my company’s survey questions are awfully intrusive — are they really anonymous?

A reader writes:

The company I work for (a very large corporation) has started using software which emails surveys to employees every week requesting feedback on various subjects where you choose from 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree) in response to statements like “I have a good working relationship with my line manager” and “I feel comfortable asking for help when I don’t know how to do something” and then provide a comment on why you feel that way. Participation is optional, but you do get points for it and your level of participation is visible to your manager.

Your responses, however, are supposed to be anonymized, and if there are only a few people in your department who answer a given survey, your manager doesn’t even get to read them so they can’t guess who said what (it’s passed up to senior management or even the director instead, so at least in theory there’s no chance of anyone guessing who you are based on what you say).

While on the surface this feels like a good way to give feedback to the company without fear of repercussions, I’ve noticed that as I’ve responded to the surveys, they’ve become more specific and personal. Some examples:

  • “If I were offered a higher salary for the same job by another company, I would consider accepting it.”
  • “If I were provided the opportunity to join a union, I would consider it.”
  • “My work schedule sometimes causes conflict between myself and my family.”
  • “I find it difficult to balance my mental/physical health and my workload.”

This feels like highly inappropriate feedback to solicit from employees, even anonymized, when failure to participate potentially puts you at a disadvantage from a yearly review/career advancement standpoint. Not to mention, the increasingly specific and intrusive wording/nature of some of these feels very … targeted. Like they’re trying to home in on potentially undesirable trends among groups of employees, if not the individual employees themselves.

Adding to my discomfort, I recently received a reply on the portal (management can respond to the survey answers, even if they don’t know who they’re responding to) from my department director. In the reply, she let slip, “I’d be happy to discuss this with you. Message me on Monday before you take off for the weekend,” showing that she knows exactly what my odd third shift schedule is (I work overnight wraparound from Thursday to Monday) even though the surveys are very explicitly supposed to be anonymous.

I’m now terrified that not only is the company “data mining” its employees looking for pockets of disgruntled would-be unionizers, but that every potentially negative thing I’ve answered “agree” to and my comments have not in fact been anonymous. While I’ve never left unprofessional comments or said anything remotely bad about the sincerely lovely people I work with, and I’ve tried to skip survey “questions” I’ve found particularly intrusive, I’m worried that my responses will be held against me (and my department, if it turns out we complain too much as a group). I’m starting to regret participating in good faith.

Can the company legally lie to me about my supposed anonymity on these surveys? Should I be concerned, or am I just being paranoid?

You’re not being paranoid. Companies’ “anonymous” surveys are notoriously not anonymous, either because management has the ability to poke into who said what in the back end or because it’s easy enough to figure it from context if the team is small. Your answers might be confidential, but I’d never trust that they’re anonymous.

You’d need a lawyer to speak to the legality of saying something’s anonymous when it isn’t, but it’s incredibly common. And off the top of my head, I can’t think of a law it violates. It’s possible that someone somewhere could build a case around it, but in practical terms the legal angle isn’t likely to be useful to you as an individual person dealing with this.

But yes, you should be concerned.

Your director’s reply about your schedule makes it clear she knows who you are. And more importantly, some of these questions are weird, particularly the unionizing one.

In theory, it’s possible that these questions are being used as routine engagement checks, nothing else. Your company genuinely might be using the responses to identify areas where they need to do a better job. Even the union question could be less sinister than it seems; the conventional wisdom is that happy, well-treated employees don’t form unions, and so they might just want to take the staff’s temperature there.

But it’s naive for an employer to think they can put out a question like “If I were provided the opportunity to join a union, I would consider it” without seeming seriously Big Brother-ish, regardless of how they plan to use the replies.

And against that backdrop, some of the other questions start looking awfully intrusive too.

Combine that with your director making it clear she knows who you are and … yeah.

Personally, I’d consider doing some combination of the following:

1. Let your coworkers know about the reply you received and that the surveys aren’t anonymous.

2. Tell your manager directly that you’ve been taken aback by some of these questions, ask about the reasons for them, and share your concerns about the lack of anonymity.

3. Share those same concerns in a response to the next survey.

4. Take your director up on that offer to meet and ask her this same stuff point-blank.

5. Tell your manager you’re no longer comfortable participating in the surveys because they don’t appear to be truly anonymous, and ask how you can ensure that decision doesn’t affect your opportunities there.

6. If you find that other colleagues share your concerns, consider pushing back as a group — (a) to get more context about why these specific questions are being asked and how the answers will be used, (b) to say the questions are too intrusive, particularly if they’re accompanied by penalties for not participating, and/or (c) to push for more transparency about the lack of real anonymity involved.

{ 337 comments… read them below }

  1. Mental Lentil*

    The word “anonymous” has no meaning in contexts like these. Computers aren’t magic; it’s all to easy to trace those packets of data around their intranet. If nothing else, they can tell from the timestamp on the survey and put two and two together (as apparently happened here).

    This is disgusting. LW should be very concerned. The fact that they are supposed to be anonymous and then a manager lets slip that they know who it is is disquieting, to say the least.

    (FWIW, my answer to all four of those questions is an unequivocal “yes”.)

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      I’ve worked in market research, so I’ve helped put together surveys like this. My experience: there is always someone who can trace names. They may not have permission to do so, but people do plenty of things that they are not supposed to do–especially when they think there may be a union organizing.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        And those questions? Geez, how obvious can you be? This is a company desperately worried about unhappy employees. And with surveys like this, I expect they know many employees are unhappy. Maybe they should spend their time fixing that…

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Oh, this just happened at my work. Now, I’m usually careful about what surveys and what I say to which surveys, but this was a giant “employee happiness” thing sent to everybody, not run by my office, not a 360 review (which thanks to AAM I know is not anonymous if they don’t want it to be), so I …. said things honestly.

          And then in a staff meeting the boss was giving the overall statistics from the survey–such as “A lot of people don’t think anything is actually going to come from the results of this survey”–and people straight up laughed in the meeting. Which, same old same old. BUT then he said they were going to get all the comments that WE specifically said. “If your team has four or less people, your manager won’t see it.” Guess what, my team has just enough people and it’ll probably be obvious which was me saying “I don’t fit this job” and whatever else I said last year. He plans on sharing all the comments with us in a further meeting.

          THIS IS NOT OKAY. And there’s another survey of the same thing in a few months. I an going to put nothing but “rave reviews” and in the comments, say that I’m not going to say anything since the comments will be shared with management/everyone. If I’d felt comfortable sharing my thoughts with management, I would have already, correct? And let’s face it, they already know stuff like “our technology is terrible and we have certain policies that are horrible but we can’t get people above us to change them.”

          1. NotLoquacious*

            The problem with giving rave reviews is that if you ever leave on bad terms and decide to sue the company, they can and will produce those rave reviews showing that you weren’t unhappy with your treatment while you worked there.

            1. Amaranth*

              I would think the part that states ‘I’m only giving this rating due to consequences’ might balance that out, however.

            2. My Brain Is Exploding*

              They’re supposed to be anonymous, so of they did that it would show they are liars!

            3. Cara Zeidman*

              Our management hounds us if we do not submit ‘anonymous surveys’
              So – Our surveys have an option of ‘N/A’
              My every response is ‘N/A’
              It satisfies the requirement and I don’t spend more than 10 secs thinking about these questions.

              1. restingbutchface*

                One thing to note about N/A, if it’s an option in a range, so 1. Definitely 2. Possible 3. Don’t know, N/A 4. Probably not and 5. Nope – there are bad data analysts who will translate that into a neutral response as opposed to no response, so a lot of N/As will show up as “my employees don’t feel strongly about X”.

                There should be no mandatory questions – that’s how you find the real N/As.

          2. TardyTardis*

            I never told the truth on those surveys. We openly discussed them (people at my level only) and one or two people said they told the truth, but the rest of us just laughed. At will employment is a thing, and I really needed those benefits at the time.

        2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          But that would require them to take a hard, unsparing look at themselves and how they treat their employees! It’s ever so much easier to send out intrusive questionnaires, lie about how anonymous the respondents will be and then use the information they glean to put subordinates on the spot and make them feel threatened.

          Gee…why ever might that company have a problem with employee morale??!

      2. Butterfly Counter*

        I’ve done survey research as well. The only way to have truly anonymous data is if you don’t have the identifying information of the pool of people who are responding. In this case, it’s impossible because they already know so much about their employees.

      3. NYWeasel*

        Who needs to even trace names? Most of the time I can connect at least half the anonymous comments to my reports or coworkers just by the things that are being called out specifically or by the nuances of their writing styles. If Fergus has been mad about the changes to the parking policy or Lucinda favors using slightly verbose descriptions, it’s not hard to connect the “anonymous” comments about the “financial impact” of the parking rate increases or the “increasingly lackadaisical and unfocused approaches to problems” from the llama grooming team to either of them.

        1. TeapotNinja*

          I’ve altered my writing style for this specific reason on occasion trying to remain truly anonymous. I don’t think I’m particularly good at it, however. I wish there was a version of clipping letters from the newspapers for writing online.

          1. Redd*

            I used to have a gig on Fiverr where I’d just rephrase peoples’ responses to anonymous surveys, rewrite anonymous letters, etc.

        2. no phone calls, please*

          YUP! My seven bosses used to anonymize their individual feedback, but put their names on it when it was obvious that I knew exactly who wrote what based on language and content leanings. *facepalm*

    2. Dutch*

      Not to mention that managers being able to see their reports’ survey participation gives them another tool to identify people.

      Say a manager only has two reports, gets feedback from above that his team ain’t happy, and when they check only one of those reports filled out the survey…

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I thought that too. To make it more fair the managers shouldn’t be able to see anything, how many of their reports took the survey or the information. And taking the survey should not mean that you get better promotions or whatever the points go towards

    3. All the words*

      And my official response on the survey is “Neither agree nor disagree”, to this, and every single question. I advise anyone to distrust the anonymity and confidentiality of these surveys. The surveys we receive sound very similar to the one the LW spoke about, except we’re not given space to write actual comments. Without context the answers are meaningless.

      I fill these out with non answers because they send many nagging emails if one doesn’t participate.

      1. no phone calls, please*

        I do this with a key vendor who badgers the bananas out of us until we complete the annual satisfaction survey (but if you answer honestly you’re rewarded with a lengthy “dialogue visit”)!

    4. Public Sector Manager*

      The former agency head at my office did this all the time–say a survey was confidential and then let it slip that every survey wasn’t confidential. At first I was really taken aback. Then I remembered I have civil service protections, and I just started being brutally honest in every survey.

    5. Statisticianian*

      Re the legality – anonymized almost always means ‘we have taken steps to make it hard to identify people’, not ‘we have made it impossible to identify people’, because that is really very hard indeed. If all 10 people in your department say they want to unionise, including you, management know you personally have said you want to unionise. If 9 out of the 10 do, the 10th knows what the other 9 have said. The average salary of female teachers with one kid may not tell me much the salary of a given teacher, but the average salary of female mining engineers with 7 kids probably tells me somebody’s exact salary.

      1. Not a cat*

        I worked for a company that conducted two-yearly surveys like this. They also claimed the responses were decoupled from the content sent to the manager. When our manager discussed the survey with our 15 person team he knew exactly who wrote what. He even called them out by name. “Chris, you commented that I did (thing) when actually you got it wrong….” After this meeting, the group agreed to decline participation.

    6. JM60*

      There are so many high and low tech ways that they can determine who likely filled the survey. Whenever I respond to a survey by my employer, I:
      – Use my own computer
      – Copy the link to the survey
      – Go within a VM (so there will be different user agent info for them to correlate vs the host)
      – Turn my VPN within the VM to a different IP than I usually use
      – Paste the link into a browser
      – Ensure the link itself likely doesn’t have any information to identify me (if it looks like the URL might be unique to me, I’ll assume it’s not anonymous).
      – Don’t enter anything in the survey that could be used to identify myself. This can include any individual answer that identifies myself, or a combination of answers that can be used to narrow down who I likely am.

      Even then, I’ll likely steer clear or saying anything that would likely cause me serious trouble if they know that I was the one who wrote it.

      Also, using private browsing for the survey might be of some value, since it would prevent them from using tracking cookies across sites with your non-private session. Though I’m not sure how likely they are to use tracking cookies to de-anonymize surveys.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        Good point about individualized links. They’re used far more often than people realize.

      2. DavidPL*

        Your immediate manager, unless they are brain dead, knows whose answers are whose without any identifying tracking. Either answer honestly, and let management do what they will, or put neutral answers. Probably the only thing that will happen is management will come up with some weak plan to try to convince employees how great they have it. Which will be mildly annoying.

        1. JM60*

          Your immediate manager, unless they are brain dead, knows whose answers are whose without any identifying tracking.

          I think that depends on the details of the answer(s) and how widely the survey is distributed. If the questions make it easy to narrow down, you volunteer info that makes it easier to narrow down, and it isn’t widely circulated, and your manager has access to the results, there’s a high likelihood they’ll be able to successfully guess which survey is yours. If the survey is distributed to everyone at an employer with 100+ employees, the questions aren’t specific enough to narrow down which team you’re on, and you don’t volunteer too many specifics, and you use the other safeguards I listed above, you might actually be able to answer without them being able to figure out who you are.

          My employer (~350 employees worldwide, ~130 at our HQ) recently send out a survey about our thoughts of returning to an office. It had 8 multiple-choice questions and one “any another thoughts?” type question with a text box. 2 questions were about which office we’d return to if we did go to an office, which my answers would narrow me down to ~120 people. The other 6 were about our opinions of working in an office short term (e.g., how much we care about vaccination rates before returning) and long term (e.g., would we want mostly WFH, mostly office, or a hybrid), and how comfortable we feel about voicing our safety concerns with our manager. I know my manager knows that I lean toward preferring WFH generally, plus I take COVID safety seriously.

