The Dilemma of Anonymous Feedback in the Workplace

Sep 12, 2023 | Peer Feedback

employee giving anonymous feedback on their laptop

Feedback is crucial for employee performance management. It helps employees grow, builds on their strengths, and highlights areas for improvement. But there’s a debate: Should you allow anonymous feedback in your peer feedback process?

At first glance, anonymous feedback seems like a great way to encourage honest communication. But does it really help organisations, or are there hidden drawbacks?


What is Anonymous Feedback?

Anonymous feedback lets people give comments or voice concerns without revealing who they are. It aims to make employees feel safe to speak up, especially in workplaces where power dynamics might prevent open discussions. Anonymous feedback often gives valuable insights, but is also open to abuse.

Many workplaces use anonymous feedback tools as part of the performance review process. These tools allow managers to collect feedback anonymously and helps employees feel comfortable sharing feedback.


Real Life Feedback Stats from PerformanceHub Users

PerformanceHub allows anonymous feedback, but only if the feature is enabled at a company level. Even when enabled, it only allows anonymity for “Unprompted Feedback” (one of the two types of feedback PerformanceHub supports). The reason for this is revealed later in the Hidden Pitfalls section.

As you can see from the chart below, 67% of PerformanceHub users have Unprompted Feedback enabled. That comes from 2% who have just Unprompted, plus 65% who have both.


Pie chart showing the use of feedback features in PerformanceHub


That’s 67% of all users who could enable anonymous feedback. Care to guess what percentage have enabled?


Zero. Yes, that’s right, no PerformanceHub customer currently has anonymous feedback enabled. Some customers used to, but they no longer do. We think that tells a story in itself!

So, looking at real-world data gives us more insight:

  • Many companies have tried anonymous feedback, showing its appeal.
  • But all customers have stopped using it in recent years
  • Most PerformanceHub customers use a ‘middle ground’ feature that’s unique to PerformanceHub. It lets feedback givers decide who can see their feedback. This approach balances confidentiality with the need for actionable feedback. We talk about this approach any why we introduced it in the Alternatives to Full Anonymity section below.



Pros of Allowing Anonymous Feedback

Anonymous feedback has its advantages:

  • Encourages Honesty: Employees give more honest feedback when they know it’s not linked to them.
  • Promotes Open Communication: It can help create an open communication culture, letting employees share ideas or concerns they might usually hold back.
  • Overcomes Hierarchical Barriers: Employees can freely give feedback about their superiors without fear of consequences.


Cons of Allowing Anonymous Feedback

But there are challenges too:

  • Potential for Misuse: Some might use anonymity to give harmful or false feedback.
  • Difficulty in Addressing Concerns: Without knowing the source, it’s hard to address feedback or ask for clarity.
  • Lack of Accountability: Some might give thoughtless feedback, knowing they’re anonymous.



Unseen Pitfalls to Anonymous Feedback

Anonymity can’t be guaranteed

You can’t guarantee anonymity, particularly with “requested feedback”. It’s one of the main reasons why you can’t really have anonymous 360 feedback. If your feedback tool allows you to ‘ask for feedback’ from others, then as people respond to your request, you know who they are. For example, let’s say you ask 3 people what your communication skills were like and all 3 responded. If one of them responded anonymously, because you know who the other 2 are, and who you asked, you can work out who the ‘anonymous’ one was.


GDPR and Data Protection

under Article 15 of GDPR, your employees can request all data related to them, which would include manager’s eyes only and anonymous data. As a note, PerformanceHub treats anonymous data as exactly that, the identity of the user is not stored in the database. This solves the data subject request problem, but creates another. Traceability is lost if abuse is reported.



Alternative to Full Anonymity

We have discussed why you might want to alloy anonymous feedback – mainly so that employees provide feed when they would otherwise be reluctant to do so. But we have also seen that there are problems with allowing it. So, is there an alternative to anonymous feedback? Yes there are and this is how PerformanceHub supports it.

By default, PerformanceHub will ask the person giving the feedback whether they are happy for the person they are giving the feedback on to see it.

If they choose Yes, then both the employee the feedback was for and their manager will be able to see it and who gave it.

If they answer No, then only the manager can see it. This overcomes the main problem with giving feedback, people are reluctant to give negative feedback, even if it can be seen as “constructive criticism” that the recipient will see.

One final note on this feature. About 5% of PerformanceHub customers choose to not allow the giver to pick the visibility setting. With half of those choosing to ‘force’ visibility (the recipient can see it) and other other half forcing “manager’s eyes only”.



Feedback is key for employee performance. While anonymous feedback sounds appealing, it’s important to consider its pros and cons. Given its challenges, pure anonymous feedback might not always be the best. A balanced approach, focusing on confidentiality and actionable feedback, might work better.

For effective employee feedback, trust, clarity, and actionable insights matter most. Before jumping into anonymous feedback, it’s wise to think about its broader impact.

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