We recently got an invite to do a short (handful questions) anonymous survey on employee satisfaction. My first impulse would be to answer with my honest, negative impression of the employer: 'bad place to work', 'insufficient pay' etc. I'm trying to understand managements reason for doing this survey (first time in company history), so I know how to react.

Are there possible downsides to being honest? How will the management likely go forward with the data? The mood among my colleagues is not great but I don't know if everyone will answer honestly or if I would single myself out with negative responses.

I think the survey is actually anonymous, but I could be wrong.

Some points on the question and what happened next, added quite a bit later
For some reason, most of the discussion focussed on the anonymity aspect. The invite to the suvey said it would be anonymous, the survey was hosted on an external site and we don't use any intranet, the handful invites I checked all pointed to the same URL. That's what I meant with "I think the survey is actually anonymous" - I saw no straightforward way to de-anonymize the results down to the level of a person.
We received the invite to the survey with very little time till deadline, I think most of the answers and discussion happened after. That's why I didn't adjust the question, since it wouldnt be useful to my specific situation anyway but would disrupt the lively discussion happening.
What I did: I was pretty honest and mentioned negative points, about the same as I told my boss in our last one-on-one. My boss asked me (to late) to be positive: The company was in a difficult situation, he feared that negative voices on the survey would give upper management the idea that all is hopeless and they should cut further losses. This is a small (100 people) company distributed on four continents, nobody knows what's actually going on. When asking this question I was thinking about these political ramifications (but wasn't posting enough info on the company maybe) & and wha upper management likely does with the survey data. In the team with my boss, we were also discussing the actual anonymity and how things like timezones, speech idiosyncracies (English is a second language to all of us in this office) etc. might give upper management a clear idea who wrote what.
I left the company a few months later, till then I had not heard back from the survey.

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    – enderland
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 1:47
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    The first question I'd ask myself is, what is the purpose of this survey? Is it an honest attempt to gather truthful opinions from all employees or does it just exist so employee's have a chance to feel "engaged." Given the likely hood that the majority of comments could be ignored I suggest the most apparent downside is the waste of time.
    – Jodrell
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 8:25
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    Funnily enough a few days after I read this my company ran an internally administrated anonymous survey. After following the unique uid I had been personally emailed, and reading the potentially awkward questions, I reflected how useful this question was. +1
    – Nathan
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 23:43

15 Answers 15


I write apps and make intranet sites. I have several apps that give surveys, tests, and quizzes to close to 100k employees.

My apps log SSO information and IP address. So if your company has some sort of SSO (anything that you log into) you can pass those variables over to the survey. Also no matter how anonymous you think something is they have your IP address and there are tons of geotracking utilities (if your IP isn't intranet) that will tell them your location.

I have had upper management ask me specifically to give the SSO or IP information for anonymous surveys. They ALWAYS use the pretext that there is an HR issue. [The HR issue is really they should be going to HR for lying to employees] Your boss will probably have no clue who said what, it is only upper management that can squirm their way into seeing anonymous results.

My suggestions are to complete the survey like you would if your boss was standing next to you. If you are very secure in your job then feel free to be honest but be fair. Watch what you say in the free text fields and make sure you can back everything up. Also don't add HR issues to them like rants on your boss or coworkers. If you aren't secure in your job, I would be very cautious.

Background on surveys behind the scenes: First there is no such thing as a survey that we don't track user information. How anonymous the survey is, depends on how well it is segmented on the admin side. There is really no way to have an anonymous survey because that would mean that a company with 100 employees could have all 100 surveys done by one person.

So we need to know something unique to keep track of who to the survey, to make sure that people don't take it twice (this isn't usually a problem), and the most important thing is that people do the survey. For instance after a company-wide survey a list of people who didn't take the survey or sometimes just %s per upper level VP are sent out. Very normal that a VP sends out an email to his 5000 underlings, saying, "We have had 75% of our staff take the survey. There are 3 days left. Our goal is 100%."