          I judged that enough of my ~130 coworkers in my area would have similar positions that it would be very difficult for them to determine who I was (provided I took the above steps). So I volunteered my opinion in the “any another thoughts?” section that I think that if we return to an office they should ban all unvaccinated people from the office (including customers, maintenance workers, etc.). I further told them that they shouldn’t grant any exceptions to this, even for religious accommodations (and I gave them reasons why this was legal and ethical). Since I hadn’t voiced these opinions, or many opinions adjacent to them, I judged that they likely wouldn’t be able to guess it was me.

          That being said, I take a lot of precautions to make sure they can’t tell that it’s me, and it’s easy to accidentally miss something that will de-anonymize it. So for most people, it may make sense to assume your manager will get the survey results and know which survey was you.

    7. Rav*

      I’ve done several surveys/votes, some that requires anonymity. It’s possible to do so, but most developers would do the easy way, where anonymity is a pinky swear.

    8. allathian*

      Yeah, this sounds skeevy to say the least.

      My organization does annual surveys, but they don’t ask illegal questions. The surveys are done by an external provider and nobody in my organization has access to the raw survey data. They do ask a few background questions to give some feedback to managers, but if a manager has fewer than 6 reports, they don’t get the answers of their reports, only those of the organization as a whole.

      There are also some open questions, but the answers to those are collated and standardized so that no report’s individual writing style will identify them.

      I’m pretty confident that I can give honest answers to these surveys. In general, I’m pretty happy at my job and with my organization, and I think that the surveys are a part of that, they’re taken seriously by our leadership who want to deal with any issues in a constructive manner and not sweep them under the rug. The surveys have helped to identify a few issues in the past, and those issues have been largely fixed. This includes a former manager who got out of management because she was so dismayed by the relatively poor scores she got in one survey that she took a month’s sick leave. To her credit, though, she never attempted to “punish” her reports for being honest. At the time she was really overworked, and reacted strongly to poorish scores in questions like “I get the support I need from my manager” and her score was “disagree” on a scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”.

      1. restingbutchface*

        I’m one of those people! Well, not specifically, but… you know. And yes, you’re right, you are more protected by an external company that has a data privacy statement available. It’s a good sign if you can contact them directly with any queries to.

        The aggregated feedback is a really good sign too, although I hope “I get the support I need from my manager” had a free text field because what are the actionable steps from a low or high score?

  2. The Prettiest Curse*

    Aside from the anonymity issue, weekly surveys sound like a big time-waster.
    And the way the questions are changing over time seems a bit suspicious. I think it’s just safest to assume that nothing you put on these surveys is anonymous, even if the results are confidential.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Weekly is pointless. It’s the same level of ‘why on earth’ as making people put their emotion stickers on a board each day.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        This was my exact thought.

        My company does a yearly one. Alternating years on if it’s more in depth or not. It does have a lot of these types of questions though (not the union one) but the leaving for a better salary and stuff was on it for sure.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          Yeah I have a super generic yearly one that tends to focus on things like diversity and overall satisfaction of the job. Never been asked about unionizing.

        2. AnalystintheUK*

          I was going to comment that apart from the union one, these seem like the kinds of questions I’ve been asked on staff satisfaction surveys for years, across several different companies, so I’m glad I’m not the only one! I completely agree that weekly surveys seem utterly useless though – supposedly the point of these is for senior management to take the feedback, act on it and then see if it worked with the next year’s survey. Weekly seems way too frequent for anyone to have the time to get any value from this

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        Exactly – and also, even though completing the surveys that the OP’s company runs is incentivised, you have to wonder how much the sheer volume of surveys affects partipation over time. Which is yet another reason that the responses aren’t truly anonymous.

    2. Double A*

      Yeah, the more often the company sends these, the smaller the response will be, making it even easier to guess who’s responding… And is someone really doing anything productive with this information on a weekly basis? If the purpose of the survey isn’t crystal clear to the participants, that’s another problem.

      We have a big annual engagement survey. They really push it, but they also explain how they anonymize the results (basically it’s run by an outside vendor who then shares the results with leadership; no one in our organization sees individual surveys). Leadership then shares the results with the whole organization and discusses what actions they’ll take as a result.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Then they’ll sack employees for wasting too much time on their surveys when there’s real work to do that’ll bring in enough revenue to pay salaries!

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Exactly. Weekly? That’s ridiculous.

      And it sure seems like the survey system is building a behavioral profile of the employees.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        I think once, at the end of last job when things were merrily skipping to Hell in a jaunty little handbasket, we got a survey with a blank space we could type into.

        I maybe typed “Doing surveys on my break is a waste of time, can we get some working equipment? That would make me more productive.”

    4. LQ*

      Yeah that was the first thing that shocked me. Who has time for this every week. This management sucks because they are spending any time on this every week. They could be talking to people directly every week and actually making things better but instead they get dashboards (I’m SURE the company has dashboards for this because they are The Thing To Do) where they monitor “corporate wellbeing” or some likely nonsense. I think those dashboards are most likely the reason for the questions changing over time. Likely someone is trying to do some completely meaningless work to justify their department’s existence with something like this.

      While I suspect a lot of folks on here are going to assume this is malicious, I actually think it’s not intentionally so. It’s someone who wants a “great corporate culture” and is doing this to try to continually improve the morale of employees. And they are doing all of this stuff and then being like LOOK! No one wants to join a union because we are so great!

      This reeks of toxic positivity, “corporate wellbeing”, and other bs about making your workplace a great one.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        I think you’re spot on about someone needing to justify their department’s existence. Maybe HR are way overstaffed and just need something to do? Or maybe some big cheese went all in on the idea of continuous improvement, which is just not feasible after a certain point.

      2. Amaranth*

        It sounds like they are hunting for troublemakers or throwing money at consultants to make themselves feel/look better, because weekly surveys on scattershot topics gives no time to actually craft an improvement plan.

      3. DJ Abbott*

        IMHO the question about joining a union indicates they’re looking for “troublemakers”.
        I would not trust any of them as far as I could throw them. If they ever get it together to do a meaningful analysis of the data, it’s not going to be pretty.

    5. Krabby*

      Also, if the questions are changing that much over time, it reduces a lot of their usefulness from a data perspective. How do you compare that you’re actually improving from month to month or year to year? That tells me that the purpose is probably not measuring employee engagement so much as (as others have suggested) trying to pinpoint and weed out employees with undesirable viewpoints.

      This whole thing is nuts.

      1. Super Duper*


        Weekly is a huge waste of time, and too much to ask of employees even if the questions were normal. The accusatory/witch hunt feel of the questions is just awful. I hope LW can opt out!

      2. Bostonian*


        Week 1: I don’t get enough regular feedback from my manager.
        Week 2: still don’t get enough feedback because it takes more than a week to assess any changes.

    6. yala*

      If I’m taking a weekly survey, I at least want it to tell me what Star Wars character I am or what Game of Thrones house I’d serve

    7. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      We have these, and the default questions sound similar enough that it might even be the same system. Ours are fortnightly, but they rotate through a set of questions so you only get about five of them at a time, and might not get the same question again for a couple of months.

      While there are a bunch of default questions, your company can also add its own if there is something in particular they want to know about, like how well received a new process is or which incentives staff would prefer.

      Work surveys are pretty much never truly anonymous, and certainly not the ones that are managed internally. Ours consolidate the responses by department, but when you only have three (or one) people in the team then it’s not too difficult to work out who said what.

      I tend to be pretty honest on the surveys, but I would likely have similar responses if I were asked the questions directly. If that’s not something that’s safe for you to do at your work, then I probably wouldn’t put that response to the survey.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Yup. I consider it a core tenet of working with data – any anonymization process can be reversed, if someone has the resources, time, and will to do so.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      We were compelled to do one at a toxic job. The company was so small it couldn’t be anonymous even though the survey came from the larger company that owned it. So I gave polite and good feedback in the official survey and then copied the template and wrote what I really thought, offline where no one could see it, as a catharsis.

      1. Sparrow*

        I have also done a second, honest survey response just for myself! Sometimes it’s nice to get all that out. For my actual responses, my general rule of thumb is to only write things I would say directly to my boss/grandboss’ face, both in terms of content and specific wording. And I refuse to blatantly lie, so sometimes I’ve ended up skipping a lot of questions, ha.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          At my last job I was very uncomfortable with the surveys because I was uncomfortable lying and afraid to be honest. I talk to my boss and he said he couldn’t guarantee I’d be protected. So I just stopped doing them.

    3. ParanoidMillennial*

      It sounds like the reason OP assumes the director knows who she is as because of the directors comment “Message me on Monday before you take off for the weekend,”. OP said she has an odd third shift schedule, where she works overnight wraparound from Thursday to Monday.

      Presumably OP is one of very few people whose weekend begins on Monday, and thus it would be a strange thing to say if you didn’t know to whom you were speaking.

      1. Birdie*

        I personally wouldn’t be shocked if they took the names off (and thus consider it anonymous) but left time stamps or something like that, which in this case could be an obvious clue about who submitted it. I could definitely see that kind of thing being done intentionally or by someone who just didn’t think it all the way through.

    4. Pippa K*

      As a political scientist, I hate hate hate the way bullshit marketing surveys, candidate push polls, and internal company questionnaires like this undermine confidence in real, properly-conducted surveys. There are surveys that really are anonymous! And surveys that are confidential (in that de-anonymised data can be accessible, in limited circs, to a only a very few properly-vetted researchers). But people monkey about with survey tools so often that “nothing is ever anonymous” is a safe assumption for any survey your employer gives you. Including mine, a university that deploys some of the crappiest surveys I’ve ever seen.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I guess I’m fortunate in that my employer really values these surveys, and they’ve shown in the past that they can be trusted not to punish people who give the “wrong answers”. They value honest feedback and have acted in the past to fix issues that they’ve been made aware of through the surveys. It helps that the surveys are conducted by a reputable external provider and that nobody at my organization has access to identifiable responses unless they install a keystroke logger on every work computer, which would be illegal here. Open answers are collated into categories to ensure that a response doesn’t de-anonymize anyone by mistake.

      2. restingbutchface*

        I love you for this comment. I’m not pol sci but a similar field and the lack of trust in this comment section is so accurate (and valid) is why I have to work so hard to get rich data from interviews and surveys.

        And then clients wonder why they get a 10% response rate and a 50% completion rate. Tip, it’s not because users are so happy they don’t want to stop working to do their survey. They. Don’t. Trust. You.

  3. Zephy*

    Nothing you do on a work computer is anonymous, especially if you’re logged in to your user account. Everything about this is sus as hell and I hope LW is able to gather her coworkers and let management know this isn’t OK.

  4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I know the legal stuff is different in the UK where I am, but I’ve declined to participate in a few ‘anonymous’ surveys in the past after seeing that particular company take action against any department answering a few questions ‘negatively’.

    Like when after e.g. on site engineering had a high number of ‘I’m in/joining a union’ they sent a whole load of targeted emails about how they should trust the company more, and unions aren’t as powerful as being loyal to your firm etc.

    I don’t work there anymore, but from what I hear they’re still asking a lot of very personal questions in the surveys and now they’re punishing departments that don’t have a ‘good engagement rate’ (number of responses versus number of staff). Absolutely bat guano.

    Also, I’m on the pretty paranoid side of nature and while I understand and maintain data systems I don’t trust them to remain truly ‘anonymous’.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I think my lack of trust for things to be truly “anonymous” lie in the fact that generally, the person swearing up and down that everything is anonymous knows less than the square root of eff-all about anything to do with computers/networks/IT security related things. Its not exactly reassuring.

      My last job, I just didn’t do any of the “anonymous” surveys. I figured if I’m the only particular subspecialty in an offsite office, it’ll be easy to tie something about the IP or other traceable information from that office to the only person in the office who could provide answers about that subspecialty. (I can’t remember exactly what I was told about how things were anonymized was “pretty sure that’s not how this works. At all.”)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Far easier to just get the MAC address if you’re using dynamic IP addressing at work – not that I’ve ever had to do that to track down a specific machine or anything…ahem.

        I’ve noticed – only my experience though – that there are two types of people who do not trust computer systems to be confidential: those who don’t know a heckuva lot about them so don’t trust them, and those who know *far* too much about them to ever trust them.

        Although I will say that yeah, we in IT could see literally every email you send, everything you do on your computer if we wanted to, but generally that is too much faff to bother with.

        1. quill*

          I generally presume that IT could theoretically see how long I spend on AAM (or how long I have it OPEN while something else is actually being done) but the amount of work and data involved means they’d need a reason to check on it.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            We could, but combing server logs is really, REALLY boring. We only do it to a) track down system faults or b) when we’re asked to investigate something truly nasty by HR or management.

            Compared to some of the stuff I’ve pulled off people’s hard drives, several hours of AAM doesn’t even exist in the same universe of comparison. And generally IT staff have their own favourite time sink websites anyway (TVTropes is popular).

            1. quill*

              Yeah, I figure that you need plenty of outside incentive to care if someone is on AAM or twitter and for how long.

        2. NotRealAnonForThis*

          I fall into a third group – I know enough about them to know there is a LOT that I don’t know and also a LOT above my pay grade, and I know to stay on the good side of our IT help group :)

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Staying on th good side of IT is relatively easy – just don’t throw your PC out the window and log a call for ‘failed impact calibration’ ;)

            1. quill*

              I mean, I would have recommended screenshotting the error message, but yeah, don’t do Impact Testing…

        3. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          This is literally why I tell my privacy minded patrons they should be using the library’s computing resources more often, rather than less. Their best shot at privacy is getting their data buried with enough other people’s that it becomes too much of a hassle for anyone to be worth separating it from the group.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            I can imagine. Trawling log files on a PC that has only one user is boring enough.

