Conduct employee surveys anonymously

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Employee surveys are a valuable tool for organizational development. They make strengths and weaknesses within the company transparent and show very precisely which adjustments need to be made. Provided they are well done!

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to collect meaningful data in the desired quantity. After all, we are dealing with people who do not give away their data gold carelessly. That’s why many employee surveys are conducted anonymously.

In this article, you’ll learn more about the possibilities and limitations of anonymous employee surveys. My best-practice tips show you how to master individual challenges and confidently avoid stumbling blocks.

This awaits you – table of contents:

What does anonymous employee survey actually mean?

If you are planning to conduct an employee survey, you will inevitably ask yourself whether you should make it personalized or anonymous.

Let’s first distinguish between these two options:

In a personalized employee survey, employees officially submit their responses and questions under their own names. All statements, evaluations and assessments can therefore be clearly assigned to the persons.

This has the advantage that queries are possible at any time, and ideas and interesting approaches can be taken up and developed further with the sender.

However, certain questions, such as those aimed at the manager’s leadership skills, are unlikely to elicit an honest response.

Another option is the anonymous employee survey. Incidentally, this is the most popular form of survey via easyfeedback.

The word anonymous comes from the ancient Greek anónymos. It means something like “without a name”. So when I talk about conducting employee surveys anonymously, the idea is to make it impossible to assign the answers to a name, i.e. a specific person, at a later date.

This anonymity protects employees from negative consequences of their expression of opinion. This significantly increases the willingness to participate and the courage to be honest.

For which companies and topics is the anonymous employee survey suitable?

Anonymous employee surveys are basically suitable for all companies and all industries. However, they should be large enough to allow anonymity.

Only if a sufficient number of employees take part in the survey can conclusions about identity be ruled out. But I will go into this in more detail later.

For which topics is the anonymous employee survey particularly suitable? Since the answers can be given incognito, this form of survey is ideal for all topics that get down to the nitty-gritty – i.e., that provide information about the actual construction sites in your company.

If you really want to know where there are weak points in your organization, what difficulties there are with regard to leadership, or what the actual level of employee satisfaction is, you should conduct your employee survey anonymously.

This is the only way to get honest, unbiased feedback. After all, you want to draw the right conclusions and initiate effective change processes.

Where does anonymity begin and where does it end?

Anonymity begins, of course, with the fact that you don’t ask for any identity-related data such as names or addresses. Questions about gender, length of service or department can also undermine anonymity. But there is more to consider.

Basically, anonymity requires a certain mass in which individuals can be submerged. The size of the sample plays an important role. In large organizational units, it is therefore much easier to ensure anonymity than in a three-man shack.

A sample size of at least five people is a proven benchmark in this context. In addition, no answers from individual employees are evaluated, but only combined answers from several.

Not only the size of the sample, but also the form of the question or the answer option must be considered. For example, in open questions in which free text is required, much more information can be found between the lines than in a multiple-choice or scale question.

Often the respondent is not even aware that he is revealing details that could reveal his identity. The way of expressing oneself or weaknesses in spelling could, in individual cases, allow conclusions to be drawn about certain people.

You can learn how to minimize this risk further down in this article.

Anonymität bei Mitarbeiterbefragungen
Gain employee trust and get more honest responses through an anonymous survey!

The effect of anonymity on employee feedback behavior

As we’ve said before, you’ll only get honest and meaningful results if you ensure the absolute anonymity of responses from all groups involved, from managers to employees to employee representatives.

It is in the nature of human beings that the willingness to participate in surveys is higher if there is no threat of negative consequences from honest answers.

Especially when it comes to finding out motivation, expectations and opinions on specific questions, you should always implement employee surveys anonymously.

In change management, you can also use anonymous surveys to involve employees in the process. You will be able to identify reservations, fears, worries and other blockages much better in this context than in employee interviews.

This is because such emotions are often interpreted as personal weaknesses that the person concerned is reluctant to disclose.

But be careful – if you promise anonymity, you have to keep it! If employees assume that their identity could somehow be recognized, you still have to assume lower participation rates and falsified statements.

The probability that the answers will then turn out the way management or disciplinary superiors supposedly want to hear them is very high.

For this reason, in most companies the survey is conducted exclusively by professional providers.

So in addition to the objective preservation of anonymity, subjective perceived credibility plays a major role. This is where the issue of trust comes into play: even the cleanest implementation by external service providers is of no use if the respondents do not trust the management and its measures.

If the mood in the company is in the doldrums, it becomes all the more important for you to get the employees on board early on. This calls for strong communication skills and empathy from all managers.

Make sure that transparent and comprehensive information about the background and goals of the employee survey is provided right from the start. Try to overcome resistance with appreciative explanatory work.

Always keep in mind: headwind is always an expression of uncertainty and misjudgment. Sometimes it makes sense to address concerns and answer questions before the survey in an employee or team meeting.

