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Harness Anonymous Surveys to Learn What's Holding Your Team Back

Getting useful answers from anonymous surveys isn’t easy. Learn how to come up with questions that give you unvarnished feedback and deep insight into challenges and frustrations.

Ben Jackson, March 29, 2018

Photo credit: Dominik Vanyi

Anonymity isn’t having the best moment. Between trolls, leaks, and the notorious decentralized international hacktivist group, it’s tempting to write off the entire concept of protected identity as a lost cause. But while the idea of asking your employees for radical candor might make you squirm, for some kinds of feedback, it’s your only choice.

Read on for tips that will help you get the most out of anonymous employee surveys.


Focus on More than One Objective

Are you trying to get more internal referrals? Increase productivity? Improve communication? Pick one, then come up with questions that will get you the answers you need to make it happen.

Avoid Tough Questions

Ask yourself: have I read any responses that made me cringe? If not, you might not be asking tough questions that draw out honest, critical responses. Here are some questions that, while useful, aren’t what we’re looking for:

“Which of the following snacks would you prefer we stock up on?”
“Where would you like us to hold the next company retreat?”

An assortment of Kind Bars
Don’t waste your time on softball questions.

Leave Anyone Out by Mistake

Make sure everyone in the company knows about the survey with enough lead time to respond even if they’re busy. Post the link somewhere everyone will see it, bring up the survey in your weekly team meeting, and do anything else you can to make it impossible to miss.


Find the Pain

The best questions for anonymous surveys focus on challenges, frustrations, and areas for improvement:

“What are you worried might derail your progress this quarter?”
“What’s the most frustrating part of your routine at work?”
“What’s the one thing that wastes the most of your time right now?”

Be Specific

It’s easier to respond to more specific questions, so the less vague your wording, the better. Here’s a vaguely-worded question:

“What should leadership focus on improving at the moment?”
“How can we make our workplace better for you?”

And here’s the same question with more specific language:

“If you had to pick one piece of critical advice to give the CEO right now, what would it be?”
“If you had full authority to change one thing about our workplace, what would it be?”

Use “Skip Logic” to Tailor Follow-Up Questions

Tools like Typeform and SurveyMonkey can present different questions to respondents based on their previous answers. Use opinion scales to vary your open-ended questions and get the most relevant feedback from different participants.

Screenshot of skip logic with TypeForm.
Applying skip logic with TypeForm.

Stress that Results Are Anonymous and Confidential

You might take this for granted, but your employees won’t. Underscore the need for honest feedback, don’t ask questions that might reveal identifying details, and reassure everyone that you’ll respect their anonymity.

Bonus Points: Regular Pulse Surveys

Getting one-time feedback on isolated decisions is just a start. The real fun starts when you begin measuring employee sentiment over time.

Tools like Peakon and Officevibe regularly ask your employees for feedback and show how engagement changes over time. They’ll also ask about specific areas that affect motivation: things like recognition, compensation, and work-life balance.

Best of all, they enable 2-way communication without revealing the identity of respondents. Instead of throwing up your hands when answers are unclear, you can ask for clarification or specific examples.


One-Off Surveys

  • Typeform (Limited free plan, or $30/month with skip logic)
  • SurveyMonkey (Limited free plan, or $37/month with skip logic)

Pulse Surveys

  • Peakon ($3.50 per user/month)
  • Officevibe (Limited free plan, or $4 per user/month)

Further Reading