The words ‘anonymous’ and ‘confidential’ are all too often used synonymously when describing employee engagement surveys.
The fact is, they mean very different things, and when it comes to your employees’ privacy, it’s important to make the distinction between the two.
What is an anonymous survey?
Responses are completely separate from any kind of personally identifiable information such as department, employee ID number, email, or other unique identifiers. Respondents cannot be identified.
What is a confidential survey?
Responses are connected to personal information, whether recorded in an employee record in the HRIS, or provided by the employee within the survey.
The organisation pledges to keep the information private, although certain administrators can access the data and identify respondents.
Why transparency about this is important
For an employee engagement survey (or any survey for that matter) to be successful and useful, it’s important that a majority of employees complete it, and those who do provide honest answers.
When taking surveys, some employees worry that their responses will be visible to their managers and potentially used against them in the future. If you cannot guarantee that this won’t happen, then you cannot count on people’s open, honest feedback.
To collect honest feedback, employees need to know that they can be free to share in a confidential way: one that prevents leaders or stakeholders from connecting their responses directly to their identifiable data.
Your at-a-glance comparison of anonymous vs. confidential surveys
|Definition||Data is linked back to personal information||Data is not linked to any personal identifiers|
|What kinds of research is it used for?||Both qualitative and quantitative||Mainly quantitative|
|Who has access to personal data?||Researchers and administrators||Nobody|
|Who can trace respondents’ identities?||Researchers||Nobody|
Which type of survey should I use?
Neither of these survey types is ‘best’ for every use case – your organisation has its own specific needs. For analysis of, say, a rapid one-off poll to help you identify and improve an aspect of a product or service, an anonymous survey is sometimes all you need.
If, however, you plan to take detailed actions based on respondents’ feedback – as all responsible employers should be doing – a confidential survey, where you can identify where the issues lie, would be your better bet.
At Qualtrics, we tend to recommend using confidential over anonymous surveys because: responses are mapped back to your integrated systems, allowing you to analyse the data by different demographics like job role, tenure, and team.
We found that employees don’t necessarily see anonymous surveys as being any better than confidential ones when it comes to protecting their personal information. That’s because typically an anonymous survey will need to include demographic questions to allow the HR team to segment and analyse the data.
And equally, there’s little evidence to suggest a confidential survey gets lower response rates – most people understand that feedback is only actionable when it identifies where the problems lie, and most are happy to be part of the solution.
In our experience, employees tend to feel they have more protection – and more helpful input – in confidential surveys. Add the fact that you can guarantee better data quality and can do more with the data at the end of it, you can see why confidential surveys tend to be one of the more popular ways to run an employee experience program.