On the admin side it depends on what the survey is. For instance we have a classroom eval form that has had 50k entries the past few years. The trainers/teachers don't see any employee data but see their scores/remarks. The admin team only sees user data and not scores/remarks because they need to mark them for attendance. They would have to come to me to combine both of these, which they have. Most of the issues around this tool aren't with the people taking the surveys. Upper management has asked for reports to get at issues with the trainers/teachers.

Now for something like employee surveys on a large scale we either try to get your SSO information or send you a hash. The hash is hashed again on the back end. Anyone with a management view, director view, or VP view wouldn't see any personal data but would just see reports of the people under them. If we do this by hash - we have your info for sure. If it is SSO we might not have your info (the worst survey had 5% of the people without info). We might infer your group from the location given by your IP, or just throw you in an "Others" bucket or just throw out your survey.

Again management has asked me to run reports to negate the hash or the sorting code I have. The only way I could make it anonymous is to throw away the key after we get the surveys... but then that leaves me on the hook for bugs/issues. It is just too late to "play dumb". I have created a ton of apps, hacked through vendor things to fix things, and have done this for a while. If I told them I couldn't do it, they would take that as me refusing to do my job. Doubt I would be fired but things would turn.

Let's say you go through a vendor. Well it is the same deal. You can always tell the vendor that there is some legal/HR issue to get the data. The vendor always gives it - always. They don't care because they want to get paid. Also vendors are worse because they give a group of employees (like me) superadmin access to the non-sorted data. The only way to have the vendor give a truly anonymous survey would be if there was some organization/government/agency managing the vendor relationship.

I have heard some people say that Google Forms or something free could get you to anonymous surveys. Maybe for smaller companies but big companies wouldn't use it because your results could be flawed. Management could just do surveys for themselves if they saw staff didn't fill them out. They are junk data - maybe anonymous but junk.

How I try to make things more anonymous is making sure management all the way up can run all kinds of reports on their data. I even add by job role if they have more than a certain amount of the same roles (over 10 is usually in my code) so they can get results by job title while still anonymous. By doing more of this and getting exact stuff I have reduced the amount of excuses they can use and probably the amount of requests by 200% over the past few years. If I get something it is usually something really bad said - threat, harassment, legal claim - or it is a upper level manager that wants to investigate a lower level manager.

  • 87
    Could we please upvote and downvote based on the quality of the answer, not based on how ethical a person is when accepting job offers? mart is asking for downsides of answering anonymous surveys, and this answer spot on remarks that there's a big chance the survey is not at all anonymous, with first hand experience. complete the survey like you would if your boss was standing next to you is the best line on the entire page - this answer does not merit a downvote.
    – Konerak
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 7:38
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    Do you know if the suggestion from the comments about going to a Starbucks and using incognito mode on a non-company device work to circumvent this or not? Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 13:34
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    @starsplusplus If you don't have to log in anywhere (e.g. if it's a Google Form and you just got the link), it's fine, but even there I would ask two or three people if they got the same link. If you have to log in anywhere or the link contains some suspicious long hash, it's likely trackable no matter where you are.
    – yo'
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 13:53
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    @yo' - that is only kind of true. First when I pass on SSO information you would only know this is you deleted your cookies and opened a new browser. 99% of the users never login to anything at all. And yes we can still send a different hash to each person. But we still get IP/browser/ and that stuff every time.
    – blankip
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 15:42
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    @starsplusplus - I guess that helps. But unless you have a very large group doing this the it can be easy to deduce who was at starbucks. Also note there are other methods to track. As I mentioned before, you have two choices to make this anonymous - everyone goes somewhere to fill it out from the same link or everyone uses the same computer at work with the same link
    – blankip
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 15:53

Even if the survey is anonymous, it may not be a good idea to just say things are "bad" or 'rant' about your workplace. If it seems overly negative your employers will likely not be motivated to really take on board anything you complain about. Depending on the attitudes of upper management they could also start looking for who wrote it and attempt to punish the suspects, or entire departments.

I would suggest giving constructive feedback - "Bad place to work" is wholly negative and possibly bitter, whereas "Work environment would be improved by bringing in x and y. Staff could be better motivated with benefit z." gives them something concrete to work on.

