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Should Your Employee Satisfaction Survey Be Anonymous?

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The question to survey employees anonymously or with identifiers is an interesting one. Like many things in life there are probably some pros and cons, but an employee satisfaction survey should be focused on collecting data that will help improve satisfaction, but will it?

employee satisfaction survey

Some quick internet research shows some mixed points of view on this subject and so I would like to suggest you pause and ask yourself a few questions. Questions such as, what do you intend to do with the data? What are you striving for? What are the desired outcomes?

Why Satisfaction Survey

We have customer satisfaction surveys, employee satisfaction surveys, and many other forms of evaluations and surveys. Are evaluations and surveys the same thing?

Technically no, the term evaluation and survey are often used within our language interchangeably, but there are some differences. You might evaluate employee performance, a training program, or the success of a project, but surveys are typically used for data collection or to gather more information about a subject or topic.

So are you interested to know if your employees are satisfied or to know if their boss is doing a good job as a manager? There is a difference.

When we consider the concept behind an employee satisfaction survey we should be looking for data or input on what keeps employees energized, engaged, and bragging about the place where they work.

Yes, we may also have some interest in knowing more about what isn’t working and trouble spots, but if that is your primary interest you should stop reading this and look up something about employee dissatisfaction surveys.

Identifiers or Anonymous

Supporters of identifiers will argue that they can’t address or fix problems if they don’t know who said what, they won’t be able to understand the context of responses and best of all (sarcasm), they won’t know who to hold accountable.

Those who support the concept of anonymity will likely argue that people won’t be honest if they are required to identify themselves, that there will be harsh or negative repercussions for responses that aren’t favorable, and that the data will not be as valid and reliable if identifiers are required.

Perhaps in either case there are some assumptions being made, but most of the challenge arises from fear.

Common management or leadership fears:

  • Someone will point out my weaknesses
  • I don’t like being criticized
  • I’ll be “voted” out of my job
  • We’ll lose control

Common fears of respondents:

  • There will be repercussions if my responses aren’t favorable
  • It will ruin my relationship with my boss
  • What if my responses are very different from others
  • How will this come back to haunt me

There is not much room for doubt when you consider that fear is an obstacle with data collection on an employee satisfaction survey. Chances are great that the majority of respondents don’t want identifiers and in contrast chances are also great that some of the management or leadership team will strongly favor requiring personal identifiers.

Bottom Line

Let’s circle back to the idea of why you are doing this. You want the data, right? Your reason should be focused on improving employee satisfaction so you want to know more about what keeps employees satisfied. Your survey needs to be designed to focus on satisfaction characteristics and not on those that drive dissatisfaction.

You’ll want to know from employees:

  • What keeps you coming back day after day?
  • What do you like most about our culture?
  • What’s working and what should we do more of?

What you shouldn’t be focused on:

  • What are your biggest problems with working here?
  • What makes people feel unhappy?
  • What makes you feel like quitting?

Can you see the difference? You could probably argue that with a proper focus and a well-constructed survey instrument that it wouldn’t matter that much about identifiers or anonymity.

Certainly the data validity and reliability argument can go either way, but if you want your team to feel that their input is valued, respected, and trusted, you should probably make it anonymous.

How you follow up and what you do after the survey is also important, but I see no justification for requiring personal identifiers when you’re trying to improve the culture of your workplace.

Collect your data, learn to do more of what keeps people motivated and engaged, after all, it seems to me that your desired outcome is to improve satisfaction not create turmoil.

– DEG

Dennis E. Gilbert is a business consultant, speaker (CSPTM), and corporate trainer that specializes in helping businesses and individuals accelerate their leadership, their team, and their success. He is a four-time author and some of his work includes, Forgotten Respect, Navigating A Multigenerational Workforce and Pivot and Accelerate, The Next Move Is Yours! Reach him through his website at Dennis-Gilbert.com or by calling +1 646.546.5553.

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