The Big Match: Anonymous vs. Personal Feedback

Employee engagement and retention is one of the biggest challenges companies across the globe face. Do free food, unlimited vacation, and gym memberships really work, though?


Here’s a visual aid for you:

The graph from Glassdoor is a bell curve and it shows that the average employee engagement for 20’000+ companies is 3.1/5. Clearly, while some companies are doing really well, many perform poorly on employee engagement.


One reason being that employee experience is changing as, not only are employees more empowered, mobile, and demanding than they were before, but they also demand more feedback, want to be heard more and see the result of it.

In fact, research shows that to have a highly engaged team, you need to give your employees constructive feedback.

So, okay, I get that feedback is important, but the promise of anonymity encourages frank inputs, right? If my employees are under cover of anonymity, then for sure they will be more honest… Not really!

It is more like getting set up for a blind date by a friend of yours without knowing who the person is. It might sound fun at first, but then you seriously start wondering why your friend doesn’t want to reveal her identity -What if she’s got two heads and three arms??


Contrary to popular belief, anonymous feedback does not encourage honesty. In fact, according to organizational psychologist Roger Schwarz, single parts of feedback, such as -Here’s what I believe should be improved,-, is just one small bit of the bigger conversation that needs to follow, where clarification and elaboration of the points are crucial. Hence, feedback is a process and a two-way communication, which goes hand in hand with the fact that you need to know the other side, i.e. where comments come from. Anonymity doesn’t allow that bidirectional communication to take place and it gives the impression that feedback isn’t leading to real change. You’re always left wondering -What did the person exactly mean by that?


According to Harvard Business Review, further risks of anonymous feedback are:


  1. The fear factor: Employees have the impression that they cannot safely speak up or voice their concerns within the company.
  2. The distraction factor: It can set off a witch-hunt to find out who said what, instead of focusing on the actual subject of the feedback.
  3. The futility factor: “if the boss doesn’t even know I did that, why bother?”. This means that the needed level of specificity to make a real change is discouraged.


So, asking your employees to give their honest opinion anonymously does not seem like the best approach.


Employees need to understand that managers are people, too. This image is distorted by faceless-anonymous feedback. Hence, it is important to build trust up and down the company’s ladder. Think about your own experience, would you trust more another human being who’s openly, transparently talking to you, or someone hidden behind a computer screen?


Finally, as Dr. Sydney Finkelstein, professor of management at Dartmouth, said.  “Successful leaders understand that mistakes happen, and they encourage employees to speak up so that everyone can learn, adapt, and adjust in real time.”

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