The fact that they are sending out this survey for the first time suggests that they are aware of the bad atmosphere among their employees, so it is likely that they do want criticisms rather than false positive feedback.

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    Note that constructive feedback gives avay relatively much information about your personal views and perspective - so it weakens anonymity. (But that feedback is the most valuable, so having a real anonymous survay has advantages for both sides.) Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 1:32
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    @VolkerSiegel But constructive feedback is also much less likely to get someone into trouble with upper management. "WHO IS THIS 'MART' WHO DARES TO OFFER POSITIVE SUGGESTIONS ON HOW WE CAN BOOST PRODUCTIVITY AND STAFF RETENTION?" is pretty unlikely. "Who is this whinger ranting about 'bad places to work' and 'insufficient pay'? Find out if their negativity is bringing other people's morale down, and act accordingly" less so. Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 17:28
  • @user568458 Oh, very interesting point. It's nice when a problem is inherently well-behaved; Even a real world problem! I do think that the anonymity is important on a more fundamental level, it makes me cringe thinking of trading it against something less relevant. But on a practical level, one does not do that - one would estimate the level of anonymity to expect; Assuming a medium level, it makes sense to not rant, but report only the problems that can be stated in a positive way; while not reporting things that can be taken negative, as now the anonymity is reduced to low. Should work. Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 22:46
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    I can say I'm not one who bothers with anonymity in the office. I've always believed talk with purpose and own what you say. Never be that jerk off who screams about working conditions being sub par, no one likes that guy, now you can effectively say the same thing with "constructive" criticism and you're being "helpful". It's surprising what you can get away with saying so long as it's honest, you present yourself as someone who speaks their mind, and it's presented as a solution not a problem. Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 20:40

Our company was recently acquired by a large MNC. We recently started the same practice. They are called "Employee Engagement Surveys" or something of the like. The survey should be anonymous since the company just wants to get a feel for how engaged the employees are while they're at work. The idea is that the more enthusiastic the employees are, the better work they do.

The intention behind the surveys is for honesty from the employees. If they truly want honesty, the survey will be anonymous. If they give the front of being anonymous and come to you later and say "I noticed you said 'bad place to work, payment bad.' Would you care to go into further detail?" then I would say to brush up your CV. I know I wouldn't want to work somewhere that put that kind of practice in place.

Find out if the survey is anonymous. Just bring it up politely with your manager. Say something like "I was wondering if you could give me some more general information about the surveys. I don't need to know the questions, just how you plan on using them."

Be honest, but keep it professional. Even if the survey is truly anonymous, a rant will set off red flags for the management team and they will start looking for the trouble-maker in the office.

  • My manager knows as much as me.
    – mart
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 13:32
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    Even when the survey is "anonymous", any place in it where you're allowed to write free-form text has the potential to expose you. Everyone has a distinctive writing style, and someone who knows yours will be able to identify you with it. Or, perhaps you reference things that obviously only apply to a small subset of the organization - again, your anonymity is compromised.
    – alroc
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 14:19
  • 2
    That's what video game chatline style is for. My employer would never have seen it and it's completely diff.
    – Joshua
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 22:11

You should only be as honest as the company you're working for.

  • If it's not anonymous, but they honestly want constructive criticism, give them that

  • If it's not anonymous and they just want to catch "negative employees", you'll have to lie and be optimistic

  • If it is anonymous, but supervisors will track down the bad-mouthers through other means; you can only give what they allow you to give.

  • If it is truly anonymous, you can give true feedback

  • It's worth noting that there are ways to track even "anonymous" surveys. So take that into account. A death threat, or other serious concerning comments, are not going to be excused because, "It was supposed to be anonymous"

The hard part is knowing how honest your company and supervisors are, especially since this is the first time they are doing the survey. Depending on your current relationship with the company, you may just want to take it easy this time and see how things develop - then respond accordingly for the next survey.


I had lunch the other day with a former manager of mine. Somehow we got on the topic of a former colleague she had had to let go. She told me that during our company's annual anonymous employee survey, she could easily tell which was his. Had not signed it or anything, and it was anonymous, but the responses were obviously a match for his personality and the gripes that he had already verbalized.