            (Although I can only do stuff like banking on the Macintosh at home – I can’t trust a publicly accessed PC, or even my own home PC at times. Data security and paranoid schizophrenia can be a fun combination)

    2. DJ Abbott*

      Well, that would explain why my boss at my part-time deli job hung up the phone and asked me if I did the survey yet. I said no not yet… (I wasn’t planning to.) she told me to get it done that day.
      I did it and answered all the questions honestly. I hope that made them happy. Since we don’t have desks, it’s set up to do on our phones. They can’t track the IP, but maybe they can track the phone number… I only plan to be there a few months, so I don’t care.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        P.S. – it would not surprise me if this company is incentivizing the response rate of each department and called my boss to say her rate is not measuring up.

  5. HailRobonia*

    We’ve had surveys like that in my organization, which is pretty small so it would be pretty easy to find out who said what. Luckily my team and I are pretty candid with each other about our issues and all face the same problems (micromanaging directors, inconsistent leadership, low pay….). When we responded to a survey a couple years ago we coordinated first to make sure we were all mentioning the same issues and pretty much said the same thing (but not the exact language). So they new we all had the same issues but they couldn’t focus on any of us as “the bad apple” (one person on our team in particular gets flagged as being “difficult” when she raises legitimate concerns, and when I say the same thing it’s taken as good feedback).

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Very smart! Dare I ask on the ah, gender balance on who’s “bad apple” vs “good feedback?”

      In my experience, sometimes someone’s reputation is so bad (or they’re a woman, or whatever it is) that they socially can’t be the one to point out that there’s a problem, because it won’t go well for her and/or be listened to. That message has to come from the “right” socially acceptable person. (Man, I miss my old guy boss….he was excellent on being the “right” person to say stuff, since I am not.) I tried to point out that we have severe problems with a certain population in my job–which everyone knows, mind you, it’s excruciatingly obvious and I spent four times the work on them than I do on everyone else–and they found me very offensive for saying so.

      Oh, and yesterday I got asked to give an opinion on something and I did not want to but felt very forced to. And unfortunately my opinion was “I think it’s too late to ask that particular question on that survey since we asked for that information months ago, I’m not sure why you are wanting to ask for it now again? Like, that literally comes after our deadline for new information on the topic.” I didn’t get a response that day but I am about 90% certain they’ll ignore me pointing that out and ask the question anyway. Sigh.

  6. dealing with dragons*

    I had this issue in college. I’m cis female and majored in computer science so the “anonymous” surveys at the end of classes were at best a toss up between me and another girl if I was lucky.

    1. Save the Hellbender*

      (Off topic, but I loved the dealing with dragons books – is that the inspo for your username?)

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Oh the joys of being the only woman in IT and knowing full well that any response I gave could easily be tracked back to me.

      1. SarahKay*

        Yes, I’m one of one women on my team of ten – and one of five in a site of 100 people. I’m also the only person on my site in my job function, so if people can get at the data then they would know it’s me.

        That said, my company uses a third party to do the surveys, and we’re told it doesn’t provide breakdown by gender/age/etc or answers where there are fewer than five people in a department or function. I’m inclined to believe this since we’re a huge company so I can’t imagine the survey company would be willing to provide individual breakdowns for all the managers that might want to circumvent policy and request details.

        Also I trust my manager who has consistently shown himself to be honest and ethical, so I usually answer pretty honestly. In a different company, or maybe even with a different manager, that could be a very, very different decision though.

      2. quill*

        Demographics: the great de-anonymizer for any survey.

        (My high school was a fan, for a few years, of “anonymous” paper surveys about things like “have you ever used A Drug?” but anyone flipping through the results of a 20 person homeroom could easily pick out, say, the only black male sophomore in room 135… So we systematically destroyed them by entering extreme junk in all fields, which eventually got rid of the surveys. My favorite was taking the survey as various fictional characters, but I know someone who just filled every blank with swear words, and another who wrote “I will not take this survey” across the top and turned it in.)

    3. Kimmy Schmidt*

      At my university, student course evaluations ask about gender and I hate it for exactly this reason.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. At least now it’s possible to refuse to answer the question with a “no answer” reply at my org…

    4. BRR*

      It sort of reminds me at my last employer when there was an “anonymous” survey that started by asking what department you were in with a multiple choice answer. No department was larger than 12 or so people.

      1. Mrs. Hawiggins*

        I had one that popped up with my department already pre-populated. I gave the non answers “neither agree/disagree” and in the notes section flat out wrote, “If I answer any other way you’re going to know who I am, I will decline any further surveys in the future.” Come to think of it we haven’t had many since.

    5. A Library Person*

      Yep, I waver about a similar issue on surveys (my employer does try to anonymize the raw data and has a person trained in this type of statistics to do it). If I answer that I am nonbinary, I am being truthful but my answers will be lost because my workplace has historically had too few people in that category to split out those responses as a group. But if I answer [gender assigned at birth], it loses the fact that my experiences here *are* different because of my gender identity.

    6. Well...*

      There are ways to remove demographic information when they create a small enough category to remove anonymity. Responsible survey makers can do this, but I wouldn’t trust most companies to be this careful.

      If the survey is published anywhere vaguely academic, they have to abide by some standards for having human subjects. That protects the information a little bit more, because being able to ID subjects caused more hoops to jump through to pass the ethics check.

  7. Bee Eye Ill*

    IT guy here. I can promise you that stuff is never truly anonymous if your boss wants to find out more.

    1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      I’ve received the results on a work survey and if responders leave comments, it’s not hard to figure out individual commenters based on their writing style.

      1. Bee Eye Ill*

        It’s not just that – if they use a web-based form like most do, it’s pretty easy to track who accessed what.

    2. allathian*

      Technically it certainly would be, and I’m not sure I’d trust an internal survey to retain anonymity. But I’m in the EU, and my country’s privacy laws are even stricter than the GDPR. Even corporate email is considered private and breaking that confidentiality is very difficult, it pretty much requires a subpoena, and even with that, IT’s only allowed to look at the message headers until they find something suspicious. That’s why business is conducted pretty much exclusively through role-based email accounts and ticketing systems, which don’t have the same kind of privacy restrictions.

      I trust my employer enough to be pretty honest in my replies for a few reasons. The surveys are conducted by an external provider and nobody at my organization has access to de-anonymized data. The survey is done on the survey company’s systems and on their website, through an encrypted pipeline. Employers aren’t allowed to install key logging software here. So I trust that it’s as anonymous and confidential as they can make it, in a technical sense.

      That said, our organizational culture is even more important. I checked with HR once, and the rep stated pretty unequivocally that if a manager tried to circumvent the anonymization process, the company would inform HR, and HR would inform the manager’s manager. My organization values 360 degree feedback, and a manager who couldn’t handle critical anonymous feedback from their reports would get a talking-to from their manager. Some managers have even transferred out of management because their scores were bad enough, sometimes voluntarily. Managers with fewer than 6 reports don’t get individualized scores, only the general ones for the organization as a whole. Open answers are largely categorized to avoid identifying respondents by their writing style. A breakdown by gender/age/position isn’t provided for individual managers or departments, only the organization as a whole.

  8. Snark*

    Is there a possibility that the manager did not, in fact, know who the OP was and was just replying “get in touch with me” because she couldn’t get in touch with OP?

    1. Zephy*

      It sounds like OP has an unusual schedule, possibly the only one on her team that works those hours (Thursday to Monday, her “weekend” is Tuesday-Wednesday), and the manager replying through the portal said to touch base “on Monday before you head out for the weekend” – so maybe what the manager sees doesn’t explicitly have OP’s name or other PII attached to it, but the manager must have been pretty damn confident in her guess about who she was replying to, seeing as she specifically referenced OP’s weird schedule.

    2. Snailing*

      The manager mentioned getting in touch “Monday before your weekend.”

      Though OP isn’t clear if she’s the only one on the team with that odd schedule, the manager either knows exactly who OP is or is making an educated guess between whoever else may have that schedule. But either way, the manager is trying to incentivize OP (or whoever manager thinks gave the answer) to de-anonymize themselves for the sake of hashing out whatever the answer was, which is still 100% against the spirit of an anonymous survey.

      1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

        Yes. While I’m not the only person in the entire department with my schedule, I am the only person in my particular team (about 30 people), and since we already know the responses can be traced back to those teams at the very least, there’s no way she could have been referring to anyone else, unless by mistake.

        1. Triplestep*

          I would take her up on her for to meet, get as much as you can out of the conversation, say nothing of the lack anonymity, then end by saying “I appreciate having had the chance to speak with you because I won’t be answering anymore of the surveys as they are clearly not anonymous. But thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”

  9. Didi*

    These surveys are never truly anonymous, as Alison says.

    Anonymous means “we cannot figure out who said what even if we try.” Think of a paper survey were everyone puts their responses in a box and none of the paper surveys are coded or otherwise have any info on them that could identify you – that’s anonymous.

    Rather, “confidential” means that it’s possible to figure out who said what, but that info is supposed to be kept secret. Any electronic survey, for example, has digital fingerprints on it, and someone can figure out who said what if they want to. Surveys often assign numbers instead of names to respondents to provide a veneer of anonymity, but of course there’s a list somewhere that links names and numbers. Or managers can make educated guesses about who said what based on the time/day the survey response came in, or other such info unless the responses are reported in large aggregate groups.

    Besides all this, a company that feels its needs to survey its employees this often shows serious dysfunction. Good managers know broadly how people feel about work, what work conditions are like, whether salaries are competitive, etc.

    So what’s really going on here? Is this survey scheme really about the workers or about the managers?

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Even paper survey’s are not anonymous if the manager or someone who is familiar with the survey taker’s handwriting. It could be anonymous if they had a 3rd person type up the answers to the survey. However, depending on the questions there could still be a way for the managers to figure out who answered what.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        We had ‘anonymous’ surveys in high school where we could rate classes. One teacher would notoriously go through her surveys, pounce on you because she knew your handwriting, and badger you to change her score/justify everything you’d written. Because it wasn’t fair, you see, you just didn’t understand how hard it was for her, and so basically, if you were unhappy you were wrong.

        There were several complaints about her about that.

    2. Snow globe*

      I always thought our company’s annual engagement survey was “anonymous”, but this year I noticed for the first time that it says “confidential” not “anonymous”. And, while those two things are similar they aren’t the same, and there is a reason they used that wording.

  10. HailRobonia*

    Anonymous survey result: “The list of problems at our organization goes on anon anon…”

  11. Hiring Mgr*

    Yeah if nothing else, these are never truly anonymous…if they want to find who said what they will, so usually the best thing to do in these situations (if you don’t want to make waves) is to tell them what they want to hear.

    If you really thought they’d take the feedback to heart I’d maybe advise otherwise, but from your letter we can see there;s already some shadiness…

  12. Ariadne Oliver*

    Feel free to not be truthful in your responses if non-participation is held against you. These surveys are never anonymous.

      1. code red*

        Yup. I’ve always just given completely neutral responses to these things. They’re lying through their teeth when they say it’s anonymous.

        If you give negative responses they tend to make working groups that you must “volunteer” for while still completing your regular workload. Nothing ever gets accomplished by those groups anyway and now you’ve wasted your free time on it. If you give positive responses they just tell themselves they’re doing fine and nothing needs to change.

        But holy cow, weekly surveys are incredibly excessive.

        1. Who are you??*

          At my former place of employmetn we had these every year. Two things stood out.
          1. anything that was neutral was seen as negative as it was not positive. Managers were rated on the %positive. My manager told us each year never to pick “3” as it was negative and we were to pick a side. 2 or 4.
          2. we also had this question”“If I were offered a higher salary for the same job by another company, I would consider accepting it.” Every year I answered 5, yes I would strongly consider it. He knew it was me and told me to answer “no”. I explained that since we were in a large city and I preferred small towns, if the new position was in a small town I would seriously consider it. He said that was irrelevant and i should say no.

          I hated those surveys.

          He was not a popular manager, and one year everyone rated him badly. It was coincidence as usually a few picked a high ranking just to prevent us having to “work the results”. OMG.. He cried in the meeting. We had to spend hours in meetings. Next year we rated him high and he got an award for management improvement. All we wanted to do was avoid the fallout.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Since he was telling you what to answer, I would have simply had him do the whole thing.

          2. LC*

            It sounds like you’re thinking a 1-5 scale like I was, so I’ll answer as if that’s the case.

            Ugh I hate the whole “3 is negative because it isn’t positive” mentality.

            I’d think you’d work for my former company except they told you to go 2 or 4. Mine would have just said to give 4s (or 5s because reasons :eyeroll: ).

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              I flat out refuse to fill out customer survey because of the whole “3 is negative” mentality. If they had an option for “the employee competently executed a routine commercial interaction” I would feel differently about it. The one time I had an interaction at my credit union where an employee genuinely went above and beyond, I wrote a letter to the home office. Not an email: a letter on paper, placed in an envelope and mailed with a stamp. I figured it was the only way to cut through the blather.

              1. LC*

                As someone who used to deal with those on the receiving side, thank you. At least where I was, a 3 is worse than no answer, and a 4 is only better if there are also some free text comments.

                I keep typing up whole long responses to add on to this, as I have Strong Feelings about it all, but it’s all convoluted and I don’t love dwelling on that job.

                Basically though, you’re right that 3 (or whatever middling score) is Not Good, so anyone filling those out, keep that in mind. And please please please don’t rate the person negatively when it’s about the company or the process, and not the person. That feedback probably won’t really get to anyone who can make changes on a company level, and it’ll just count against (in various ways, including possibly monetarily) a person who didn’t deserve it.

                I appreciate when places separate the two, so it’s clear if you’re rating the person or the process/company. I wish everyone did that.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        I would go with 5s, so as to be completely down the middle. But yeah, this. Ordinarily I would simply not do it, but given that there is a personal benefit to doing it, which in turn is the equivalent of there being a penalty for not doing it, I would do it while being as unresponsive as possible.

        1. LTR/FTP*

          This is my team. Solid 5s, and totally vague/innocuous comments on any open ended questions. I’d give them nothing they could use against me later.

