Your Workplace Survey: Do Your Employees Trust You?

A recent TikTok video went viral after a nurse warned others to beware of workplace surveys, saying that after he submitted “critical but professional” feedback on what was supposed to be an anonymous survey, he was contacted by his manager and eventually written up. In the video, which has over 240,000 views, he says he asked his manager why the survey wasn’t anonymous and she replied, “They still can track you.”

Any survey practitioner knows the importance of instilling trust with employees so they feel comfortable offering candid feedback.

Videos like this can undermine that trust. That’s why it’s especially critical to be clear and upfront with your employees and earn their trust – not to mention the importance of using a reputable vendor who would never disclose individualized information. Here’s what every survey practitioner should consider when launching a survey:

Communicate how Feedback is Analyzed

Most employee surveys aren’t actually anonymous but rather confidential; in a truly anonymous survey a company wouldn’t have any idea of the demographics behind the data – we only know what you tell us on the survey. With a confidential survey, the data is tracked so that it can be analyzed by different factors, such as gender, tenure, role, geographic location and much more. Typically, though not always, this identity-based information is held by a third party vendor and is used to create those groupings (by tenure, role, etc) for reporting – no one actually wants to analyze individual’s results. It’s important for employees to not just understand this difference, but to be told why the organization is choosing confidentiality over anonymity. At first glance, an employee might think it’s so that the company can ultimate track responses. Explaining the benefit to understanding feedback by different demographic groups can help employees feel more comfortable. Also share that there are barriers in place so that management cannot ever look at individual responses. This is a task that is worth repeating; reminding employees at multiple touchpoints before taking the survey that management will never see individual data is crucial.

Hire a Third-Party Vendor

By using an outside company you can establish a wall between the organization and the individual-level responses. While the vendor has access to all the data, it gets analyzed and reported back in aggregate. Again, explaining to your employees in either pre-survey communications or in the welcome letter that you’re using an outside vendor can help establish trust in the process. A reputable vendor will have business rules in place to prevent the slicing of data to the point where someone can identify the respondent.

Address Mistrust Head-On

If your current culture fosters mistrust of leadership, you’ll have extra work to do before launching a survey. Consider a campaign around a “Confidentiality Commitment,” coming from top leadership, so that all employees throughout the organization understand that no one will see their data. GDPR and other privacy laws have resulted in privacy notices and opt-in policies with most employee surveys. Done well, these notices can feel genuine and communicate effectively to employees too boost trust.

Train Managers to Review Results Properly

It can be tempting for people to want to guess at who said what on a survey, but that will undercut trust in the process. Teach your managers how to effectively share their results with their team; specifically, when they review results with their team they should acknowledge the feedback and move onto constructive action planning without trying to guess who said what, or who might have provided a negative answer/comment. By setting this example, they’ll show their employees first-hand that their feedback is truly confidential.

Take Noticeable Action

Ultimately, the best way to foster a culture of trust within your employee population is for them to see the regular cadence of annual surveys, transparency around results, and commitment to action in target areas. If employees both see and experience the benefits of taking the survey, they’ll be more inclined to do so in the future.



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