Basically, employee surveys are something very positive! You can communicate this confidently. They are a valuable analysis and design tool and also a strong signal to employees. The message? “We show interest in your opinions and your needs are important to us!”

If the corporate culture reflects these values, you can expect a high level of acceptance and trust from employees. Conversely, if co-determination and co-design have played a rather subordinate role up to now, it will not appear very authentic.

Five dos and don’ts when planning and conducting an anonymous employee survey:

To ensure that the anonymous employee survey leads you to your desired goal, you should consider the following key success factors:

  1. Clear objective
    Clearly define the objective of the survey and tailor the content accordingly. This way, the results can be used effectively as a basis for decision-making.
  2. Use professional tools
    Use a professional, external tool that guarantees anonymity. By doing so, you make it clear that you take the actual guarantee of anonymity and confidentiality seriously.
  3. Internal communication
    Communicate the reasons for the survey within the company and make the process transparent and comprehensible for employees.
  4. Internal cohesion
    The measure should be positively supported by all managers; make sure that the language used is consistent throughout the company.
  5. Transparent evaluation
    Inform the workforce about the results of the evaluation and the measures derived from the anonymous employee survey. This way, you increase acceptance for future surveys. In addition, employees experience that they help shape events and the company.

Here I have summarized for you the most important risk factors and stumbling blocks that lead to anonymous employee surveys not achieving the desired success. You should avoid the following don’ts:

  1. Doubts about anonymity
    The employee survey is not conducted anonymously, or maintaining anonymity is seen as untrustworthy within the company.
  2. Doubts about the purpose of the survey
    If employees do not know the purpose of the survey and what happens to the results, willingness to participate decreases.
  3. Forgetting the stakeholders
    If important stakeholders such as the works council, data protection officers or the staff council are involved too late or not at all, problems are inevitable: The project is delayed or stopped. In addition, credibility among employees suffers.
  4. Concealing or glossing over results
    Sometimes the results are not quite as rosy as management would like. It is fatal if results are now concealed, distorted or embellished. There will always be individual employees who notice such manipulations. In the end, credibility always suffers.
  5. No action follows
    The employees took their time and filled out the questionnaires to the best of their knowledge. After the evaluation, the major construction sites are known and have been communicated – and then? Nothing seems to happen. This impression should be avoided at all costs. If you remain passive, you lose credibility and risk significantly reducing future willingness to participate in anonymous employee surveys.
Gruppendsikussion über die Ergebnisse der Mitarbeiterumfrage
Implement the key success factors and overcome the challenges associated with an employee survey.

How do I ensure anonymity in an online employee survey?

An anonymous employee survey is a challenging project that presents many challenges. One of the most important will be ensuring anonymity and communicating it in a credible way. After all, the biggest concern of participants is that management can view the responses on demand.

This would make it transparent who may have made critical statements. This could have negative effects on the career, mobbing or loss of reputation. Understandably, these risks must be 100 percent ruled out.

By involving a service provider, such as easyfeedback, you can reliably ensure the anonymity of the employee survey. But other tips and procedures can also help you to ensure the anonymity of the survey.

For example, setting an anonymity limit plays a role. This defines the necessary number of responses in an organizational unit above which responses can be evaluated at all.

The anonymity limit here is usually five responses. If fewer than five answers are given to a question within an area, for example, these are not shown to protect them from being tracked and are not evaluated for this area. To ensure that they still contribute to the overall picture, they are included in the higher organizational unit.

An example to illustrate this: of the five employees in the “Public Relations” unit, only three answered the question on work-life balance. These results do not appear in the evaluation for this employee group.

Instead, they flow into the results list of the superordinate “Marketing and Sales” department, in which a total of 18 employees work. Here again, there is a sufficient mass of data in which individuals can remain anonymous.

Socio-demographic data such as age, gender, income and length of service etc. are often of considerable value for obtaining target-oriented information.

After all, you want to make sure that subsequent improvement measures reach the right groups of employees.

I recommend asking such questions only at the very end of the survey, as this part is the most sensitive. It would be a shame to leave it prematurely. Also, you should give the answer choices in the form of intervals or from-to ranges. For example, it could look like this:

Age: 20 – 29 years/ 30 – 39 years/ 40 – 49 years/ over 50 years

Length of service: under 2 years/ between 2 and 5 years/ etc.

This provides you with important information and at the same time ensures that you are actually conducting the employee survey anonymously. Moreover, such from-to answers make the respondents feel more secure and answer honestly.

In an online survey, it is very important that there is no logical or technical link between the invited employee, an access code and the answers.

Many employees are concerned that they can be identified by their IP addresses or computer IDs. A professional third party, such as easyfeedback, specializes in this issue and can work with your IT department to provide workable solutions that eliminate this risk.

