Ben Franklin once wrote in his annual Poor Richard’s Almanack that “the same man cannot be both friend and flatterer.” Oftentimes we’re so focused on not hurting our friends’ feelings that we flatter them instead of giving them the cold hard truth.
And why wouldn’t you give them the cold hard truth? Because you know that they will most likely hold some sort of a grudge against you after the fact.
To anyone who’s ever given their best friend a hard dose of truth: much respect. But for the rest of us who find it hard to give constructive criticism, we’re paralyzed when it comes time to talk.
For this case, however, anonymity is the cure.
It’s not easy to tell someone how you feel, especially when it’s straight to their face. This is a problem for both you and the recipient, since you need to get your feelings off your chest, and they need to hear it to become a better person.
It’s not just a problem for personal relationships, but for businesses as well. A major problem for companies is receiving honest feedback from their employees. Businesses want to know the brutal truth– how employees feel about their superiors, how the business could be more efficient, and so forth.
The truth is that companies aren’t going to get genuine answers from handwritten notes, emails, or even face-to- face discussions (particularly when a relationship between the manager and subordinate isn’t on solid footing) since employees are worried about getting fired or becoming the target of future abuse. Though fear isn’t the only reason employees aren’t keen on speaking up. Futility, according to a 2009 Cornell National Survey, was found to be 1.8 times more common a reason than fear for not sharing ideas and feelings to direct supervisors in large corporate settings.
So what’s the solution?
Well, for one, online voting tools that utilize anonymous surveys, polls, and forms is a start. Anonymity gives employees the freedom to dig deep and discuss feelings that are true to their core, while the survey template allows companies to ask about any topic they desire, in addition to having a central repository of feedback that can be analyzed for common issues and subsequent action.
Without anonymity or an organized system to aggregate data, a mirage may exist around the office that everything is fine, and that employees are happy. Anything that does end up being shared by employees also runs the risk of not being followed through with, which only heightens the futility aspect.
Surveys, especially anonymous ones, do a few positive things for the office:
Telling the truth makes employees feel better.
Just like venting to a friend can help ease our pain, writing our feelings in a survey or poll gets it off our chest. We’re now hopeful that our words can spur change around the office, amongst our superiors, or for the broader company as a whole. In short, employee morale improves through the answering of a few questions.
Surveys are more precise.
When an employee says they aren’t happy, it’s hard to gauge that in our minds. However if we ask them how unhappy they are on a scale of 1 to 10, this changes everything. A four on that scale, while still surprising, isn’t as alarming as an eight or nine. Using anonymous voting and survey tools, we can get more detailed responses with a combination of binary, scale, and open-ended questions.
One of the supposed problems with online surveys is that following up with employees is nearly impossible. But this is just an assumption. Managers should be reviewing the results of surveys, though they don’t have to be the only ones.
After survey results are gathered, it’s pertinent to go over those results with the team. A big meeting to discuss answers amongst those in the office is an opportunity for managers and employees to dig deeper into certain responses without directly singling anyone out.
But it all comes back to anonymity—that’s the key to honest answers. If you want to really know what your employees think, look into utilizing an anonymous feedback system for your company.
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