        2. Sara without an H*

          Ditto. Score down the middle, or use the “N/A” option, if they give you one. Leave free text comments blank.

          This method has the additional advantage of being quick to execute which, since OP says they have to do these weekly (!), is definitely a consideration.

        3. LC*

          Oh, I read 1-5, missed that it was 1-10.

          Then yes, I agree. They’re getting nothing but 5s.

    1. CatCat*

      100%. I can’t see myself leading a charge to have the company get a clue. I would be selective about which questions I answer to get whatever minimum is needed to not get dinged on participation. And I would answer in a way that I think would be the least likely to cause me problems.

    2. Retro*

      This exactly! Do what you need to to protect yourself and let other coworkers know. Don’t feel guilty about an act of self preservation when there is such a power difference between you and the company.

      Would you leave this company for a job that pays better? Never in my dizziest of days!

      And in the meanwhile, look into planning your escape.

    3. lysine*

      I have never been completely truthful in an employer survey ever. Unless you KNOW you work for an understanding boss and company there’s no benefit to be had in honesty.

  13. Rayray*

    I am a firm believer that these are not at all anonymous. Pretty obvious when the manager sends out emails knowing exactly how many people have and have not taken it.

    I actually lucked out answering honestly on my last one. I indicated that I did not feel challenged at all in my position among other things. Got offered a sideways move a few weeks later and one of the first things my manager had asked me in that conversation was if I was enjoying the work or felt challenged. I answered honestly and he said he could tell. Worked out just fine for me :)

  14. Mannheim Steamroller*

    THIS is why so many employees don’t trust their managers.

    THIS is why managers often complain about not receiving feedback from subordinates.

    THIS is why such surveys often have very low (or even zero) response rates.

    1. Rayray*


      I remember being young and in my first full-time after college job and trying to bring up my concerns like this to management and let’s just say it did not go over well. In my experience, management often claim they want employees to come to them about things but they are far too insecure to take it. My current workplace is better but I’m still
      Scarred from pst experiences so I’m super careful.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        What a lot of these managers want is for an employee to come to them first so they can squash it before it goes higher. And that way they look perfect.

        1. And My Coffee's Cold Again*

          (LW here) For what it’s worth, my manager and the people I work with directly have always been wonderful, and have helped me advance and overcome a lot of challenges while working at this company. I’m more suspicious of the corporate processes/executive agendas than I am about anyone I interact with on a daily basis.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      It’s ask vs. guess culture-ish? You’re supposed to know that they are putting on a show and don’t ACTUALLY want real answers and they are ACTUALLY not going to do anything about it.

  15. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    Spouse’s company does these quarterly, and although the results he gets are genuinely anonymised, he always believes he knows who answers what in at least the free text sections. Unless your team is enormous, you’ll know their phrasing and their satisfaction levels as a minimum.

    What’s the benefit to the individual of answering candidly? Do we think toxic workplaces will actually change after feedback?

    I think LW is right to be cautious, and shouldn’t feel bad about concealing their feelings.

    1. Rayray*

      This is the other side of it, even if it isn’t the program alerting management who answered what, managers get too curious and will sit and scrutinize everything in order to figure it out.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      A coworker said it was basically so we could blow off steam and feel like we did something. Sounds about right.

    3. LC*

      I had the same experience when I was managing people.

      I already knew how people felt about a lot of things, particularly the negative ones (I don’t think I was a particularly good people manager, but my team definitely knew they could be open and honest with me). And if there was free text, I could almost always figure out who wrote it based on writing style and/or specific example they use.

      It’s not like I ever tried to figure it out, I think I actually made a fuss one year because I felt like I was at least endorsing by silence lying to my team.

      I basically just ignored them, they were almost exclusively things that I already knew or things that I had absolutely no chance of affecting (which I also probably already knew and had tried to push it up the ladder best I could).

  16. SushiRoll*

    They do these kind of in-depth surveys EVERY WEEK? That is crazy. Survey fatigue, anyone? Not to mention those horrific questions.

    But yes, they are anonymous (take with grain of salt, as I am only speaking for how my large company does it) as when the data comes back there are no names, but the admins (usually some group in HR) can see other personally identifying demographic information potentially (like age brackets, time at organization brackets, race/ethnicity/gender/job family, etc), and the lower down you get into the organization, those folks can see less and less data. And there are thresholds for managers as mentioned where if your team is under a certain size you can’t see anything. In my company we just mush teams together if it makes sense, like when they actually work together but are under different managers, and then results are given for that larger group. Buuuuttt if you answer certain ways or leave comments, or in OP case, answer at an “off time” that is unique, people can definitely figure out who you are. But it’s whether or not they put any effort into figuring out who said what (unless something like super concerning came out in a comment).

    I find it uncool that someone reached out to directly to OP to address something in the survey. To me that is a big no-no. The whole point of these surveys is supposed to look at sentiment as a company, and within departments, under managers, to find “hot spots” that can be addressed with changes (to company policy, to management – find those bad managers!!!) – NOT to suss out individual unhappy folks.

    1. LC*

      when the data comes back there are no names, but the admins (usually some group in HR) can see other personally identifying demographic information potentially (like age brackets, time at organization brackets, race/ethnicity/gender/job family, etc), and the lower down you get into the organization, those folks can see less and less data.

      This…. doesn’t sound anonymous.

      Confidential-ish, but definitely not anonymous.

  17. Alex Beamish*

    As a web guy, I can tell you that you can be tracked when you click on a link that has ‘?’ followed by a bunch of stuff (that’s a technical term) in the URL they give you. You can also be tracked if your browser has cookies that say “Yeah, this is Tom Smith’s computer/login’. You can also be tracked based on the IP address you’ve been assigned.
    The only way that a survey *might* be anonymous is if they directed you to an external URL without any ‘?’ magic at the end of the URL. In that case, I’d use an Incognito browser window .. and there might *still* be technology tracking that (everyone gets a slightly different URL, for example).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes re: the unique URLS. If they can tell who did/didn’t complete it (for the participation points), they can almost certainly tell what you said if they care to look.

      1. Blackcat*

        “Yes re: the unique URLS. If they can tell who did/didn’t complete it (for the participation points), they can almost certainly tell what you said if they care to look.”

        A way I’ve seen to get around this is to have the last page of the survey be a link *to a separate survey* where you fill out your name to get “participation points.” You can still track by time-stamp, though.

        And, for what it’s worth, with Qualtrics in particular, you can do both tracking an individual AND prevent those seeing the survey from getting the data. You could like… sit on Qualtrics all day and watch the numbers go up along with the “who has completed it” list. Qualtrics itself holds the encrypted data somewhere, but only for a short time. But Qualtrics is specifically used by a lot of human subjects research teams because it has really good anonymizing powers that allow it to be FERPA/HIPAA compliant. The ability to both have keyed URLs so no one can complete it more than once AND prevent the survey administrator from accessing that tracking data is really great. (Note: I know this sounds like an ad. It’s not meant to. I’ve used Qualtrics a lot professionally, and it really is the best tool for these types of things. To make this sound less ad-like, I will say the documentation SUCKS and learning how to use all of these fancy anonymization tools has a steep learning curve.)

        1. Afac*

          “I’ve used Qualtrics a lot professionally, and it really is the best tool for these types of things. To make this sound less ad-like, I will say the documentation SUCKS and learning how to use all of these fancy anonymization tools has a steep learning curve.”

          Having done my share of research surveys, I would ideally like to see more survey processes hold to IRB principles when it comes to designing and executing surveys. But then I remember all the hoops that have to get jumped through, including fighting with Qualtrics… and I understand why they don’t bother, even if they should.

  18. Dudley*

    Simply stop providing those open ended comments. If the survey on a one to five star scale, provide a lot of 2 to 4 star responses. You’ll get credit for taking the survey but they won’t be able to suss you out as easily.

    Doing this means that you’re not providing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in these (totally not anonymous) surveys. But so what? Take care of yourself. You do you.

  19. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

    [blockquote]“If I were offered a higher salary for the same job by another company, I would consider accepting it.”[blockquote]
    This can be used to decide who to lay off or lay off first.
    [blockquote]“If I were provided the opportunity to join a union, I would consider it.”[/blockquote]
    Not their business. Answering yes is too dangerous.
    [blockquote]“My work schedule sometimes causes conflict between myself and my family.”[/blockquote]
    Private information.
    [blockquote]“I find it difficult to balance my mental/physical health and my workload.”[/blockquote]Private information.

    That said the questions can be used to improve or turn on employees. Can you just click 5s on all of them?

    1. lysine*

      The only option here is to put the answers you know they want. Anything else and you risk being the first to get laid off.

      1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

        Honestly it feels like a trap no matter what.

        -If I don’t answer at all, I’m not participating
        -If I answer all N/As or Neither Agree nor Disagree, it’s obvious I’m either just blazing through or just avoiding answering the questions
        -If I answer all 10s or “Yes everything is great, my weird schedule never interferes with my life and I’m never dead tired at the end of my week, I’m never stressed out, I love it here always” to all of them, my apparent happiness could be used to push me into a heavier workload, since apparently I love it so much.

        For clarity’s sake, I know it’s perfectly possible for IT or HR to track me down, which would make sense if I were, I dunno, sending threats or saying bigoted/illegal stuff in the comments. But the fact upper/middle management apparently has ready access to it, even when what might qualify as “complaints” are pretty mild (the note from the department director was in response to me saying that I wish we had better failover systems in the event our phone or database experiences unscheduled downtime at 2am on a Friday night…) is the part that bothers me. I actually quite like our director and don’t mind having that discussion with her. I don’t mind that *she* knows…I mind that anyone with her level of authority over my specific position knows, even absent a workplace safety issue. If that makes sense.

        1. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

          In general answer strategically.
          I would go with a 4-5 on the higher salary bit, so they know you are not going to work for below market wages but are not looking to jump ship, low on the union one to keep them off your back and truthfully on some if it would improve things for you (nice schedule, and so forth).

  20. Dona Florinda*

    I don’t want to scare you, OP, but I was conveniently let go from my former job literally a day after I was very candid in one of those anonymous surveys. Even though the “official” reason was budget cuts, the only people that lost their jobs were the ones that were very open about their dissatisfaction with the company, and didn’t hold back in the survey. When my manager was telling me I was no longer needed because they were trying to reduce costs and so on, she let it slip a couple of things that I never told her, but that I wrote on the survey, and I know the same happened to my coworkers, so…

    1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      Extremely so. That is a very loaded Admiral Ackbar level “It’s a trap!!!” question.

    2. Generic Name*

      Right? I’d be tempted to answer, “I wasn’t interested in joining a union before, but after reading this survey question I sure want to.”

    3. J!*

      Agreed. There is absolutely no innocent reason for managers to be asking if workers are interested in a union. None.

  21. S*

    A previous workplace of mine used this exact product; I recognize the questions.

    We all stopped answering them after about a month because the same thing happened. Managers would come follow up about specific answers and not even pretend it wasn’t from the survey.

        1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

          It may be the same software under different branding. I actually can’t find any reference to it on a web search, which makes me think the name they’re using for it has been created specifically for this company to use (which is common for the company). Sorry for being vague, but it is literally one of the worlds biggest and oldest corporations; I know they hire datamining companies to trawl social media, term-searching to see what people are saying about the company, so I really don’t want to name it or any software specific to it where it could be easily found. I’ve never seen anyone let go because of a random post on a blog site, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

  22. SarahKay*

    Some of these questions just sounds absurd, too. Take the “If I were offered a higher salary for the same job by another company, I would consider accepting it.” question. There can’t be very many people who wouldn’t at least consider it.
    Personally I like my job, have a great manager, enjoy my commute, am happy with my pay and like my co-workers. But if I were offered the same job at better pay elsewhere – well, yes, I’d consider it. I’d almost definitely decline, and I’m certainly not job-searching, but I’d consider it, because why not?
    So what on earth does the company hope to learn? Unless they’re hoping for a company full of drones all brain-washed into believing that this is the best company in the world (despite not paying as well as others).

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      Maybe it’s a honesty test on the survey? IE how much faith should we put in the other answers if 90% of people said no to this.

      1. quill*

        Same logic as the “trap” questions for online job applications. It’s impossible to know if the company is filtering out people willing to lie ridiculously about standard human stuff (like not ALWAYS being perfectly happy to help a customer, needing things like time off and food and bodily maintenance) to keep the company happy, or if they’re filtering for yes-bots.

      2. lysine*

        I would be shocked if this was what they were actually looking for. A place that’s asking for weekly surveys of this nature are looking for yes-bots. Not people willing to say they’d consider a higher paying job if it fell out of the sky and into their laps.

      3. My Coffee's Cold Again*

        Yeah that question got a hard skip from me. At least I have the option to just not answer (literally skip it, not even have to put in an “N/A” or anything like that). But I’m sure they can see that I did that, too, so…

      4. Despachito*

        But if you cannot trust them not to suss out who you are, you’d find it dangerous to be honest, right? And moreover, if you answer “no” and they were testing you for honesty, they will possibly think you are dishonest; if you answer “yes” and they are serious, it may cost you your job. And you cannot be sure which of these two applies.

        It is so stupid and wrong from so many points of view.

        1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

          To be honest, I’m less concerned about myself–I have no serious complaints and I know to be judicious about how I word professional criticisms, especially to my employer–so much as it (a. bothers me on principal and (b. makes me worry that *my department itself* could be put on the layoff list if too many people get it into their heads that the surveys amount to open season on personal/professional beef with management/executives without consequences. We already had one quarterly meeting where the literal CEO of the worldwide organization said something along the lines of “this is not a place to vent your grievances; it’s anonymized, but it’s still a professional environment, so don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to your manager in private.” Suggesting that at least some teams or departments had been using it that way, and it wasn’t making them look good as a group. I don’t want any single person to get canned for honest critique or concerns they may bring up; I also don’t want my job to be jeopardized along with the entire department’s because a large portion of my colleagues are using the surveys as an emotional dumpster. We actually do work together very well most of the time, and it would suck if the higher-ups got the opposite impression because the surveys were full of overblown complaints about petty stuff that could easily be brought up with a manager directly and resolved!

