Employee Surveys, Human Resources

Are employee surveys really confidential? Myths and FAQs

Lydia Watson

“I’m telling you this in confidence…”. 

It’s a phrase that’s usually the precursor to a juicy bit of gossip. Something personal, possibly painful, potentially nothing to do with either party in conversation. Given the nature of gossip, that request for confidentiality is not always strictly upheld. 

So it’s not too surprising that the phrase ‘confidential survey’ is sometimes met with skepticism. 

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What is confidentiality?

“Secret, but not anonymous”. If someone tells you something about themselves in confidence, you know something private about them – but have been sworn to secrecy. You’re not supposed to tell anyone else. It’s not the same as anonymity – where the identity of the person sharing information is unknown.

‘Confidential survey’ definition

A confidential survey means your answers stay linked to your identity on some level. Although everything you say is secret – and can’t, for example, be pulled out to discuss in a performance review – you can’t assume you have anonymity when it comes to your survey responses.

You may be using a specific survey url linked to your employee ID, or you may be asked to fill in questions about your demographic or department, but one way or another, there’s conceivably a way to work out who said what. In the context of an employee survey, that can make people wary about responding honestly.

That’s why, at Qlearsite, we have safeguards to stop managers narrowing down the results to the point that individuals can be identified. 

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What is the difference between an anonymous and confidential survey?

An anonymous survey is often sent with an ‘open link’ – a generic url that every survey participant is sent by email or messaging app. That means that respondents aren’t identified by clicking on a link generated just for them, as is sometimes the case with a confidential survey. 

No demographic questions are asked in an anonymous survey, and participants aren’t asked to select the department they work in. That means managers can’t narrow the filters by age, gender, ethnicity, and department to try and pin certain comments to certain respondents. 

Are anonymous surveys really anonymous?

With Qlearsite, yes – if you don’t inadvertently include identifying information. For anonymous surveys – often used for more sensitive topics like our D&I survey – you can generate an open link, which anyone can use to complete the survey. 

However, employees still need to take care not to identify themselves in their open-text answers. If you talk about people by name, or reference a very specific event, then you run the risk of making your identity known. 

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Should surveys be anonymous?

The challenge with anonymous surveys is the quality of data they offer. Removing any identifying characteristics might make people more honest, but it’s then hard to identify whether your organisational challenges are felt in a specific department or team, or if they’re the experience of a particular demographic – highlighting an inclusion issue you need to address.

And allowing the freedom to be brutally honest could backfire. A few people using it as an opportunity to air grievances could skew the results, and make the exercise hard to draw conclusions from.

Why is confidentiality important?

Confidentiality matters because your employees need a safe space to give feedback. They need to know they can flag problems without it coming back to haunt them, or upsetting their line managers. 

Offering a genuinely confidential survey experience – something Qlearsite can guarantee – gives you the demographic and departmental context you need to understand your survey results, but also allows your people to feel comfortable opening up. Protecting confidentiality matters, because trust is crucial to a good manager-employee relationship.

Why Qlearsite offers confidential and anonymous surveys

The benefits of confidential surveys are powerful. You can spot inclusion issues, troubled teams, and damaged departments easily – and identify what elements of the employee experience you need to prioritise improving. But sometimes anonymous surveys encourage higher response rates, and are just easier to send.

Either way, we help your employees be confident that their honest feedback will only be used for positive change – and that there’s power in sharing their personal information. That means better feedback, better insights, and a real impact on your organisation. 

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