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Open vs. Anonymous Employee Feedback — Which is Better?

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While the need for continuous feedback has been a cornerstone of organizational performance for many years, recent transformative trends around remote working have made feedback culture more important than ever for company cohesion and success.

But in the quest for valuable and honest feedback, does open feedback deliver better outcomes than anonymous channels?

The benefits of feedback culture

Regularly sharing honest and constructive feedback respectfully can create a growth mindset in the workplace as it encourages employees to learn, develop new skills, grow and seek new challenges.

Providing feedback in this way can help promote better communication between managers and employees, boosting employee engagement and positively impacting overall employee satisfaction, retention and productivity.

As such, regular feedback can build a solid and cohesive team and is a vital component in creating a strengths-based company culture, according to workplace consulting and global research group Gallup.

Furthermore, when companies implement feedback culture correctly, it encourages continuous improvement and innovation. Importantly for fully remote or hybrid organizations, the benefits of an entrenched feedback culture extend beyond performance and productivity, as it also allows companies to focus on factors related to employee well-being.

For these reasons, creating an environment where employees feel safe to give and share feedback on their perspectives on their and co-workers’ performances, workloads and well-being will differentiate a company from its competitors.

Related: How to Give Employee Feedback Effectively (and Why It Matters)

Encouraging valuable feedback

The key to successfully implementing a feedback culture is creating opportunities for employees to give and receive constructive feedback regularly. In this regard, companies must train employees on how to do so and lead by example through regular and transparent communication.

Another key consideration is developing effective feedback mechanisms, with open or anonymous feedback an important consideration. The main difference between these two feedback channels is the level of transparency and accountability involved in the process.

I have always felt that anonymous feedback is toxic to company culture. In my mind, anonymous feedback conveys a message that the company normalizes living in fear and accepts that employees lack the courage and conviction to own their points of view.

But as a business leader, my most significant concern relates to the idea that anonymous feedback means staff does not trust each other enough to offer and receive feedback constructively.

Related: Are You Asking for Employee Feedback? If Not, Good Luck With Retention.

Open feedback fosters trust

Promoting open feedback lends itself to better engagement as employees can share their views in face-to-face conversations, through email, or via formalized internal feedback platforms. And sharing feedback in an open forum allows managers and business leaders to follow up with the person who provided the insights to clarify matters, ask additional questions and continue the conversation.

Additional potential benefits of open feedback include:

  • Allows leadership to give and receive constructive criticism and positive reinforcement.
  • Helps identify areas for improvement and growth opportunities for individual employees and the organization as a whole.
  • Encourages a culture of continuous improvement.
  • Builds trust and fosters better communication within the workplace.

One employee of mine shared that speaking openly and honestly is the best form of self-expression when sharing feelings and perceptions. The key to providing effective open feedback is honesty, offering facts to support views, using logic and proactively sharing ideas on improving rather than sharing “empty criticism,” which is useless.

In this type of environment, where people respect the feelings of others, theoretically the need for anonymity would naturally dissipate.

Related: Is Employee Feedback Missing at Your Company? Here’s Why and How to Fix It.

Different strokes for different folks

However, other employees of mine have pointed out that people differ in their ability to share information and receive feedback openly, especially if it is sensitive or in a group setting.

Where extroverted employees may feel comfortable sharing their views freely in an open forum, someone who is more reserved and introverted may struggle to express their opinion or provide or receive criticism in a group setting.

Another response pointed out that people may not be able to share points of discomfort openly because they do not want to compromise their position. In this context, labeling anonymous feedback as cowardly may undermine someone who is merely worried about their future.

Open feedback can also lead to tension and conflict among employees and managers if it is not delivered constructively and respectfully and may create a culture of over-criticism and negativity if feedback is not balanced with positive reinforcement. Moreover, an open-only approach may erode the value of the feedback received, as people might feel less inclined to provide insights.

A place for anonymous feedback

When implemented and managed correctly, anonymous feedback can provide valuable insights and promote constructive communication, as this feedback channel allows staff to share honest opinions and feedback without fear of recrimination or repercussions or offending colleagues or superiors.

In this way, allowing anonymous feedback may help to create a more balanced and comprehensive view of employee satisfaction and company performance.

However, an anonymous-only approach can lead to a lack of accountability, fostering a culture of negativity and complaining. It can make it difficult to follow up or address specific concerns.

What anonymous feedback channels should not do is promote a workplace where employees feel that they can recklessly criticize one another without consideration or give rude, offensive or hateful feedback.

A hybrid feedback model

Ultimately, both options have benefits and drawbacks, and both can work to create a thriving feedback culture because they cater to different employee preferences. As such, the best approach may vary depending on the situation and the culture of the organization.

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