          But regardless how my colleagues use or misuse the surveys, it just seems like a bad way to glean any useful information from employees that couldn’t be obtained by just talking to them. Either that, or it’s a truly sketchy fishing expedition using some algorithm that tries to identify “problematic” patterns in the way employees answer (or don’t answer) the questions, the consequences for which aren’t known to us.

          Either they’re doing something badly, or they’re doing something bad. I’m not thrilled with either option.

          1. Despachito*

            “Either they’re doing something badly, or they’re doing something bad.”

            This is brilliant!

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      “If I were offered a higher salary for the same job by another company, I would consider accepting it.”

      Any decent survey would only use that as a validation question—i.e., anyone who answers “no” is probably not being entirely honest (with the survey, or with themselves).

    3. ecnaseener*

      If the responses are on a scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree, they probably think they can get meaningful info out of the answers even if most people agree.

      You’re right though that it’s a poorly designed question. Some people in your camp will think “I would absolutely consider it, so I guess I strongly agree with considering it” and others will think “sure I’d consider it, but I’d probably say no so I guess I slightly disagree”

  23. Joie de Vivre*

    Definitely not anonymous, regardless of what they claim. Not work related, but years ago my city did an anonymous survey. I mentioned that my neighbor’s pool was green, probably a mosquito breeding ground, and the fence around the pool was in disrepair.

    A week or so later the city made them clean it and replace the fence.

    I was glad the issues were fixed, but the experience drove home that anonymous surveys aren’t really anonymous.

  24. Free Meerkats*

    Were I in this situation where my manager knows how much I participate and it might impact my future prospects, I’d grey rock the survey. Every answer would be “neither agree nor disagree” or its equivalent and never add any verbiage. If a particular question is only free text, maybe a brief snippet from a lorem ipsum generator.

    1. Allypopx*

      Yep and if anyone complained to me I’d slap on an appropriately bewildered “aren’t our answers anonymous?”

    2. A Person*

      If you have to take the survey every week (which is bonkers!) you can use lots of different lorem ipsum generators. There are some very fun ones out there.

  25. A Library Person*

    This is a little off the topic of the question, but if your workplace does begin a unionizing effort (and given what these questions tell me about your employer, I’m thinking that it might be worthwhile to consider it) be VERY wary about union-busting efforts on the company’s behalf.

    And honestly, what answers are they expecting to get from this survey? Of course I would consider leaving my job if another employer offered me a higher salary for the same work!

    1. SleepySheep*

      Right? An completely abstract job that’s only described as “the same as what you do now but with more money” is the sort of thing that anybody would honestly answer yes to. What is that question supposed to be sussing out.

      And this is definitely a company that I would assume would be union busting if union organizing started to happen.

    2. another_scientist*

      I wonder how many employees read this question every single week, and begin seriously wondering about the potential benefits of unionizing, even though they would have not considered it without the weekly prompt!

      1. Kevin Sours*

        I would consider unionizing around the issue of not having to fill out surveys every damn week.

    3. Decima Dewey*

      They’re expecting an answer likely to be given by a brainwashed person in “The Manichurian Candidate”:
      (Thousand yard stare): “Raymond Shaw Incorporated is the warmest, wisest most wonderful company I’ve ever worked at in my life.”

  26. Anonymous Hippo*

    I don’t actually believe in anonymous surveys, as in I literally don’t believe they exist, and I behave as such.

    Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t participate, but I assume my bosses will 100% get the info. I also don’t actually have an issue with those questions (except maybe the union one, IDK if that’s touching a legal issue, but I wouldn’t mind telling my boss the answer to that either). But I’m not one that has to worry about their job, so I tend to be more willing to put everything out there. I’m pretty sure I’ve answered all those questions, without being asked, to my bosses face lol. But I get that not everyone feels the same level of comfort with being open with their job.

    If I do get a survey that I don’t want to answer, I’d try to avoid it, but if they push the issue I either go to the harshest version of the truth, or just middle of the road it…every single answer dead in the middle.

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      This is exactly what I do. I don’t fill out surveys unless I’m explicitly required to and then I choose the most neutral, inoffensive options.

      There is no such thing as an anonymous workplace survey. It can and will be used against you.

    2. Yomiko*

      I also assume all surveys are not anonymous, and that anything I type in a text field is going to get shared far and wide and so I’d better make sure it’s written well and doesn’t actually call out anybody specifically. I might make my answers a little more bland because of that, but I’ve reached a point in my career where mostly I’ll say it anyway because I would (and have) said it to people’s faces before. There’s just less “are you effing kidding me” involved ; )

      The only way to make truly anonymous surveys is to have an incredibly large pool of subjects (which most companies couldn’t reach if they tried) and also to be incredibly careful about the design of the questions themselves. And then also to collect as little information outside of those as possible. So it would be possible for me to conduct a poll on the favorite ice cream flavors of the people who read Ask a Manager, and maintain anonymity relatively well, but only if my questions were “Do you read Ask a Manager?” and then “What is your favorite ice cream flavor.” And NOTHING ELSE.

      Multiple researchers have shown that anonymized data can be de-anonymized pretty easily solely by cross referencing the available information. The more information you gather, the easier it is to do . The less people you need to double check against, the better. So a company survey asking a wide range of questions? Not anonymous in the slightest, and it’s probably better for everybody to not act like it is.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. I’ve answered honestly in workplace surveys, but always in a way that I’d be happy to bring up to my manager in a meeting as well. I’ve never said anything in a survey that should’ve come as a surprise to my manager.

  27. Em*

    I’m 90% sure this is the same software my former company used.
    As a manager I could only see results and comments if at least 5 of my reports participated. One time we had a negative comment and my boss pressed me to find out who said it. Very awkward.
    Participation was optional but management were given targets “score of X or higher in Y category on weekly surveys” as part of our reviews so we had to encourage the team.
    Most of the time the bad scores were due to higher level company issues that we had no control over such as pay freezes so it felt dreadful being assessed on something we couldn’t control.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      If I liked my manager, I would openly ask them what answers would most benefit them, and would put those in.

    2. My Coffee's Cold Again*

      I worry about this, too. Management has not said anything on whether they’re being “graded” on participation numbers or feedback content, but I actually really like my managers and don’t want to see them be let go because they didn’t “make numbers go up” on survey engagement/scores. I just don’t really know what the information is being used for.

      I like Alison’s suggestion that I just ask the director point-blank why we’re being asked some of these questions, and what relevance could the answers possibly have to the business. If she can’t explain that, it can’t be good.

  28. Salad Daisy*

    We have the same situation at my company. Weekly “anonymous” surveys. It’s not anonymous. Just always respond that everything is rainbows and unicorns.

  29. La Triviata*

    Terrible place I worked years ago – with the worst executive director in the time I was there – decided to have staff fill out personality surveys. I suspected that they were to determine the extrovert/introvert type things (I know there’s a name for this personality categorization but I can’t remember it). They were things about whether you preferred parties or spending your time on your own and suchlike. I was offended and answered everything with N/A … and I think the whole process was sufficiently unproductive to the point that lower-level staff never heard anything more about it.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      That party question always gets me. By “party” do we mean a group of intelligent and informed persons coming together over refreshments to discuss interesting topics? Or do we me a dark room packed with people drinking cheap beer and with music blasting so that you have to shout into one another’s ear to be heard? If I am trying to be honest I end up choosing the middle answer because the question is too poorly written to allow for any other. More often I assume the survey will be used for malicious purposes and give the answer least likely to allow for this.

      1. Sara without an H*

        +1. Of course, I worked in higher ed, where it’s always safe to assume that at least some of the free-text comments on any survey will be used to critique the instrument itself.

        1. Pippa K*

          Helpfully rewriting the crap survey questions is how I console myself for having to waste time on the crap survey :-)

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes. I always wonder about that as it really depends who is at the party, whether the food is any good, what the weather is like and what the other options are.

        I hate questions about whether I prefer x or y because it really depends.

        1. LC*

          Same, those questions are always infuriating. What type of party is it? What day of the week/time of day is it? What else has been going on with me lately? Have I already done social things in the last few days? Did I get enough sleep? Where is it? Will I need to be engaging and “on” the whole time?

          I am definitely an introvert, but they always want to say that’s “quiet and non-social” which is so not the definition. I am often quiet, though once I get going it’s tough to stop, but that has nothing to do with me being an introvert. I really enjoy being social, in various situations with various types of people, but I absolutely need to recharge alone.

          I usually just go with whatever answer that’ll agree with whatever box they’re trying to put me in.

          1. UKDancer*

            I always type as (borderline) extrovert but I don’t agree with the way that’s associated with “being the life and soul of the party and always dragging your colleagues to the pub”. I am lively and outgoing when I’m with people I like and trust but I don’t want to socialise with all and sundry at work because I don’t have a lot in common with my colleagues.

            I also would tend to choose “going to the theatre with a group of friends” over both “party” or “solitude” yet somehow that’s never an option on the questionnaire.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, this. I’m a chatty introvert. Nobody would guess I’m an introvert if they saw me with my friends. I’m often the most talkative of the lot of us. But I definitely prefer small events with people I trust over big, noisy parties where I don’t know anyone or only know a few people.

    2. Zephy*

      I suspected that they were to determine the extrovert/introvert type things (I know there’s a name for this personality categorization but I can’t remember it).


      I kid. Probably the MBTI or some derivative thereof.

      (It is horsepucky, though.)

        1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

          Sadly, that’s not as far from the reality of it as one would like to think. Even as early as 7 years ago when I was job hunting, I lost count of the number of “personality tests” I had to take before even being granted the courtesy of a form e-mail accepting my application. Several times, I couldn’t even get past the quiz because I’d answer too many questions “wrong” and get a message that was something along the lines of “thank you for your interest, but based on your responses, we don’t believe you would be a good fit.” I’m an introvert who avoids unnecessary in-person conversation, but I’m quite talkative in text. Just sit me in front of a keyboard and I’m off to the races. Seems that’s not a “personality” many companies in my field find desirable, however.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Could be MBTI or could be the “Big Five” (extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness)

      2. Elizabeth West*

        We did DISC at Exjob and the instructor (someone from the training department) explicitly told us not to take the results seriously.

      3. Sara without an H*

        I was thinking Myers-Briggs. It isn’t rigorous, but a lot of employers like to play with it in the name of “team-building.”

  30. NyaChan*

    I have never trusted anonymous surveys because even when I was the one entrusted with protecting anonymity, I failed. Our boss on a team of 9 asked for feedback on work policies and I was assigned to collect the responses and deliver them so that people could speak freely. Well two people just didn’t respond and the boss insisted that it wasn’t optional. When I told those two people to respond, they opted to give their responses directly to the boss so they could apologize for not participating (and one of them wanted make clear that they had NO negative feedback). Well this screwed everyone else as it became painfully obvious who did have negative feedback. Never again. Neutral all the way.

  31. cmcinnyc*

    My company used to send out “anonymous” surveys. The last question asked you to fill in your department and your position. !!! Oh so anonymous. There are two people in my department with my title. For a long time there was just one (me). So super anonymous. Recently they sent out a survey that was explicitly not anonymous: question one was YOUR NAME, department, and title. The naive-child brigade were up in arms that there was no anonymous option. They were taken aside and reminded that there was never an anonymous option.

  32. Yomiko*

    It’s so important for anybody doing any kind of survey design to be transparent about who will have access to what parts of the data that is being collected and how that data will be used or distributed.

    I’ve started refusing to participate in surveys at my office when they don’t do that up front. They have a history of just doing a big data dump of all the results and then sending it to every employee, so people enter things in comment fields that could be personal or that they don’t want to have everybody gossiping about, and it just gets published to the whole company. To be fair, they do not have a way to attach names to any of this stuff, the survey software they use is definitely anonymous in that respect. But privacy is about much more than whether or not your name or personally identifying information is attached. It’s about knowing exactly how, why, and who will have access to the information you’re providing.

    The faster companies figure that out, the more they’ll get real and valuable feedback from their employees.

    In the case of this survey, as soon as the manager indicated that they knew exactly who was giving the feedback and said they’d like to take it “offline” and out of the context of the survey, the entire project becomes useless and should be scrapped and reconsidered.

    You can request feedback with names, or you can gather truly anonymous feedback, but this survey isn’t it, because of poor design. I’d opt out and/or think of it as more like an avenue for direct feedback to your manager. Assume they know it’s you and tailor the answers accordingly, which may or may not even be useful to you. If it’s not, then just opt out, I think.

    1. Bostonian*

      These are all really good points.

      I still remember the horror of seeing the results of an anonymous survey in my department, and it was clear from the survey comments that people did NOT know beforehand that their comments would verbatim be made available for everyone else in the department to see. Yikes on bikes.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yessss this has happened to me before! Like I might be willing to write a really candid comment to my manager because I genuinely want her to have all the information I can give her (like it’s a calculated decision to give this info to the person with the power to act on it) – doesn’t mean I want all my coworkers to see it verbatim and recognize my writing style.

    1. Yomiko*

      That was my reaction, red flag city. There is something rotten in the middle of this and I don’t know what it is, but I’d be eyeing the exits.

  33. User Friendly*

    Fortunately, for the first time in my career, I work for an employer that has one check box at the top of the survey that I truly love:

    “Employee chooses not to participate in this survey.”



  34. Bostonian*

    I don’t find the specific questions themselves particularly intrusive, especially if they actually were anonymous. As SarahKay pointed out, though, I don’t think the questions are very useful because some seem to be horoscope-level of potentially applying to everyone.