So be careful how you respond.


The purpose of such a survey is not to weed out employees who are unhappy and somehow punish them. That would be pointless. The purpose is to gather genuine feedback about the company so that the place can be improved. If the conditions genuinely are bad, but no-one ever says so, how is the upper management supposed to change anything? If you feel you are underpaid, you are much less likely to get a pay rise unless your boss finds out somehow.

The real question you should be asking is not 'Should I be honest?', but 'How can I get my feedback listened to?'. The answer is to be polite, fair and honest.

  • There's another obvious likely purpose for surveys: senior managers want to gather evidence/excuses to support something they already want to do, something that will help them in their battles against other senior managers (eg, for money). Yet another obvious possibility is that they want 'evidence', genuine or not, of their success. Then they can use it on their CV/performance review/company report. Commented Mar 30, 2019 at 10:06

Don't be too paranoid, because nobody of upper management has even slightest concern of your bad workplace impressions. If you're an ordinary employee, they don't have time for you, and they really really don't want to know how painful your life is. But take two minutes and fill the damn survey anyway. Why?

What is the most probable motivation behind the survey? The upper management is trying to better evaluate the first-line managers. If more workers respond, it could possibly drive the company in a direction better for you, personally.

Bad companies only care for one metric for a first-line manager: profit. They only want the manager to cut more cost and make more money than fellow managers. This metric is obvious because (a) anyway company needs to calculate this precisely (b) the upper management is subject to exactly the same metric applied by the owner/board.

Other companies still use profit as the most important metric, but try to supplement it with some "soft" data, like your survey. That means "good" managers, who maybe aren't quite within budget this quarter (so for company they are really "very very bad"), are not doomed yet as they can use the survey as some kind of defense or excuse for themselves. Of course this argument is weak as compared to hard cash, but the upper management might see some prospects in keeping such "very very bad" manager and give them one more chance, seeing for example their team is the most motivated.

Of course they give the results to the first-line managers, including your manager, and they let them know how the results compare to their fellow managers. And they let them know that they expect better results next year. If your boss is so bad, that you fear he/she would try to track every bad survey, just don't fill it. Usually companies assume the unfilled survey to be equal to a negative one: no survey counts as an unmotivated worker (approximately).

  • +1 because I like the approach followed here - try to dig into why they are doing what they are doing.
    – 299792458
    Commented Apr 12, 2015 at 7:34

I recommend asking openly (in a department meeting would be good) for management to explain how confidentiality of responses is assured. A good company will appreciate this and gladly answer because they will want employees to trust their feedback system. If such a question is frowned upon, or if the answer is weak, then you know that the survey is an unserious token measure or worse.

Are there downsides to being perfectly honest? Sure. I know someone who was angrily accused and subsequently fired (in violation of the law) after her negative (not 'constructive') feedback was attributed to her (correctly, but they didn't necessarily know that) from an 'anonymous' survey. But that outcome was foreseeable in her case; if she had been thinking clearly, she would not have responded to that survey. Surveys can't and won't fix oppressive corporate cultures, so if that's where you are, don't bother. In a positive corporate culture, there should be no problem.

On 1-to-5 type questions, I see no reason to lie even if your boss is watching you take the survey. (Would your answers really be a surprise?) But whether the survey is anonymous or not, don't be a jerk because your response will just be ignored. If you identify a problem through free answer, propose a realistic solution (forming a committee to deal with a problem should be an acceptable suggestion) that benefits the company, not just you.

By the way, the survey is not really anonymous if:

  • It is not web-based, or requires strange browser plugins or very specific browser versions. Especially beware IE-only surveys because they may be looking at your Windows login name.
  • It must be taken using a company-issued computer
  • Each person is given a unique link to access the survey
  • You have to login to the survey before taking it (even if not, make sure you use a stateless window such as Firefox's private browsing, and make sure visiting other company-internal websites show you as not logged in first)
  • It requires you to enter demographic information such as department, role, age, salary
  • It requires free answers or emphasizes them over multiple choice

Surveys that really are anonymous are not as useful to a company for lots of reasons. Only the grossest level of information can be learned; if 30% of responses say they hate their job, the company has no idea whether those 30% are mostly within the same department or not. They also do not know each response comes from a different person, or whether all departments are equally represented, or even whether all the responses come from employees.

