Why Employee Survey Confidentiality is So Important

Why Employee Survey Confidentiality is So Important

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You’ve seen the lookthey raise their eyebrows, crinkle their forehead, and tell you that it couldn’t  possibly  be an anonymous employee survey. They say they can’t trust these things.  

You need an employee survey platform for your organization that recognizes anonymity for all types of surveys and allows for the highest possible levels of confidentiality.  

Your organization’s first company-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) survey is a concerning case in point.  

You want to know to what extent employee anonymity is possible.  

If people are asked to share sensitive information about themselves and to be honest about something or someone they disagree with, are the identities of individual employees and their responses safeguarded? What assurances does a confidential employee survey provide? Or an anonymous employee survey? 

What’s the Difference Between Anonymous and Confidential Employee Surveys?

Before we go too deep, let’s clear up the difference between an anonymous employee survey and a confidential survey. They are often used interchangeably yet mean two different things, 

“Anonymous” and “confidential” surveys both keep the identity of responses secret.  

When data is collected and held through an anonymous employee survey, the identity behind individual responses is not known to anyone or any employee survey software platform. Period.  

When employee survey data is collected and held confidentiallyidentifying values such as an employee ID number or department are kept in a secure environment. This means no one in the organization surveying their staff can access it, but rather employee survey platforms securely house the data in order to segment the employee experience of unique groups. 

This information can be uploaded from your HRIS into a third-party employee survey platform.  

Working with an arms-length survey partner ensures individual feedback is unattributed. Additionally, access to people analytics and survey reports are in aggregate or by smaller subset groups based on a strict minimum threshold, so no one can see who said what. 

Are Anonymous Surveys Really Anonymous?  

… yes, they are. When no employee data is imported into a survey platform, they are fully anonymous.  

The thing is, confidential surveys are much more common than anonymous surveys because of the ability they provide to dig deeper into the data. Employee survey providers go to great lengths to provide this value while protecting individual response data. 

Maybe we’ve been watching too many “Big Brother” episodes. Maybe we’re just paranoid. Or maybe we have a valid reason to be wary. But think about it, if an employee is required to provide their employee ID number and department before completing a company survey, it’s highly unlikely they’d believe the survey was confidential even if someone assured them that it was.

Why Employee Survey Confidentiality Is Important

As contributors to the Harvard Business Review article “Why Employees Are Afraid to Speak” ask and affirm: 

What would you think if you overheard an employee confiding in another, ‘If I tell the director…what customers are saying, my career will be shot’ We actually heard this, verbatim, in the course of our research on communication in a leading high-technology corporation. Our study suggests this type of self-censorship is common, from the rank and file through senior management. 

One of the first questions we often get when speaking with people about WorkTango’s Survey & Insights employee voice platform is whether or not it’s confidential. People want to know: are their survey answers and comments kept secure, or will their manager and their manager’s manager be able to trace all responses back to the source and determine exactly who said what? Because that can be a bit of a scary thought, especially if you were being brutally honest. And isn’t honesty the point?  

The point of hearing the true voice of employees is to get an accurate and authentic understanding of how things are going in the company, to gauge how employees are feeling about certain leaders, routines, systems, changes–everything. The goal is to get an accurate reading of where things are going well, and where things could be improved. Some topics can be more delicate than others, but no matter what the feedback, all of it needs to be honest, open feedback in order to be reliable.  

Otherwise, when authenticity and candor are questionable, where does that leave results gathered from employee engagement surveys or intermittent pulse surveys? Are findings valid? 

How Does Employee Survey Confidentiality Allow Employees to Speak Freely?

Confidentiality frees employees to speak their true thoughts without fear. It frees the employer to get to the heart of what’s going on (to dig into different areas of the company by region or leader for instance) so they can do their job. Employee survey confidentiality facilitates employees to do their jobs without fear and employers to do theirs without confusion.

Freedom from Fear of Job Loss

If employees feel their jobs could be endangered should they say something offensive or controversial on a survey, it will most likely be very difficult for them to share how they really feel. This, in turn, will make it nearly impossible for employers to get an accurate read on what’s going on. 

As anEntrepreneurarticle points out, Every organization has employees who fear to tell their bosses the whole truth about workplace problems because such honesty can be career-limiting. In fact, it’s likely that most employees feel this way at some point in their careers. 

This is a valid fear, which is why employees need the safety of an Employee Promise–the promise that all feedback is confidential, and names won’t be revealed. This frees employees to speak their minds without feeling their jobs are at stake. 

Freedom from Fear of Judgment or Ridicule

Even if employees’ jobs aren’t on the line they may feel their reputations are. They may not want to reveal their true feelings, lest theyre judged or ridiculed. Perhaps they don’t want to come across as complaining or sensitive; however, if something is bothering them, they should be able to express it. 

HuffPost reiterates this in the article What You Need to Know About Employee Engagement Surveys“Most employees are too scared to speak the truth, so ensuring confidentiality is very important.” 

When individual answers are confidential, employers still receive all the data, but the personal identities of the employees are protected, which leads to higher levels of trust and confidentiality, both of which are necessary for a healthy, thriving workplace. 

Freedom from Intimidation

Employees often have great ideas. But sometimes it’s a daunting task to speak their minds to a high-level or intimidating manager, especially if what the employees want to say doesn’t align with the common consensus.  

It’s also more difficult for more reserved or introverted employees to speak up. More outspoken employees may have no problem voicing complaints. But certain other types of personalities may be more hesitant. Anonymity caters to all types of employees and allows them to feel both heard and appreciated. 

At WorkTango it’s in our DNA to protect and project the voice of employees. Schedule a demo today to see how we can help improve lives at work at your organization. 

Should Employee Voice Always be Confidential?

Employee survey confidentiality is important when you’re collecting feedback, especially when feedback is available to different areas and leaders within the organization. 

That said, there are some situations and levels of transparency where anonymity doesn’t fit with obtaining the voice of your employees. We see examples daily at WorkTango. 

Organizations use our Survey & Insights platform to solicit feedback specific to engagement, DE&I, and leadership surveys among others.

HR and executive leadership can see data in aggregate and by different groupings that meet a predetermined threshold; optionally, HR can give managers with a staff of five people or more permission to access their team’s results.

In all instances respondents are unnamed. Survey data seen by anyone from within the organization is strictly anonymous.

For more clarity, our “anonymous conversation” feature can be used to flush out details.

When leaders have had an opportunity to digest feedback–group and individual conversations can clarify and strengthen the voice of employees, and bring greater transparency to the intentions and follow up actions of management.

There clearly needs to be a balanceWorkTango believes that confidentiality improves work lives, and that’s why we’re all for it. We’re also all for being transparent.

We encourage honest two-way conversations that are based on confidential data to:

  1. Learn more about issues of concern
  2. Prioritize where action needs to focus
  3. Ensure employees are part of identifying issues AND finding solutions.

Create Confidential Surveys to Build Trust and Drive Change

Employee survey confidentiality is something that makes people feel comfortable and free to be authentic, which ultimately leads to more accurate feedback and viable, actionable insights for employers.

While confidentiality protects the individual voice, it expresses the collective voice. And when information is effectively shared, it facilitates deeper trust and positive change. Confidentiality is the power and the promise behind change.