    The thing that raised my eyebrows is the director replied to a comment in a way to indicate knowing exactly who left the comment, which is SO NOT GOOD. Even if you think you know who might have said something, why would you blatantly let them know that their response wasn’t really anonymous.

  35. mlem*

    I want to think that manager answered that way in order to tip off LW that these aren’t actually anonymous. It seems like it would’ve been so much easier for the manager not to give such identifying detail.

  36. Don*

    Aside from reporting that union-busting question to the NLRB you should probably thank them for the comedy. The only reason you should ask an employee to answer “ If I were offered a higher salary for the same job by another company, I would consider accepting it.” is so you can refer them for mental health treatment if they say “no.” What kind of ridiculous question is that? I guess maybe they want to figure out how how many of their employees are willing to bald-face lie to make them feel better, but no matter how much I loved my job I would at least CONSIDER an identical position for more money elsewhere.

    1. Evan Þ*

      Eh, there’re some employers in my field where I wouldn’t accept a job offer even for a higher salary, because I know their work conditions and corporate culture are much worse than my current employer. Companies asking that question are probably fishing for “I really like my present work conditions so much I’m willing to sacrifice more money to keep them!”

  37. PT*

    My work used to do these surveys, too. We did not have anyone in IT who could do the CSI-level work to trace them back to people, our IT staff were pretty useless in general, but they would ask you to define yourself in the survey. For example: What location do you work at? What department do you work in? Are you a manager Yes/No? Are you full or part time?

    Well, we had a lot of small departments, that might only have one employee. Or they might have lots of people where a department had a full time manager, a part time manager, a full time non manager (all three of whom were now not anonymous), and then a handful of part time employees (who tended to ignore emails like surveys anyway.)

    What would happen is the people who filled out the survey, would lie about their department/managerial/time status. And the part-time employees who were in departments with huge rosters of part timers would realize they had total anonymity and let ‘er rip.

    I actually got one once, it came during my last week of work and was through Surveymonkey, so I filled it out after I’d left. Completely honestly. Mwahahaha.

  38. NeutralJanet*

    IANAL, but it seems like even if there’s no legal issue with “anonymous” surveys being identifiable, some of the questions being asked might open the door to illegal actions on the company’s part. I know that labor laws protect certain union-related activity, but I’m not super clear on what is and isn’t protected–can anyone weigh in on whether there would be any legal ramifications if workers who said they might consider unionizing were retaliated against?

  39. anonymouse*

    So their way of addressing the fact that they want qualitative results from a quantitative survey is to tweak the survey to some needle-like precision:
    Week 1: Does management support you?
    Week 2: Do you feel a union would help with management issues?

    Week 26: Do you think specific union would provide specific benefits to you?.
    Week 27: Do you think union would have sent flowers when your mom died last week? Do YOU???

    1. A Library Person*

      This particular survey would be a great way to get their employees to realize all of the ways that unionizing would be good for them. :-)

  40. Exhausted Trope*

    I am in 100% agreement with Alison on this. Don’t believe for one second that any survey you complete for work is anonymous. Your responses can and likely will be held against you, unfortunately.
    I’m speaking from experience.

  41. Kwebbel*

    So, if I’m reading this right, you’ll be penalized in some way if you don’t participate in this survey. But it does look to me like your answers are indeed being tracked back to you.

    I’d just always give bland answers from now on. I’d always give an “agree” to the positive questions, and a “disagree” to the more negative ones. From my perspective, they’ve lost the right to receive honest feedback from you. But it seems so weird that they’re tracking your responses and penalizing a non-response, to the point where I’d fear even asking how my answers are used because I wouldn’t put it past them to hold it against them that I even dared to ask a question.

    Weird situation, that’s for sure. And I’m sorry, it just all sounds so violating.

  42. NVHEng*

    My (very large, very global) company does a similar survey to understand employee “engagement”. It was an annual survey of 80 questions, and now it is quarterly but only 12-15 questions that change each quarter. HR claims that they are getting data points 2x per year on specific topics (Q1 & Q3 – leadership scores etc, Q2 & Q4 – general engagement).

    LW – I think Alison’s advice is spot on, and agree with others that you should be cautious. Our HR team is very strict about not giving the managers any ability to KNOW who wrote a specific comment. Even with that I realized quickly that I usually have a very good idea who has written what in the comments section, because I have worked with most of my team for decades and know them team very well. As a manager I will look at my overall scores before I read the comments, and if they are negative I will ask my manager or mentor to review and re-write any overly-specific comments so that I don’t unconsciously bias myself by even *thinking* I know who gave feedback that might be hard to take. I realize I’m probably on one end of a spectrum of people, since I know other managers in my business unit who would be happy to assume they know who wrote the negative comment, who is unhappy, who is looking to unionize… and to act on that information.

  43. Lore*

    I temped at Radio City in the marketing department a million years ago. They had a customer survey they wanted to hand out to attendees of the Christmas Spectacular and I was the one inputting edits to the form. In previous years they’d given out pencils or candy canes to people who filled out the survey; this year they wanted to offer coupons for next year’s show. Except they didn’t have the coupons ready, so they wanted to get an email or mailing address to send them later. Which was all great except for the header to the survey they said in big letters it was anonymous. I’m the temp, remember, so I politely say, hey, maybe you want to change that if you’re adding this field with contact info? I got a room full of blank stares. I tried for a good ten minutes to explain why this was a problem and eventually gave up. (Their logic: well, people will just not put their info if they want to be anonymous…)

  44. RussianInTeaxs*

    I mean, you lie. Obviously.
    At my old job, we had annual surveys like this. Aggregated, anonymous, managers with fewer than 5 employees don’t get the stats for their departments.
    We answer honestly, we get never ending meetings about improving morale (without anything actually changing).
    We answered to what the company wants to hear, we get meetings about “you should not lie”.
    And once we had a meeting because “women scored low on the engagement, you ladies go have a meeting to figure out why”.
    It was actually a pretty decent company otherwise, but had your standard corporate BS as everyone else.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Hey let’s IMPROVE MORALE by sending out some surveys and buying a couple of pizzas but then not actually listening or changing anything.

      Yeah, been there, done that. The truth is the executives will always do exactly what they want to do, whether the employees like it or not.

    2. another_scientist*

      it’s wild to me how a company can go into this, expecting to get the honest truth. Just like the form you fill out entering the US as a non-citizen, that has you answer a dozen of ‘I am coming into the country, planning to submit xyz crime – yes or no?’ questions. Who are they going to catch with that!?

  45. Chc34*

    Reminds me of the time my company sent out an “anonymous” survey . . . but everyone got their own personal link . . . that you weren’t supposed to forward to anyone else so they could use it too . . .

    1. allathian*

      The survey company my employer uses does the same thing, but no employee at my employer has access to the raw data from the survey, only the results.

  46. Dwight*

    We had a company come in and supposedly provide an anonymous weekly survey. Thing is, the managers could respond, and it would go to your e-mail through the survey companie’s server. So the fact that it’s now in my e-mail, and managers have access to my e-mail, means they can put 2 and 2 together and figure out who’s saying what.

  47. Lucious*

    One- companies make it clear any data sent or received through their IT infrastructure is subject to monitoring. This is not usually waived for survey data.

    Two- don’t write or select an answer on a corporate survey you wouldn’t want presented to the entire company in a group meeting.

    Three- assume your boss knows your specific answers. Even if they don’t have access to the technical data attaching your specific survey to the answers, odds are they can divine by word cadence or other minutiae who submitted what.

  48. CJM*

    At the big global corporation I retired from, every email survey included a warning not to forward the email to other employees. I assumed that the link to the survey that I received was meant for me and only me, and that meant it was traceable to me. So I was careful how I responded. If my boss already knew about a concern I had, I didn’t mind sharing it in the survey. But if an answer might surprise or upset my boss, I didn’t share it. I did tend to critique upper management and their tendency to announce big plans but rarely follow through (hence the widespread employee dissatisfaction and surveys to figure out why). That didn’t lead to any blowback, as I expected.

    1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

      This has basically been my MO up to this point. I try to frame my critiques as “I wish we did/had [thing/process/policy]” and steer mostly clear of “I don’t like [xyz situation or behavior].” At the very worst, I’ve answered questions like “I feel that [company] cares about my wellbeing and success” with “Companies don’t have feelings, so they can’t care; I have a very supportive team of colleagues, though!” which I would think conveys my point without coming across as hostile (which it’s not meant to be). But even that, I supposed, could be construed as snide or defensive, if read the wrong way, so I’m probably going to avoid those, too.

  49. Tau*

    A few months ago, one of my managers was really pushing survey participation – c’mon, we need more survey respondents, have you all responded to the survey yet, etc. etc.

    The very first question was about which org units we belong to. Now, my company setup is that teams are cross-disciplinary and then you also have org units for people in a given discipline which meet regularly to discuss cross-team concerns. (So, like, you might be on the llama grooming team as a combing expert and then also part of the combing unit along with horse and camel combers). The question allowed you to pick multiple options and included both the actual teams and these discipline-based org units.

    I am the only person of my discipline/team combination. That’s not particularly unusual. I’m not sure there are any teams with more than three people of the same discipline.

    The manager was very confused about the low participation.

  50. BRR*

    I wouldn’t answer anymore. Or if you start to receive pressure to answer since they’re not even pretending to really be anonymous, lie. What stuck out to me at first is these are all very harsh ways of talking about these topics. Other things (aka red flags) stuck out to me after but these topics are usually more subtext or danced around. I wouldn’t discuss “conflict with my family” or “mental health” with my employer. We can talk about my workload or the hours I need to put in to finish tings instead.

  51. MissDisplaced*

    “I find it difficult to believe any of these surveys are confidential and my mental health is suffering as a result.”

  52. Nope*

    This sounds familiar: so we work for the same staffing firm? I get these weekly and after awhile, I just stopped answering them. I started realizing I have a pattern in my replies and it could single me out, so I send them to the trash on Fridays when they arrive.

    1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

      I think it’s software that’s used more broadly, but maybe has different pseudonyms attached to it to make it harder to do an Internet search for (and conversely, make it easier for companies to term-search and catch employees from specific companies bad-mouthing it online). Judging from some of the responses, a lot of people have encountered the same or nearly the same exact software, but the branding is different for each company that uses it. (I’m not sure about that, but I know other datamining software is sold this way; why not surveys?)

  53. anonymous123*

    My engineering department specifically told us to not indicate our gender for this reason

  54. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

    Allison and others – I wanted to point out that the company said the results are anonymized, NOT anonymous. My company does this and explains what it means – your name is attached to it somehow, but they use a third party firm to analyze and anonymize the results that are sent back to the company. Same deal at my company, there need to be at least five responses for a people manager, otherwise it just rolls up to the next level. Our company disclosed the privacy policy for the process, but nowhere do they say it is anonymous.

    I don’t disagree with anything glelse said, but the company seems to have made it clear that there is a link somewhere and they are not being deceitful.

    I wouldn’t answer those questions though!

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Note that those 3rd party firms have a history of providing access to the full data on demand when the company decides they don’t like just getting the anonymized data.

      1. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

        I agree, just mentioning that they aren’t really hiding it. My company does a good job and it is once a year, not weekly. It sounds like this product and this company are behaving very badly. I answer the questions in my company’s survey honestly, but if I have a significant issue I will raise directly with my management team or potentially through the hotline – not in the survey itself.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        ….yeah, that’s really the concern here for me. I don’t so much care if Third Party knows it’s me, but deliberately sending it along to management while claiming that management wasn’t going to know….

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Technically they don’t send anything to management. They just provide logins to the 3rd party systems so that management can look up whatever they want. Which they pinky swear they won’t use for nefarious purposes.

  55. PJH*

    …and share your concerns about the lack of anonymity.

    Whereupon management will be told to stop replying in such a manner that may directly imply who’s written what, and the minions will be told lied to that it’s now anonymous.

  56. Girasol*

    Agreed, of course, but I have a question on this subject: if a company is concerned that employees would rather quit or perform inefficiently than talk to their managers to resolve problems, and they know this hurts both the employees and the company, what can a company do? There’s a whole industry around these surveys and yet I’ve never seen them work as intended. I’ve seen concerns wildly misunderstood, so that huge efforts were mounted that had nothing to do with the real issue. I’ve seen (and been) someone caught in the not-so-anonymous trap. I’ve seen a whole department make up fake answers (and still wonder how no one noticed that 80% of the IT department surveys said the writer was female.) What can a company with good intentions do?

    1. HotSauce*

      Have an open dialogue with their employees about ways to improve. The only way to do that is to build trust with their employees. I’ve always given honest feedback in any meeting or survey because my employer has garnered trust with me that I won’t be retaliated against for providing said feedback. Our CEO has an email set up where regular Joes/Jills can bring up issues and they’re usually addressed either by him or his assistant, which is no small feat, considering we have 20,000+ employees worldwide. After the 2008 recession they scaled back on our 401(k) match and I sent an email saying that while I appreciate that times are tough, I wasn’t a fan of the little people taking the brunt of the burden. He responded that he was halving executive bonuses the following year and giving himself a 25% wage decrease effective immediately. They ended up reinstating the 401(k) match the following year with a statement about EVERYONE making sacrifices during tough times.

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Treat people as people, not as bundles of statistics and metrics. Empower your managers to actually make decisions on the fly, instead of just referring robotically to a binder full of policies. Figure out what the heck you’re actually trying to do with your company.

  57. Essess*

    I find the question about unions to be troubling. It’s finely skirting the laws about what employers can ask about unions. They are not allowed to ask how you feel about your union, and they aren’t allowed to ask how you voted on anything. And they aren’t allowed to ask about a person’s opinion of unions during the hiring process, and aren’t allowed to openly or hiddenly engage in surveillance on union organizing activities. I couldn’t find if asking about a potential future union met the criteria for not asking about how you feel about the union but it does feel like it’s trying to figure out if union organizing might be occurring.

