How Anonymous Are HR Complaints—Really?
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How Anonymous Are HR Complaints—Really?

This content was created by Girlboss in partnership with AllVoices. 

In the utopian vision of corporate life, an anonymous HR complaint report would stay locked in a cubicle-walled-and-fluorescents-lit version of the Chamber of Secrets. You’d say what you had to say, the bad behavior would stop, and the perpetrator would be appropriately punished without ever knowing who had dobbed them in. 

In practice, however, it’s just often not that clean. You might work for a really small organization (you know, where the only human resources person is the boss’ husband, or even the boss herself), or you might be reporting something that is so specific that it can only be made by you. You wish your report could be truly anonymous but you just aren’t sure that it will be. And that scares you. Especially if you’re new to the organization and don’t know where to go, or maybe this is the kind of workplace where it’s the people who speak out against bad behavior who get punished–not vice versa–and even human resources doesn’t feel like a safe space. 

“Most ‘anonymous’ complaints aren’t anonymous because the systems simply weren’t built to be truly anonymous,” says Claire Schmidt, chief executive officer of AllVoices, a platform specifically designed to combat this issue by enabling employees to provide feedback to their company in a way where their identity is genuinely protected. “It also depends on what and how you’re reporting to HR. For example, if an employee goes directly to an HR team member? That’s not anonymous, especially if what you’re reporting legally requires an investigation or due diligence, anonymity can’t be guaranteed. If you go through an internally built feedback tool? Still probably not very anonymous.”

One of the most notorious of those “feedback tools” is the good old employee engagement survey, where *in theory* anything you share is supposed to be in confidence and won’t be used individually against you. As anyone who’s worked in almost any workplace ever knows, however, that’s simply not true. “We all know employee comments can be tracked, and their emails can be accessed to determine the source of specific comments,” says Schmidt. “It’s kind of scary to speak up via a culture survey when you’re afraid of getting called out as disloyal to the company—especially considering you’re speaking up about something because you are loyal and want to help create a better company culture.” 

That’s why a platform like AllVoices—used by companies like Patagonia and Zillow, by the way—can be a source of much-needed reassurance for employees who genuinely want to speak the truth to power without fear of repercussions. Even better, the company now has actionable data & insights. For example, if a manager on the sales team has five anonymous reports him/her/them, the company can take action such as retraining.

For example, says Schmidt: “The HR or people teams reading the feedback on the backend never see your personal information like email address, IP address, or phone number,” she says, noting it even enables employees to continue the conversation anonymously if needed. “If the HR complaint needs an investigation, the anonymous reporter and HR team can communicate with the individual to provide context around why it might be helpful if they de-anonymize for next steps.”

Is this what true progress for HR and People teams looks like? We sure hope so.

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