frequent your surveys are, the shorter and easier they should be to fill out. Longer, more involved surveys should be done less often. For example, regular surveys sent out once a month might only take five or ten minutes to fill out, while a longer survey with open-ended feedback might be sent out once at the end of the year.

What Are the Benefits of Using an Anonymous Employee Survey?

Feedback from employees in the workplace is important, no matter how you go about getting it, but there are some serious benefits to choosing an anonymous employee survey over other methods:

  • You'll get more honest feedback
  • Employees are more likely to complete surveys
  • You can measure changes from survey to survey
  • It can increase feelings of trust

You'll get more honest feedback

The best way to get the most honest answers from your employees is to send out an anonymous survey. Because they don’t have to worry about managers or HR finding out they were the ones who provided negative answers, they know they can be completely honest without worrying about how their answers might affect them.

Employees are more likely to complete surveys

Answering surveys that aren’t anonymous can feel like a waste of time. If an employee isn’t going to give honest answers, there’s no point in filling out the survey at all, which means participation tanks.

You can increase participation with an anonymous survey. A full 75% of respondents in one survey reported being more inclined to answer the questions on a survey if they knew their responses would be anonymous. With more answers from more people, you can paint a more complete picture of what’s impacting employee behavior.

You can measure changes from survey to survey

You’re able to measure changes from survey to survey, and those changes are more likely to accurately reflect how employees feel when you use an anonymous employee survey. Because initial responses aren’t inaccurately inflated, you can see how responses are changing over time. It gives you a clearer picture of how certain programs and initiatives are impacting employees so you can make more informed decisions about what needs to be changed and how.

It can increase feelings of trust

An anonymous employee survey increases feelings of trust because it demonstrates to employees that managers and HR value authentic feedback from employees without obsessing about the identities of the employees leaving the feedback. Once trust is built, employees will further feel like they can be honest, not only on anonymous employee surveys, but it also encourages them to be honest when working with their teams, managers, and HR in other situations too. And as recent HR statistics have shown, this support from leadership helps minimize turnover too: 68% of employees would consider leaving their position if they did not feel as supported by senior employees.

What Is the Downside to an Anonymous Employee Survey?

It is important to note that there are levels of anonymity. If your surveys are too anonymous, they might end up being useless.

For example, if surveys are completely anonymous, you aren’t able to sort them by department, cohort, or other factors. It makes it impossible to determine if a problem is company-wide or if it is only being experienced by a certain group of employees.

It’s important to keep the responses of each person anonymous but organize them into larger groups so you can contextualize their feedback.

Make Sure That the Anonymous Survey Is Anonymous

Although it’s important not to make your employee surveys too anonymous, you do have to be careful because it’s easy to swing too far the other way. If you collect too much data, like information on salary, tenure, or position, it’s easy for managers and HR to figure out who said what. And when employees know that you can figure out what they said, you end up getting dishonest responses, and you create a culture of fear and distrust along the way.

The best way to avoid this pitfall is to create specific surveys and only ask for a single piece of information that helps illuminate that data. For example, if you want to get a feel for how managers are doing, you can ask employees for their department, but not their salary or tenure.

Data hygiene is important too. For example, it isn’t anonymous if HR can technically see who submitted each response. Even if you try not to look, it’s easy for curiosity to take over. Not to mention, if administrators find out that you can see who said what, they’ll want to know.

You also have to be mindful of the process. If you’re sending out email reminders to people who haven’t completed the survey, employees will deduce the fact that you’re tracking them, which means the survey isn’t as anonymous as you claim.

Every part of the process must allow for as much anonymity as possible to get the full benefits of the survey.

What Types of Anonymous Employee Surveys Can I Use?

Not all anonymous employee surveys are created equal. There are different kinds of surveys you’ll want to use depending on the type of feedback you’re looking for.

A few types of anonymous employee surveys include:

  • Employee engagement survey
  • Employee satisfaction survey
  • Issue-based survey
  • Anonymous complaint

Employee engagement survey

An employee engagement survey measures how engaged your employees are, how motivated they are to perform their best, and how emotionally and mentally connected they feel to what they do, who they work with, and the company they work for. It's a great way to measure how well a new initiative is performing or to discover if there are differences in engagement levels between different cohorts.

Employee engagement surveys are especially effective when combined with a larger performance management strategy. For example, PerformYard has a toolkit called PerformYard Engagement that includes validated questions, dashboards, and cohort filtering. When combined with performance data, you're able to paint a more complete picture of engagement.

Employee satisfaction survey

An employee satisfaction survey is a little simpler in that it’s just trying to measure how happy people are with various aspects of their job. You can personalize your survey with questions that address how they feel about company culture, opportunities for growth, their team, and if their daily tasks are a good fit for their skillset and natural talents.

This type of survey also can empower your employees to enact change in your organization. When you demonstrate that you care about their happiness, they provide their feedback, and then you do something to change things, you create a trusting, collaborative atmosphere.

Issue-based survey 

Engagement and satisfaction surveys are often broad and company-wide. Issue-based surveys are more specific. They aim to tackle specific issues that employees are experiencing in the workplace, which can include anything from how they are using a new platform to how departments are functioning as a whole.

With this type of survey, it is especially important to strike the right balance between complete anonymity and including some identifying information. For example, if you want to uncover the problems employees are having when using a new platform, those problems are likely to differ based on department, so it’s a good idea to capture this information from those who are taking the survey.

