Should 360 feedback be anonymous or not?

In this new world, employees want to know on a regular basis how they are performing and how they can improve themselves. 360 feedback is a way to provide actionable feedback to employees and give them concrete insights about their contributions to an organization.

It’s a performance evaluation tool that solicits feedback from coworkers, managers and direct reports (if applicable) to an employee. The goal is to allow the employee to get a full picture of their performance from various perspectives.

It’s a well-known method that companies around the world are using to evaluate their employees’ performance. But one of the most common questions that often comes to mind when launching a 360 review cycle is whether you should hide the identity of those who are leaving feedback.

Anonymous 360 feedback can allow ill-intentioned employees to anonymously bully colleagues they may not like or feel competitive with. But non-anonymous 360 reviews don’t allow employees to be honest in their feedback if they don’t want to hurt their colleagues or their manager.

As an HR administrator, it can be intimidating deciding between these options when you understand their downsides. So in this article you’ll find enough information (benefits, downsides, tips) to decide if your next 360 feedback cycle should be anonymous or not.

Benefits of anonymous 360 feedback

Anonymous 360 review gives the employee freedom to share constructive feedback. Indeed, some people may fear that the recipient will be harmed by their comments and take them as criticism. For this reason, they may keep their wording and miss the chance to provide useful feedback.

Managers don’t have this problem because it’s their job to guide their team in the right direction and ensure each team member is productive. But it’s 10 times more complicated for the employee to openly criticize their boss. As a result, their feedback is censored and worthless.

When the feedback is honest and non-anonymous, it can lead to problems in the workspace. Managers would not appreciate receiving criticism from their direct report, they may become obsessed with it and it can ruin their relationships. People are sensitive, and they may take feedback personally or judge the person giving the feedback.

Angry manager after their subordinate because of 360 review

That’s why, in order to maintain healthy working relationships in their organization through honest feedback, companies prefer anonymous 360 feedback. But there are also some drawbacks when reviewers are freed from responsibility for their words.

The problem with anonymous feedback

Even in a healthy work environment, people can be rude when they know their identity is protected. Think of people’s words on the internet or in traffic confrontations. When people can hide behind anonymity, they are more likely to be unkind. And if employees had clashed with each other before, they could take advantage of the anonymous feedback to sabotage the recipient’s work.

Anonymous feedback can impact the morale of the recipient. People find themselves constantly trying to guess the author of the negative feedback. They are hurt, upset or confused, and they even can’t argue. They may become unmotivated to do their job effectively and be suspicious of their colleagues. Also, the feedback they receive is useless because if they want more details they can’t ask anyone as it’s anonymous.

A boss exhausted with anonymous 360 reviews

Lastly but not the least, it goes against open feedback culture. Anonymous 360 feedback sends the message to employees that they need to be protected by anonymity when they want to speak openly. As if giving feedback without anonymity is dangerous or forbidden. This is against feedback culture and there are plenty of benefits with this approach. 

Tips to overcome the challenges with anonymous review

If your team prefers anonymous feedback, even if it has its downsides, there are different ways to minimize it. Here are some tips you can take to experience the advantages of anonymous reviews without its bad effect.

  • Encourage employees to share constructive and actionable feedback
  • Encourage employees to provide specific examples to support their feedback
  • Avoid creating a competitive work environment and make important decisions (promotion, praise) based only on 360 reviews. Your employees would feel they have to defend their position by not helping or sabotaging their colleagues.
  • Avoid anonymous feedback between your manager and direct subordinates to encourage open dialogue
  • Make sure, even if the receiver doesn’t know the identity of their reviewer, their manager should know the reviewers’ identity. People would not pursue ulterior motives and would be more honest.
Screenshot privacy settings for 360 reviews

Benefits of transparency in 360 feedback

Even if there are some ways to minimize anonymous 360 feedback effects, we strongly suggest you to opt for transparency culture. Here’s why:

Non-anonymous feedback promotes accountability

Accountability eliminates toxic comments that can damage a colleague’s reputation. When you make people accountable for their feedback, you teach them to increase their level of professionalism and constructiveness. 

Non-anonymous feedback encourages ongoing trust

Clarify to employees that there won’t be any negative consequences of open feedback encourage them to give more. It improves honesty and develops closer relationships. They can go home on Friday trusting their colleagues and manager have kept them updated on their performance.

Non-anonymous feedback is more actionable and valuable

When employees know they can be transparent, they can provide specific examples of their feedback. Employees have also the opportunity to ask more details about the feedback they receive as the feedback is not anonymous.

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