    1. peasblossom*

      Yes–I think this is exactly right. OP, definitely worth consulting a lawyer, especially one used to dealing with this sort of labor issue. It is…really walking a fine line. If there has been some unionizing talk, this matter is even more urgent. If there is a move to unionize, depending on where your company is in the process, there should also be a union lawyer you can meet with–even very early on–who would want to know about this kind of thing as it reeks of union busting.

      1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

        Unfortunately, this company is sizeable enough that I’d probably have to be *in* a union already to afford the kind of representation I’d need to legally challenge them on it. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been any union talk, so it feels more like a fishing expedition than anything else.

        1. peasblossom*

          It sounds like you’ve got a good handle on where you’re at! Just to clarify–I’m not suggesting you consult a lawyer (or a union lawyer) to directly challenge, but because they can help you figure out next steps AND because this kind of information is incredibly important to unionization efforts.

          1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

            Fair enough. I’ve…never actually had to consult a lawyer on anything other than closing on a house, so I’d have to look into how you go about finding/speaking to someone specializing on this kind of stuff. I don’t know if I feel that’s necessary at this point, but it’s certainly worth keeping in mind. I do think at the very least I’m going to ask a few colleagues outside of work if they’ve been getting the same questions as I have; I’d like to know if the questions are random, or if they’re targeted in some way.

            (For the record, I absolutely would join a union for my profession if it seemed feasible. Not because we’re treated badly–our work conditions are pretty nice, especially considering we’re all hourly, ESPECIALLY considering we’re essentially a tech support call center…just a fantastically nice one, at least by US standards–but just on principal, things could always be better, and it would be easier to have a collective voice the execs–and shareholders/investors–could actually hear. But I hate to say it, I think a lot of us are complacent because we’re *not* usually mistreated, underpaid or overworked, so the motivation to organize in that way isn’t especially high. Sad, that “not usually being mistreated by your employer” is often seen as synonymous with “really awesome work environment” nowadays…)

            1. peasblossom*

              Completely agreed about unions; Collective bargaining is such a powerful too. (Still lightly floored by pretty nice tech support call center.) Good luck with figuring out what’s up with the surveys!

              1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

                Yeah, I was lucky to come across this position, via a reference from a friend. Think more along the lines of “technical professionals in one field and expertise interacting with and using machinery that is not part of their expertise, calling specialized tech support for those machines to get on-the-fly training/guidance and troubleshooting.” It’s professional-to-professional, corporation to corporation (instead of one helpless consumer trying to fight their way through a phone tree and automated assistant to an almost-as-robotic TSR contracted for peanuts by a completely disconnected manufacturer in order to reduce costs and offload liability–in our case, the “customer” has enough money and clout that you really don’t want to piss them off). So I’m not trying to sell anyone anything while reading from a script just to ask “have you tried turning it off and back on again?”

                We’re employed directly by and are a part of the manufacturer and overarching corporation itself, so the responsibility is on the company if our service sucks. So they (usually) give us the tools to actually do our jobs and pay that is at least reasonable for the labor extracted (though it could always be higher, haha). Without all that artificial tension present, everyone can focus on working together to solve problems, and we can take as long as we need to instruct new technicians and get machine problems fixed (within reason–2hr calls aren’t unheard of, but any longer than that would need some justification, like the system being hard down with no on-site engineer available to dispatch).

                We’re pretty heavily regulated by local and international governments, which is also a big factor, I think. The equipment we support *must* remain functional and we have to meet compliance standards of quality support that would be absolutely impossible in a “sweatshop” style call center. We do try to streamline our processes to be as efficient as we can, of course. but at the end of the day, keeping the equipment running and making sure the client’s technicians understand how to operate it is the paramount priority, because it has to be.

                Bottom line to this already excessive ramble is: setting boundaries with corporations and making them accountable to those boundaries absolutely works and contributes to a more stable work environment for the employees and better support for the products. We’re a textbook case of this, even though we’re not unionized. There are a surprising amount of (mostly infrastructure) industries/corporations that house/utilize call centers like ours, but they don’t typically post job listings on external websites and prefer to hire internally, via reference, or through specific temp agencies…so unless you knew where to look and what terms to actually look for, you’d likely never find them.

    2. MentalEngineer*

      Even with a friendly NLRB, the maximum punishment for any/all of these behaviors is a fine (or maybe a nasty letter and then a fine when the employer keeps doing it). And the fine will be significantly cheaper than the raise that comes with a union contract.

      1. peasblossom*

        Sure! But this assumes that the end game is a lawsuit where more likely any competent union is going to use information like this to help strategize how to get a union in place without getting everything shut down. That’s part of the job of the union’s legal team and why they need to know about things like this! But it’s not clear that unionization efforts are even at that level for the OP.

  58. CatPerson*

    My practice (and I work in HR) is to either not respond or only respond in such a way that your answer is positive or neutral. I have been known to respond to all questions with 3 on a 5 point scale. Never give any comments that you would not say to your superior to his/her face.

  59. Essess*

    We had one of those same types of surveys in my OldJob. At one point, a very small team all commented that their manager doesn’t communicate well. He was given that feedback and he raged into their office screaming “What the f*** do you mean I don’t communicate!” and then informed them that if the scores weren’t higher on the next round of surveys, everyone in the department would be fired.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      I’d say that manager communicated a little too well. (What he communicated is another matter, of course.)

  60. Brain the Brian*

    We’ve had a few anonymous surveys about office reopening in the past few months. Knowing that my manager is one of the people who will be involved in making the decisions about reopening but with absolutely no time or realistic opportunity to talk with her directly about how I want my own work schedule to look after reopening, I’ve made a very pointed effort to make myself easily identifiable in the survey responses. They want an “anonymous” survey? Hah.

  61. knitcrazybooknut*

    In the last survey for all employees, our VP was tracking participation numbers, and the Associate VP was hassling all 25 of us to bring her numbers up.

    In the 360 review I received, I was easily able to figure out who said what through their speech/writing patterns, and I’m 100% sure that others were able to see my idiosyncratic style!

    Both good reasons to become a gray rock and never give feedback, if you’re concerned that it will come back to haunt you.

  62. Junior Assistant Peon*

    If you’re in a position that makes you relatively lay0ff-proof, such as being the only one with knowledge of poorly-document old product lines, it’s fun to speak truth to power on “anonymous” surveys.

    1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

      My main clout in my position is that I’m willing (and prefer) to work the shifts no one else wants to take. They snapped me up quick several years ago because they were having so much trouble finding someone to take my position, and in theory would be faced with that same problem if I were to leave/be let go. Otherwise, my duties are pretty standard ones. I’d like to think I’m exceptionally good at what I do, but apart from the scheduling thing, I wouldn’t be particularly difficult to replace.

  63. Junior Assistant Peon*

    I’ve seen the back end of SurveyMonkey surveys with a professional society I help run. The respondents are identified by number, so by putting together answers to different questions, it was often clear who wrote what. I never saw much of a need to improve the anonymity because there was never anything sensitive, and no way for us to retaliate against anyone because we’re not their bosses. I didn’t learn anything juicy, just that Joe wants us to have a future conference in Seattle or something like that. If there was anything sensitive in the surveys, I would have pushed for better anonymity.

    1. quill*

      I ran a survey monkey survey once where you could tell who answered the survey based on typing quirks (english was the common second language on the team, so you got grammar and typing quirks that were pretty indicative of what everyone’s first languages were.)

      Because it was all about “which of these programs do you actually use at your location” it was probably fine though.

  64. T.N.H*

    Tell your director that you’d never considered unionizing before, but it sounded like a good idea once they mentioned it .

    But also, couldn’t this be illegal (or close to it) since employers can’t deter unionizing? I’d be curious to hear what a lawyer thinks.

  65. Pam Adams*

    I’m a happy, well-treated employee, and I love my union. If I changed jobs to where there wasn’t one, I would certainly be trying to get one going.

  66. Bagpuss*

    Yeah, surveys aren’t anonymous even when they are trying to be.

    Our regulating body requires us to provide diversity data every 2 years. Since Compliance is my job, I am the one who has to circulate the survey and then input and upload the data.

    I *could* work out whose replies were whose without to much difficulty. I don’t, because I don’t want to, and I do what I can avoid it, we are relatively small, so if I know someone’s age group and gender and which of the options for the general nature of their role it’s not hard to figure out whose who. I make a conscious effort to try not to, but it would not be difficult if I wanted to work it out.

    The survey asks about disabilities, gender and sexual orientation, educational background and caring responsibilities.

    Since the rules re that we are required to carry out the survey and submit the results, but individuals are not required to complete it, I make sure to tell everyone of this when I circulate it and also to point out that there is a ‘prefer not to say’ option for every question, and they should feel free to use that for any or every question they want.

    The thing is, I can see that this survey may be useful when looking at the data for our profession across the country as whole, but it is of very limited use on the level of our organization .

  67. YetAnotherNerd42*

    I always ask myself “How would Ned Flanders answer this question?”

    If I trust my management chain enough that honest answers on such a survey might be helpful and that I wouldn’t be retaliated against for negative answers … then I trust them enough to go directly to them with any issues or concerns that I might have.

    If I don’t trust them enough to go to them directly, then I don’t trust them not to retaliate against people who answer survey questions negatively either.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Right, and very good points.

      If it was a safe space to bring up concerns, people would be doing that, right?

      In my office, in some cases it’s definitely Not Safe to say things, and in other cases we all know such-and-such sucks but there isn’t anything that management can do about it because we’d need willing assistance from other offices that we don’t have.

  68. Elizabeth West*

    Something feels very fishy about this. I can’t imagine any good reason to do these things every WEEK. At most, I’ve only seen them once a year or so.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, how drastically different is anything going to be from week to week? Yearly is what I’ve seen toon.

  69. Kevin Sours*

    There was reporting not too far back about a company that did “anonymous” surveys like this. The promise was that the company wouldn’t actually get the individual survey responses to preserve anonymity. Except, under pressure, they were providing companies with access to the back end data on their systems.

    You never know who is going to see the data and companies have demonstrated that they will not hold themselves to the promises of anonymity they make to their employees. Even when they take elaborate steps to seem to guarantee that they will. Act accordingly.

  70. Molly Coddler*

    OP, if you have to do it, can you choose “neither agree nor disagree”? That’s what I did in a few of our “anonymous” work surveys.

    1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

      I can actually choose to skip a question entirely, without any explanation required. I already did that for questions that rub me the wrong way. Just seems like there are more and more of those as time goes on, almost like they’re trying to determine what my tolerances are. So now I’m just kinda answering only benign ones, only at random, and without clarifying commentary. After all, I can always bring up those concerns directly with my manager at my monthly reviews.

  71. Undine*

    This does have me wondering about my last job. About a year ago, about 500 people were offered a layoff package — about twice the severance pay as usual, and six months free COBRA (health insurance). I jumped at the chance, but I really wondered at the list of other people who got the offer, because they were all really high caliber people. But for sure, I was pretty blunt on the last survey I took, and I can see some of the others being too. In which case the joke is on the company as far as I’m concerned. I got the extra severance and a bunch of the remaining people were laid off six months later with a much smaller package.

  72. Frinkfrink*

    We had one of those recently, and given that they were asking your department, your type of work, and if you supervised anyone, it would be blatantly obvious who filled out which survey. Luckily I am burnt out enough that I don’t actually care if I get let go, and my partner makes enough that we can budget more strictly, cut back on some things, and get along fine while I try to ramp up my freelance side work, so I just let them have it with both barrels.

  73. Marie*

    One of the key things in Alison’s response is the difference between “confidential” and “anonymous”. My company does surveys like this, monthly at the team level and yearly company-wide. But they clarify that they will do their best to keep the results confidential, but they can’t guarantee anonymity. They also call out several cases where they will de-anon the data. Things like harassment, illegal activity, serious violations of the employee handbook, etc. And because they can’t guarantee anonymity the surveys are anonymous AND you can simply submit a blank survey to be counted as “completing” it for completion statistics.

  74. Dolly Flowers*

    While I do agree that these questions cross a line (like the union one, can’t imagine a scenario that’s being used for good) As someone who was an admin for a very similar system I wouldn’t automatically assume they know exactly who you are, a lot of these systems allow companies to create a user profile with custom filters so they can identify problem areas (such as, gender, age range, shift, location). And they simply could have just been looking at comments for 3rd shift or something of that nature. (I should also say that the system usually won’t allow you to keep adding filters if the criteria meets less than 3 people).

    That said yeah if I really wanted to I maybe could figure out who someone was based on that info if I dedicated a freaking ton hours of my time to it, and our employees knew that. I took the time to show them the back end of the system, what it looked like in their individual profile (no survey data, just the dates they last signed in to take a survey and the field areas), and then in no unclear terms said while I care about the content of what you submit I don’t care what you submit even if it’s about me. All in all it comes down to trust I don’t doubt that plenty of people with access to that info would spend the time to sort through it and figure out who is who .

  75. HR & Cats*

    Just wanted to chime in with a slightly different experience. I was previously a manager at large company that did this and the surveys were truly anonymous, so I couldn’t tell how my employee responded OR which responses were connected. So overall it would be something like 3 of your employees said “satisfied” and 2 said “not satisfied” etc. No comments on the survey, so nothing to really link any particular answer to someone. Of course, in some cases there would be an outlier response and I’d have a pretty good hunch of who said it based on other conversations but that wasn’t especially new or shocking information. I also couldn’t access the raw data and if I requested it, would be denied. They made that very clear. I suppose it’s possible that upper level management could’ve drilled down but I doubt they would. The data was more for me and and my manager to assess our teams.

  76. RussianInTeaxs*

    AT OldJob (CurrentJob is too small and too family-owned for such things), my whole department was of first generation immigrants and none of us ever filled out the free text boxes, because it would be VERY easy to figure out who wrote what, since English was not the first language for any of us, and everyone had specific idiosyncrasies in their speech.

