The Place of Anonymity in Internal Communications
Does anonymity ever have a productive role to play in your business? In an article by Josh Berin, he suggests one of the revolutionary and beneficial aspects of feedback and internal communication apps is their ability to allow employees to rate or offer improvements to their superiors without having to reveal their identity. He suggests that by using language recognition technology these apps can filter out any abusive or inappropriate language, avoiding the main problem encountered with anonymous surveying, and could allow more employees at every stage in the company’s hierarchy to have an input.
At Weekly10, we have considered the role anonymity should play within our own app and similarly within our own company’s structure.
Is it Necessary?
Chaka Booker, writing for Forbes, suggests anonymity has its place. The reality of business and its inevitable hierarchies means in order to facilitate feedback from everyone anonymity is sometimes necessary. But, Booker also suggests, anonymity can poison constructive feedback. Firstly, if the norm set is anonymity, employees will be encouraged to leave out details and specifics in order to protect their own and others’ identities. This means the quality and accuracy of the feedback is inherently limited.
When feedback is anonymous it is often easier to ignore or to demonise as a spiteful comment, or perhaps even misconstrue the sentiment. Some people may dismiss negative anonymous feedback as being from someone who obviously ‘doesn’t know me’. As Detert and Burris argue in the [Harvard Law Review] (https://hbr.org/2016/01/can-your-employees-really-speak-freely), it may start a ‘witch-hunt’ to determine who said what, which often distracts from the central issue the feedback initially set out to highlight. Similarly giving anonymous feedback can often allow us to use language that, though not explicitly discriminative or abusive (that might in Bersin’s argument be censored by technology) can be framed in an overly critical way. It can become a self-serving vent about our colleague’s incompetence rather than a constructive piece of feedback for their benefit.
Berin’s, and others who advocate an anonymous feedback system, argument seems inherently contradictory. You cannot insist that the principal aim is to encourage honesty and openness when the standardised system of anonymity infers there are repercussions for speaking out that an employee needs to be protected from.
More importantly, perhaps we should ask ourselves; What is lost with anonymous feedback? Growing a fantastic team with meaningful and supportive relationships is personal; we don’t create relationships anonymously. It is an extreme loss to any business if a colleague is only prompted to give feedback through a faceless survey.
Ultimately it is a question of business culture, as the leader or member of a company, at whatever level, you decide how honestly and openly you treat your colleagues. However, we at Weekly10 would invite you to consider when and how you use anonymous feedback and perhaps that, most of the time, the best communications are those with a name to them.