If you truly want to better understand your people, then you and your people should embrace a transparent, two-way approach to workplace feedback. Moving from an anonymous process to a transparent feedback loop isn’t as painful as you might think.

No two business cultures are the same. We know that for some, anonymity can feel like a safety net that allows their people to speak freely. For others, they have the right culture of open and honest communication that makes anonymity a thing of the past. The latter is where you should strive to be.

Two benefits of anonymous workplace feedback

Anonymity can lead to more accurate data

If you have a workplace culture where trust is rare, then anonymous feedback can help get more accurate insights. If staff feel they can’t speak freely and openly without repercussion, then anonymity provides a security blanket. This means they can give honest answers more easily. And without feeling judged.

However, the real issue here is the fact that people are fearful of being open and honest. Anonymity is little more than a sticking plaster. Prevention is better than cure. And if this sounds like your work place, then it’s worth reviewing how to improve your current culture.

Anonymity can lead to more feedback

It’s true that keeping things anonymous will generally lead to more data coming in. In most cases anonymous surveys have higher participation rates than open ones. One study found that 74% of employees would give more feedback about their company, work load, and culture if it was truly anonymous. But this is then a question of quantity versus quality. 

Seven pitfalls of anonymous workplace feedback

Anonymous feedback is average

In an interview with SHRM, Rajeev Peshawaria, CEO of The Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre and author of Open Source Leadership: Reinventing Management When There’s No More Business As Usual, points out that those who work hardest have the least time for these surveys, and so ‘the bulk of the data, therefore [comes from] average- or low-performing employees.’

When companies rely on anonymous feedback to inform decisions, they fall prey to the dangerous lore of the average. By erasing the individual perspective, HR and managers don’t know what motivates each unique person and instead focus on the most common comments as a solution for everyone.

No-one is average. Outliers from the average will likely include top talent and key personnel. And companies won’t be able to retain them if they’ve never paid attention to what they had to say.

Anonymous leads to more hostility

Unfortunately, there are unhappy employees who seem to enjoy derailing morale. Some may see anonymous workplace feedback as an opportunity to settle wrongs. They could use it to lead attacks against people they don’t like. As hard as it is to fathom, it’s important to realise that all companies have a few employees who will misuse the process.

Anonymity also reinforces the idea that it’s not safe to speak up. It’s mistaken for objectivity. It presumes that the people interpret questions exactly as it was intended. We all know how easy it is to get the wrong idea about tone, especially over email.

Anonymity reduces trust

When feedback is shared anonymously it can be harder to take it at face value. In particular, when constructive feedback is received from an unknown source, it’s common for it to be met with disbelief or questionable intent. Without a clear source, employees and employers may jump to conclusions about the motive behind it. Even when the feedback is minor, the person getting it focuses more about the source, than the feedback itself. Resulting in a gradual drop in trust and growth in suspicion.

Anonymous feedback isn’t actionable

When specific feedback about workplace improvements are provided anonymously, it’s difficult to put them into action. Without being able to discuss an idea further with the person who suggested it, how do you ensure that you’ve interpreted it as intended? Or that your solution is the right one?

Another dangerous effect is that anonymous feedback removes employee agency. They encourage employees to delegate issues upwards. Rather than taking appropriate action themselves.

As a result, the actions to counter anonymous feedback get put into place by people who don’t have a direct understanding of the issue. Nor the impact or weight that the problem is causing. It’s no surprise then that one third of employees feel that no-one is listening to their ideas.

Anonymous isn’t even always that anonymous

Is anonymous really anonymous? Many employee surveys ask information about the respondent—what department they work in, their general title, their compensation level, how many years they’ve been with the company—that employees often suspect that managers can easily figure out which replies were from whom.

Anonymity is a one-way street

Your people get nothing from anonymous surveys – they give and get nothing directly back. They also don’t know where the feedback goes so question if it’s even worth filling them out.

Anonymous supresses talent development

One of the biggest flaws of anonymous workplace feedback is that it doesn’t help managers or employees build the skills they need to meet future challenges. To grow and develop, people need opportunities to practice having uncomfortable yet honest conversations about performance. And providing constructive feedback.

For employees, the ability to share openly their experiences and needs as well as hear and accept feedback is an important part of developing their own talent. As is owning the relationship with their boss by advocating for themselves and negotiating with power. Having uncomfortable or difficult conversations is a skill future leaders need to have. It needs consistent coaching, practice, and refinement.

How to have more transparent workplace feedback

Gather workplace feedback effectively and securely

Zensai provides the tools and training required to evolve your approach to feedback. We’re here to help you every step of the way too. It enables you to gather meaningful feedback regularly from employees so you can make better business decisions. It also helps your employees to get regular feedback – so it’s not a one-way thing.​

Encourage frequent workplace feedback

Practice makes perfect. The more often we share feedback, the easier it becomes to do. From weekly check-ins between managers and their team members, to 360 degree feedback from peers at strategic times in the year. Employee recognition, ad-hoc feedback and frequent 1:1s are all excellent opportunities to practice sharing open and honest feedback.

Coach managers on how to respond to feedback

Managers are the key to success. 70% of employee engagement variance is down to how a manager responds to feedback and experiences. Trust goes when a manager fails to act, or responds inappropriately to feedback. And disengagement spreads. So, listen actively to what your people are saying, and act appropriately.

Reward employees who champion using transparent workplace feedback

Such a drastic change in feedback style can cause uncertainty. However, the best approach is to jump in with both feet. Consider rewarding people who champion the new process. Look for ways to show how you’re using their feedback to implement changes so employees see that it’s safe to be honest.

How Zensai helps you move away from anonymous workplace feedback

No two business cultures are the same. We know that for some, anonymity can feel like a safety net that allows their people to speak freely. For others, they have the right culture of trust and openness that makes anonymity a thing of the past. The latter is where you should strive to be. And we’re here to help. Zensai is built so that anonymity can be used where required. But our framework progressively moves people away from a reliance on it. 


The Zensai check-in is a high-frequency, light-touch tool for sharing feedback within your business. One of the major benefits of this cadence is that it builds, shapes, and reshapes habits quickly.

It can take time to get used to speaking freely and without restriction. So, a high-frequency approach helps them to adjust rapidly and allows managers plenty of opportunities to support them.

Check-in question flexibility

Not everyone will feel comfortable moving to completely transparent feedback on day one. That’s why we have a range of questions to choose from in your check-in question library, with varying degrees of transparency. Move to more open questions when staff get used to the new way of giving and getting feedback.

Check-in responses can also be sent to different teams. For example, route mental, physical, or financial health question responses directly to your Employee Assistance team, by-passing the person’s manager completely.

The manager review

The check-in makes feedback two-way. Employees share feedback and managers review and respond. ​This encourages managers to build up great relationships with their team members, wherever they are. Employees feel the benefit of opening up, share their true experiences and opinions. And in time, the appeal of using anonymous feedback will reduce. 

Recognition and visibility

Zensai encourages employee recognition (mentions) and visibility (pass-ups and pass-across). These have clear and direct impacts on employee engagement and development. But they also help to reduce the lure of giving good workplace feedback anonymously. We all want to see who’s saying great stuff about us! And when people get used to this, it opens the door to sharing more openly too.