    1. Tiger Snake*

      A good and creditable survey company accounts for this, actually. A part of the job that the survey staff do is take the free-text responses, consolidate them into a list of key points, and present them as things like % of employees concerned about a specific topic. A good survey company never lets the managers actually see the responses themselves, only the survey companies’ writings, which themselves are structured to clearly outlay the commonality across feedback as it aligns to the objectives that the management laid out when the survey was first developed.

      However, I must emphasize; that is for a good survey company. Human-handling of responses gets you truly useful and anonymised results, but requires payment of human employees. A much cheaper response is to just throw it into a singular record field and count for the number of times a certain word or phrase appears, then give the whole lot to the client.

  77. Amethystmoon*

    I just lie through my teeth on those surveys. But I always pick one or two things as average, so it doesn’t stand out, and everything else is above. I don’t trust the anonymity either.

  78. Well...*

    Can you complete the survey without answering? Like put N/A for everything? The union question would make me resolve not to cooperate with the system at all.

    Someone could want to join a union for purely political reasons, not because they aren’t happy at work! I believe unions are important and to those who are interested, getting involved helps ensure the union is run responsibly and democratically. Joining means voting on how your dues are spent, not necessarily meaning you hate your current working conditions.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      They aren’t interesting in who is happy. They are interested in who might join/vote to form a union. Probably so there can be entirely coincidental budget cuts.

    2. My Coffee's Cold Again*

      You don’t even have to do that; you can just choose to skip the question entirely if you want (it then gives you an option to explain why, but you don’t have to do that either). So yeah, if it rubs me the wrong way, I just skip it. That said, I’m sure they track what you skip too, so I’m not sure if that’s much better.

  79. no phone calls, please*

    SO MANY THOUGHTS about all of this, but the union question… I.JUST.CAN’T.EVEN. *insert Kevin McAllister’s aftershave face here*

  80. Wowthatsucks*

    If not already mentioned, our HR department asked our IT department to pull IP addresses from computers to match up results. Half of computers had static IPs and the other half could be narrowed down to buildings due to the assigned range IP addresses. Not anonymous and seriously ethically wrong. And yes, HR said it was anonymous and I was there when the information was requested. I wasn’t there if it ever got turned over though.

  81. Holly Dolly*

    Sounds like where I work. I have declined to answer some questions bc we have a small team and also when there is a question that you need to answer “other” to, it asks you to write out a comment and that can be sent to your manager. I decline to send it. Retaliation is real whether people admit it or not and I don’t want to take my chances.

  82. Survey dodger*

    Hahaha ‘anonymous’ surveys. One time my summer school job ended because summer school ended for the year and I forgot to do the anonymous exit survey. They emailed me a month later to tell me I was the only person who hadn’t done the survey and could I do it soon… I have never trusted the ‘anonymous’ in surveys since.

  83. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    When I was running job-preparation classes, I told the students that they should NEVER write or say anything on the job that they wouldn’t want to turn up in their personnel files – better safe than sorry! It’s the vocational variation on the warning that “Anything you say can be used against you” – in this case, used against you by the company if they’re looking to see who to fire if they want to trim the payroll list. Seriously – what you say or write at work will not be anonymous and may very well not be kept confidential either.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      This is a good point. Screenshots can be taken and shared with coworkers and managers. Be careful of what you type into that chat window.

  84. Jinni*

    This feels weirdly AI (artificial intelligence) to me. Like if you say you’re dissatisfied, then they ask you about other jobs or unions. Do you know if your co-workers are getting different questions?

    OR it feels like they’re worried about union organizing and are asking a lot of questions around the topic to push back against possible organizing. All of it feels so creepy and I’m not even a paranoid type of person.

    1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

      That’s sort of how it felt to me too, actually (AI/algorithmically targeted questions). I hadn’t expressed any serious dissatisfaction, but it *felt* like it kept asking me more an more personal questions, then dialed it back again when I skipped a bunch of them, like it was testing my tolerance. That could just be my perception of it though; I tend to assume the worst when it comes to corporations or businesses in general, honestly.

  85. Coder von Frankenstein*

    Don’t forget the fallback option: #7, lie through your teeth. They’re lying to you by claiming it’s anonymous. You don’t owe them honest answers.

    And the fallback to the fallback: #8, take a long look around at the rest of the company. Is this the only wrong note? Or is there other bad stuff going on? This might be a wake-up call to start looking for other options.

  86. user423789*

    I once answered in an anonymous survey that I wasn’t happy with a process. The next day I got cc’ed in an email sb wrote to their employee requesting them to please answer me.

    The questions quoted in the letter remind me very strongly of those in my company’s survey, to the extend that I’m wondering whether we don’t work for the same company.

  87. Redd*

    I have a secret hope that your manager said what she did deliberately, because she felt guilty that the surveys aren’t truly anonymous and wanted to tip you off.

    1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

      This would not be out of character for her, actually. (I like her just fine, actually; as I mentioned in another comment, my problem isn’t that *she* knows, it’s that anyone with her level of authority with direct input on my employment status knows which questions I’m answering and how.)

  88. Holy Carp*

    Don’t answer that stuff if you don’t have to. Any survey online that we are required to take – I usually answer everything either “N/A” or whatever the middle rating is.
    I’ve been burned twice by supposedly random surveys, at two different companies. The first time I was approached by the grandboss, whose henchman had read my comment about him (the henchman) and had complained to the grandboss. Luckily my boss happened to be there and jumped right in to remind them that the survey was touted as anonymous, so they let it drop.
    The second time was an oral outbrief by an inspection team who assured us our comments (only two of us in the section) would be anonymous, and of course we were both later pulled down to the boss’s office for questioning. We pointed out that all comments were anonymous, and left.

  89. Janet*

    Oh dear! I had a horrible boss once who spent a whole meeting berating us for his poor reviews, and promising that he would find out who had negative things to say about him and make them suffer!
    HIS boss was also at the meeting, nodding along. I don’t think they were able to get the data on who said what, but it was a terrible threat to make.

  90. gbca*

    I once had an employee who had just joined my team from another team, and while he was still on the prior team he filled out one of those employee feedback surveys with colorful, unflattering feedback about Fergus, the big boss in that org. I know this because by the time the survey results were released to management, he had moved to my org, and so while the comments were aggregated by the 40 or so people in my larger org, it was obvious who the employee was who wrote about what a terrible boss Fergus was. I never said anything t0 my employee and didn’t hold it against him, but the other managers/directors in my group saw it too. Yikes.

        1. Tiger Snake*

          My Australian soul wants to burn something.

          How does a firm like that even work? Is it basically just a PR job?

          1. My Coffee's Cold Again*

            I mean, you can specialize in “XYZ type laws” and then just…use that expertise to run whatever outfit you like. IANAL, but from the couple lawyers I do know, you’re not limited to whose interests you serve so long as you serve them legally. A lot of lawyers who specialize in labor law find it far more lucrative to represent the interests of anti-union companies and tell them how to legally union-bust than they do actually representing unions or worker’s rights in general. That’s why we rely so heavily on big human rights organizations to either pay for such representation (so, the ACLU, etc) or help to find lawyers who do pro bono work because it happens to be something they feel strongly about.

            If you’ve never heard the extremely misleading term “right to work state,” I strongly recommend having a good stiff drink before googling it.

  91. MCMonkeyBean*

    That union question does seem kind of alarming.

    And I definitely assume now that these are not anonymous after our team had a meeting to discuss the survey results.

    I will say though that I think “If I were offered a higher salary for the same job by another company, I would consider accepting it.” is a pretty standard and not concerning question. I don’t think the point is anything like “is this person trying to leave” but rather “aside from salary, are there things people like about our company and what do we need to do to make this an appealing place to work.”

    Like for me at one point the answer to that was yes. And I did leave! And then I came back. And now my answer would be no, because there are a lot of things I think my company has handled really well over the last year and now it would take a lot to get me to consider working somewhere else.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Wait… hold on…

      I think now I misread that question that I copied and pasted above lol. I thought it was if you would accept another job at the *same* salary. I think the answer to if you would accept the same job at a *higher* salary would probably be yes for most people lol

  92. Tiger Snake*

    My brain has a hard-wired and instinctive alarm bell that rings whenever a business gives any indication that it would dislike a union being created or joined. Therefore, I instinctively dislike and do not trust anything this company has ever said.

    More logically; I’ve been involved in enough university-research to know that a good, well developed survey and survey platform is designed to make it impossible for management to connect certain responses to specific employees. (The survey company is a different matter).

    However, logically, I also know that the emphasis in that statement is “good and well-developed“.
    Such a platform is expensive, and companies like cheap.
    Such a survey requires someone who is high-up enough the food chain to know the actual objectives they want to understand are, and how they relate to the real business drivers. Such a survey needs to be custom-developed. And that means that for a good survey, you need a good and skilled high-level manager to write it. But those managers have more important business to get to and very little time to do so. So delegation to a low-level peon is the norm, but means all that person can do is google for generic questions that look good.

    In other words, per the results of “Research Paper No 262, The Concept of the amount of information in information evaluation“, by Hiroyuki Itami of Stanford University: The usefulness of your results depends on the usefulness of the data you collect in the first place.
    We’ve mathematically proven this since 1975, and yet it still happens.

  93. DMS*

    I administer cultural assessments and employee engagement surveys as a third party, and we run into these concerns a LOT. My company has a practice – and writes it into the contracts – that we will not provide a company with raw data, and will aggregate, reword, and otherwise ensure anonymity of the aggregate results we deliver back to our clients. I know that’s not the norm for all consulting groups, but I personally feel it is the most ethnical practice. We also surveyed employees earlier this year across various companies and industries and found 90% of respondents felt more comfortable with a third party, and would be more candid with them administering the survey. Apologies if this comes across sales-y, it’s just the reasoning for why my company does what we do!

    1. allathian*

      Yup. This is absolutely the reason why my employer has hired a third party to do our employee satisfaction surveys. They absolutely won’t provide my employer with raw data, and they also aggregate, reword, and otherwise ensure the anonymity of the aggregate results. Also, if a manager has fewer than 6 reports, they won’t get access to their reports’ aggregate answers, either, just the answers for the whole department and organization. It’s all handled through the survey company’s encrypted website. I’m sure our IT experts could see the traffic on our end, but that wouldn’t do them much good. It’s also illegal for employers to install key logging software here.

      Because my organization values 360 feedback, if a manager contacts the company to try and circumvent the anonymization process, HR will be informed and then HR will inform that manager’s manager. They’ll get a talking-to and if it happens again, they’ll get a warning. Some managers who’ve received poor scores in the past have decided to get out of management. One of my former managers did that.

      Given all that, I’m pretty honest in these surveys, and I’m also quick to acknowledge that the thing I’m unhappy about may be outside my manager’s control.

      That said, we seem to have a pretty decent organizational culture. We have lots of flexibility and a great work/life balance, and that’s reflected in the results.

  94. Erik*

    Even if one assumes that mgt isn’t looking up the identities of participants it says are anonymous, any and every manager knows what their employees sound like. It is really quite easy to read for tone and voice, and the smaller the group, the easier it is. But I’ve done this for even with a group of 40. Several years ago my company at the time conducted a company wide engagement survey. Our business unit gave particularly tough scores and leadership called us to the carpet. Management of the unit was all shared a copy of the results which HR had sent aggregated to an excel sheet. Of the dozen or so verbatims on the sheet, I could place all of them easily. There were two that I was unsure of but someone in HR had left traces of their aggregation work on a second sheet within the document and it included geographic office (we were split across three) and that was enough to dispel any uncertainty.

    Never put anything in those surveys you wouldn’t say to your CEO’s face. Seriously

  95. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    “If I were offered a higher salary for the same job by another company, I would consider accepting it.”
    “If I were provided the opportunity to join a union, I would consider it.”

    If I wasn’t before – I sure as hell am now!!

  96. Former Manager*

    We have this type of survey as an employee engagement survey once every 12 months. If your team has fewer than 7 people, you can’t see any of the answers to the questions, it goes up to the next level of management until the threshold is reached and then you can see the answers.

    I had two line reports. They told me they were going to have one person answer yes and one person answer no to the “Does your manager treat you fairly and with respect?” question and then leave me to work out which was which. I do miss being a manager sometimes, ahaha.

  97. Varthema*

    At my company (local branch of a multinational) the ONLY way we could effect change on anything significant was through these quarterly “anonymous” surveys. Our local manager was a good person who tried, but the (absent) regional and upper management apparently didn’t take her feedback seriously unless it was then supported by a significant number of us railing about the same thing on our survey (which did go up the line). We did meet informally to discuss issues that we wanted to collectively rail about on that particular quarter’s survey, which helped. It did get us change, and the surveys were mentioned as part of the reason.
    Similarly, I’m now in management for a Much better/healthier/kinder company, and it’s still easier to convince upper management of the need for (for example) raises if we can point to black-and-white written feedback.

  98. restingbutchface*

    Probably a little late, but this is what I do for a living.

    1. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t put your name on
    2. Anonymous surveys instead of real feedback channels are a huge red flag
    3. Ask yourself, what does the surveyor want from this information?
    4. Union questions? Oh, that’s a red flag and the flag is on fire. They’re getting around legislation making it illegal to ask people by saying it’s anonymous, but the amount of work you have to put in to making a survey properly anonymous is huge.

    I didn’t see any detail on what took your company is using to collect the data – if that’s something you would be happy to share I’m sure a couple of other commentators from IT could give you a realistic view on how traceable it is. For example, I only do utterly anonymous surveys for my clients. I’m a third party, the client doesn’t get the raw info, I anonymise it and actually physically remove any identifying details. No personalised links, and the absolute minimum of user specific info – usually I do a cut by country to compare feedback from each region, but that is it, A good data analyst will want to turn your feedback into actionable data points. It doesn’t sound like that’s the case here.

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