Another important component is the invitation to the online survey. Here I recommend the use of a TAN procedure. For example, the HR department generates TAN codes for the corresponding number of employees. These codes give employees access to the online questionnaire.

A simple procedure has proven successful for distribution and assignment:

The codes are printed out on paper and provided folded in a large urn.

Now the participants can draw their TAN code one by one. The assignment of TAN and employee is therefore completely random. This simple urn procedure is very transparent, comprehensible and effective – an effective means of strengthening trust in anonymity.

To ensure that only one TAN code remains in the urn at the end and the last employee does not get a queasy feeling during the drawing, I recommend that you have 10 percent more TAN codes written than will be needed in the end.

Tips for support, response monitoring and evaluation

Support for an anonymous employee survey is a tricky situation. Because here, anonymity could actually be jeopardized by physical internal support or support via team viewer.

However, it would also be unfavorable if the employee were to drop out of participation. By working with a professional, external provider for your online survey, you can eliminate this risk.

A reputable provider will offer you telephone or e-mail support in case of problems or queries. The anonymity can still be ensured via the external provider.

It is also conceivable that you record possible questions and typical technical problems in a FAQ list that you make available on the intranet. During the survey, you can constantly update this list with the latest questions and the appropriate answers. This is a very useful measure, especially for large companies.

However, it would be ideal to eliminate such difficulties from the very beginning. For example, by thoroughly testing the online questionnaire beforehand. In this way, you can identify potential problems in advance and eliminate them.

Experience has shown that a classic breaking point is the use of outdated browser versions. By updating regularly, you can put this potential problem out of your mind. Also check and question whether access restrictions are set for some employees.

You can cleverly prevent this by adding whitelist entries to online survey pages. Talk to your IT department and go through the possible stumbling blocks together. It’s worth it!

Let’s move on to the topic of response monitoring. When you conduct employee surveys anonymously and online, you don’t know which individual employees have not yet completed the questionnaire. Neither names nor e-mail addresses are visible.

Nevertheless, your service partner’s monitoring tools usually give you a very good overview of participation rates.

Halfway through the scheduled field phase, you should inform all employees about the status quo of the anonymous employee survey. Thank them for their participation, point out once again the benefits for employees, and appeal to anyone who has not yet been able to take the time to complete the online questionnaire.

To ensure that the data remains truly anonymous, the company management or other executives do not have access to individual results of the anonymous employee survey. These are stored exclusively on the service provider’s server and are protected from outside access. Finally, the service provider leaves the data to you for evaluation,

As a rule, the provider with whom you conduct the employee survey anonymously will deliver the data to you in a previously agreed report format. In doing so, they will strictly adhere to the previously defined anonymity limit. In other words, they will only document responses or evaluations if the limit of at least five responses received is reached.

The report should contain all relevant data for each organizational unit to be evaluated. It is important that the response distribution, mean values and also comparative values per question are listed. Finally, you need to be able to interpret the results in your internal context.

Open questions that can be answered with free text offer you great potential. Very often, they reveal weaknesses in processes and management very clearly.

When employees want to make a difference and change things, they are very happy to use the anonymous employee survey to communicate their ideas for improvement and problems. You should definitely use this data.

How do I publicize the results of the anonymous employee survey within the company?

The results of the anonymous employee survey are very interesting not only for the initiators, but also for the employees. After all, each of them has taken the time to participate, and the company management should also appreciate this with appropriate feedback.

There should also be a uniform communication schedule for the presentation of the results and the measures derived from them. It is best to create a graphically prepared template together with the project group.

Make sure that the figures are visualized in an appealing and understandable way in charts so that everyone can follow the interpretations. Many external service providers offer this service as part of the overall package.

Employees are always particularly interested in information from their own area. The data presented should therefore provide insights into the overall assessment as well as allow the team or area results to be placed in the company context.

The announcement of the results can be made by the managers. For example, as part of regular team meetings, a staff meeting or an extraordinary meeting.

However, if the executives themselves were the subject of the survey, it makes more sense to present the data through a team of the implementing project group.

Naturally, employees are very interested in what measures the company management derives from the results of the survey and what goals are set for the future.

If another anonymous employee survey is planned to track the results of the measures, announce this now. This increases acceptance for the future.

Präsentation der Ergebnisse aus der Mitarbeiterbefragung
Every employee survey should be concluded with the communication of the results and the resulting measures.

Conclusion

Conducting an employee survey anonymously is an exciting and interesting project that you will master well with your new knowledge and a good network.

If you succeed in securing credibility and trust in the anonymity of the survey, you have already cleared the biggest hurdle – because these are important prerequisites for a high participation rate and honest, valuable feedback.

A well-planned and empathetically implemented communication strategy will pave the way.

Last but not least, you now know which company and specialist departments you should get on board. Make sure that the HR department, managers, works council and staff council are all pulling in the same direction, so that you can avoid friction losses from the outset.

Good luck with the implementation!

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