A compromise measure used at my current employer is a third party arrangement. The contract with the third party stipulates that identity information will not be shared with the company. Each employee is sent a unique link to take the survey, so our survey is definitely not anonymous. It is then a question of whether the employee trusts that the company and third party are being honest about the business arrangement.

Assuming good faith, the company still benefits from this by being able to measure aggregate employee feedback within each department, as well as participation rates. However, free answers are still problematic with this system, because they are inherently individual in nature.


An ethical researcher should inform the participants on the usage of the results. Ask why they felt a need to have a survey. HR people are usually good about this stuff and won't try to read too much into your question.

You should be noticing other potential problems areas of the company that they're trying to fix like employee turn-over, poor motivation. They may be trying to sell the company and the buyer wants to get some sort of current status of the staff. All things being equal, I would pay less for a company with an unhappy staff. Fixing that problem has the chance for a large upside, but I may have to replace a lot of people in the process which makes it riskier.

Being "honest" isn't good enough. You have to want to help the company. There are many high-skilled employees who willingly accept a lower wage because they get something else out of the work. You agreed to the wage. Why didn't you ask for more or go work somewhere that pays more? If you can't find a place that pays more, that's your fault and not the company's. Pay is relative to the market.

Your survey results could be more of a poor reflection on you than the company.

  • +1 for the thoughts on external company evaluation during a potential acquisition.
    – brichins
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 15:32

Here's my -- admittedly depressing -- take: Almost every company I have ever worked for, at some point has asked for employee feedback on how nice a place this is to work, whether company policies are good ideas, etc. And at every company I can think of where they have done this, NEGATIVE ANSWERS ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE. In real life, the boss doesn't want to know whether morale is good or bad. He wants to be told that morale is good. And he certainly is not interested in hearing that the policies that he has established are bad. He wants to hear that they are all brilliant.

Example: At one company I worked for, when it came time for annual raises we were all given a form to fill out. You've probably seen something similar: What was your most important accomplishment last year? What are your goals for next year? etc. One of the questions was, I forget the exact words, but something to the effect of, "Are there are company policies or procedures that make it difficult to get your job done?" The first couple of years I left that blank. Then one year I put in a comment that -- I had to do a lot of travel that year -- that the procedures for arranging business travel were unnecessarily cumbersome and couldn't we cut down on the paper work. My boss wrote on his section of the form that he "had explained" to me "why these procedures were necessary". I left it blank the nest year or two. Then I put in a comment, I forget what now but something in the same vein. I had a different boss then. He came to me privately and told me to fill out a new form and leave that out, because it would just get me in trouble. When one manager retired, I was tasked to clean up his files. One of the memos I came across concerned an employee who had written that he thought that employees who had children got a lot of leeway to take kids to the doctor, etc, that was not given to single employees like himself. As a parent, personally I would rather be working than waiting at the hospital while my son is in surgery, I didn't agree with his comment, but whatever. The memo said that his boss and his boss's boss had taken him to a room for "counseling". After several such "counseling" sessions, the memo reported that he had said, "I guess I shouldn't have written that." Which the boss took to mean that he now understood that he was wrong and the company policy was right. I rather expect that what he really meant was that expressing his opinion just got him into trouble and would not result in anything changing, so it was a pointless thing to do.

A different company: They were remodeling the building, so they sent out a survey asking for employee suggestions. The company had a newsletter, and one issue talked about the suggestions submitted and management's response to each. One person said that they could use more parking. The newsletter reported that management "studied the issue and concluded that present parking was adequate". Another person said that having break areas in cubicles meant that people using the break areas often created a distraction for those trying to work, and maybe they could set aside some actual rooms with walls for break areas. Management "studied the issue and concluded that the existing break areas were adequate." EVERY suggestion, without exception, they reported that management had "studied the issue" and concluded that what they were doing now was "adequate". The newsletter did not list even ONE employee suggestion that was accepted. It's possible that there were suggestions that were not mentioned in the article, but I'd think that if there was even one that was accepted, that would have been mentioned along with all the rejections.

