Does Anonymous Workplace Feedback Really Work?

Posted September 3rd, 2019

If you know what we do at Incogneato, then you can likely assume our position on this question. However, as the number of companies we help collect anonymous employee feedback continues to grow, we uncover new reasons for why it is so effective. 

First, the counterargument…

Most often, we hear “anonymity breeds negativity.” It’s hard to argue with that one. Just hang out on Reddit for a few minutes and you’ll see it firsthand. However, we’ve found that anonymity does not exclusively breed negativity. And oftentimes when it does, the negative feedback is also constructive. The trick is to brush off the negativity — and if you can — learn to pick out the constructive pieces.

Take for example the following (fictitious) piece of feedback: 

Bob the manager is universally hated. He treats everyone like garbage and genuinely has a chip on his shoulder. I quit because of him.

Obviously, the feedback is harsh and Bob would prefer not to be told off in this manner. At the same time, it’s brutally honest. Bob likely does have issues with his employees and may have never known they felt this way before. He may have previously viewed himself as strict but fair based on face-to-face feedback he’s received. If Bob can move past the comment’s bluntness, he can change for the better.

Does anonymity breed honesty?

According to HR expert and author Steve Cohen, many employees fall into the category of flighters. In other words, they eschew conflict and often busy themselves with other work or avoid managers altogether when there is perceived conflict. Flighters are also more likely to withhold knowledge and gossip internally, which is never healthy for an organization. On the opposing end of course are fighters. These people gain power by force or personality. Often times when fighters go head-to-head with flighters, the flighter backs down and decides to withhold key information. Anonymous tools that remove the risk of conflict (like Incogneato) are highly effective in gaining honest insights from these conflict-averse employees.

But my organization is open and communicative. Can we still benefit from anonymous feedback?

While unlikely, let’s pretend there exists an organization where every employee and manager is approachable, cordial, and accepts feedback graciously. Can this organization still benefit from anonymous feedback? Absolutely, and here’s why. Sitting in front of a screen composing feedback allows the employee to collect their thoughts without having to focus on a person in front of them. We are biologically attuned to the emotions of those around us. Removing them from the situation opens up our ability to convey our thoughts honestly without thinking about how others will immediately react. In other words, employees are in a safe place where they can focus on the feedback instead of the person. 

I’m convinced. But how is Incogneato different from other anonymous feedback tools?

One of the key differences between Incogneato and other suggestion boxes is the ability to hold an anonymous conversation. Often times that initial piece of employee feedback leads to more questions that would otherwise go unanswered. Our Anonymous Chat feature lets you immediately ask a follow up question or request further clarification.

Of course, there’s also the fact that Incogneato is less expensive than most competitors. How do we do it? We run lean. We do not employ a sales force so our team is solely focused on making the best product we can. 

We believe that all organizations should be able to safely collect anonymous feedback without having to pay hefty monthly fees.

When you’re ready, give Incogneato a try by setting up a free anonymous suggestion box. No credit card is required during your trial.