PerformYard offers an out-of-the-box ready employee engagement survey with data reporting.Learn More

Anonymous complaint 

Employees find it difficult to raise complaints because they fear there might be backlash if they do. But without an outlet for sharing their concerns, complaints are likely to fester over time because nothing is being done about them. Eventually, employees will leave, and you’ll have to find someone new to fill their position.

Anonymous complaints can help. This type of survey gives employees a safe avenue for sharing how they feel. It is a great way to uncover unbiased, accurate information and systemic problems that may otherwise go unnoticed. To get the most honest feedback possible, this type of survey should be as anonymous as possible, with only those providing their input if they want to.

How to Create an Anonymous Employee Survey

Creating a survey is more complicated than it sounds. The quality and quantity of questions can be difficult to get right, but creating an anonymous employee survey adds another level of complexity that can make creating a survey even more difficult.

Here’s the exact process you should follow when creating an anonymous employee survey that works:

  • Decide which type of survey you’ll use
  • Craft your questions
  • Choose what identifying information to collect
  • Use an anonymous employee survey tool
  • Promise complete anonymity
  • Explain the reasoning for the survey

Decide which type of survey you’ll use 

Your reason for wanting to conduct an anonymous employee survey will help you decide which survey you should use. For example, if you want to create a general survey that is sent out at regular intervals, you’ll want to create an engagement or satisfaction survey. If your sales department has been having trouble clinching deals, you might want to send out an issue-based survey.

Craft your questions

Coming up with the right anonymous employee survey questions is extremely important. Start by figuring out exactly what you want to know, and then construct questions that address those issues.

For example, an engagement survey might ask questions like whether employees have the resources to get their job done well if they have thought about looking for another job, and how stimulating they find their daily work. A satisfaction survey might ask how employees feel about the company culture, whether they feel connected to coworkers if they feel like there are plenty of opportunities for professional growth, and how they feel about work-life balance issues.

Choose what identifying information to collect 

One of the most difficult aspects of creating an anonymous employee survey is figuring out what kind of identifying information to collect. You want to know enough about participants to give their answers context, but not so much that it would be easy to parse out whose survey is whose.

How many people are participating can help you figure out what kind of information to collect. You can ask participants to share their department if you have a large organization with dozens of people in each department, but you wouldn’t want to ask for that information if there are only a few people in each department.

You should also only collect information if it happens to be relevant to your particular survey. Gender and salary information is unnecessary unless you specifically want to measure differences in responses based on salary or gender. 

Your goal when creating an anonymous employee survey is to collect the least amount of identifying information possible while still being able to illuminate and act on the feedback that is provided.

Use an anonymous employee survey tool 

It's easy to make mistakes when creating an anonymous employee survey, but it's also hard to build back trust among your employees if your anonymous survey doesn't end up being as anonymous as you claimed. Using a dedicated survey tool can help.

Anonymous employee survey tools, like the one offered by PerformYard, are specifically designed to help you create effective surveys that are truly anonymous. They also include built-in data analysis tools that enable you to view results broken down by cohorts, as well as over time, without having to dig into individual survey data and risk the anonymity of those who participated. Not to mention, an anonymous employee survey tool makes creating, deploying, and analyzing survey data a lot easier.

Promise complete anonymity

Don’t assume your employees know that your survey is anonymous, even if it’s labeled anonymous. If you want the most honest feedback possible, you have to make it crystal clear that all of the information gathered is completely private.

That means sharing details about how the survey is being conducted. Tell employees about the steps you’re taking to make sure their information is truly private so they feel encouraged to share their honest opinions.

Explain the reasoning for the survey

Not only can it be helpful to share the steps you're taking to ensure complete anonymity, but it can also be helpful to share why you’re conducting an anonymous employee survey in the first place.

Share exactly how responses will help leadership make informed decisions and how HR will use the feedback to better support employees. Discuss what changes you’re prepared to make based on the responses you receive and you’ll be more likely to get a higher participation rate and more honest answers.

Tips for Creating an Effective Anonymous Employee Survey

A few things to keep in mind when creating an effective anonymous employee survey:

  • Keep it anonymous, not confidential: No one—whether that’s HR, management, or leadership—knows who provided which answers.
  • Collect as little identifying information as possible: Only collect essential identifying information according to the type of survey you’re conducting.
  • Keep it short: Skip the fluff and only include questions you’re going to analyze. Tell employees how long the survey should take and they will be more likely to take it.
  • Promise privacy and protection from reprisal: Tell participants what you’re doing to ensure their responses are truly confidential and guarantee they are protected from reprisal.
  • Be transparent with employees: Share your reasoning for creating an anonymous employee survey and share exactly how their feedback is going to be used.

Create a Truly Anonymous Employee Survey and Transform the Way You Operate

Getting honest feedback from your employees has the potential to increase engagement, trust, and productivity. The best way to get the most honest feedback possible is by using an anonymous employee survey that is anonymous.

PerformYard can help. Our specific engagement tool within our performance management platform is specially designed to help you design, deploy, and analyze anonymous responses from employees so you can use how they feel to enact positive change in your organization.

PerformYard offers an out-of-the-box ready employee engagement survey with data reporting.Learn More

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