So, as I say, my depressing conclusion: Maybe the survey is really anonymous and maybe it isn't. If it isn't anonymous, then anything negative you say could get you into trouble. Even if it really is anonymous, it is unlikely that management will change anything based on any employee comments.

I would probably try to put in one or two suggestions which are as constructively worded as I can possibly make them, and which involve minimal criticism of management. Maybe, possibly, something will come of it. But probably not.

As someone else said, don't accept any assurances that the survey is anonymous. Fill it out as if your boss was standing beside you watching.

  • Whether constructive criticism is acceptable or not is highly dependent on not just the company, but your direct management. At the company I work for, we do annual surveys and if you really want to put your boss on the track to being fired, providing negative ratings on that survey is the best way. I'm under no illusions that it's completely anonymous, but it is run by Gallup at no small expense to the company, so I believe the company is sincere. If you're worried about how anonymous you are, I think that's a strong sign that you shouldn't give negative feedback.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 21:10
  • Interesting. Essentially every place I've worked that took employee surveys found negative comments very useful and generally showed efforts to address them. Commented Apr 12, 2015 at 8:48
  • I'm sure it depends on the company. I don't doubt that there are companies in the world that are sincerely interested in this sort of feedback. I've worked for companies that cared what employees had to say -- but they just asked them, they didn't have anonymous surveys. The first company I mentioned above was actually a pretty nice place to work. But as I said above, etc.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 12, 2015 at 21:46

I think a quote that everyone learned as a child it very apt here:

If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all

But I don't mean that in the way I think you will interpret.

From the contents of your question, it sounds like you want to use an "anonymous" survey as a soap box to rant against the company. Regardless of the anonymity of the survey, you have to wonder how seriously they will take a survey if it is nothing but a list of complaints.

I've taken many similar surveys in my time and I've always tried to offer constructive criticism because no place is perfect. At the same time, I always counter negative (but constructive) feedback with something positive. My belief is that negative feedback will be more easily accepted if it is balanced. Someone who just responds negatively to everything may be seen as a disgruntled employee or an unhappy person that is never satisfied.

As I mentioned (and want to reinforce), make any negative feedback constructive. Don't say "You guys suck, I hate all of you because you make me work 160 hours a week and only pay me $10/hr". Instead focus on how to frame the feedback in a constructive manner. "In similar positions in my locale, the pay rate is $x but my rate is far below that" and "the quality of my work suffers because I am expected to work more than y hours per week". Explain how it is better for the company not to work the employees so hard for below average pay, not that the company is the worst place in the world to work.

  • I think there is a difference in the interpretation of the results if it is truely anonymous. So it may not be bad to answer in a different way. Sure, answer containing multiple rants will probably not be even read to the end. But it will surely increase the rant-counter. And it's a very relevant result whether the fraction of ranting is 1% or 10%. Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 1:50
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    @VolkerSiegel I had interpreted the actual question the same as you, but the anonymity had been fairly well covered in virtually every other answer and whated to provide a different perspective that the OP may not have considered Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 8:37

No downsides. They claim its anonymous, therefore if they actually try to find out who wrote it, you can have a good picture of how fair your company is acting. If you haven't had any previous negative experience then I would not worry.

On the other side, providing 'bad place to work', 'insufficient pay' answers is not very useful for your company at all. You should try to explain yourself to give them ideas on how and why to improve the situation.

Completing that means that you tried to help and you can be expecting results from your company (based on provided feedback). If they take an action or not will give you an idea on how serious your company is about these surveys.


There are things you can do to ensure that your answer will be indeed anonymous.

First, make sure that the link you visit is free from any "tokens", "keys", etc. — in other words, it should have a clear name without any potentially personal data. It should not be a link that is given to you exclusively — talk to your colleagues to see if they did receive the same link.
Second, make sure you are not tracked by connection — the easiest way to solve this is to use Tor Browser bundle, which can be downloaded from the official website: https://www.torproject.org/ (also read the instructions)
Third, make sure that the already existing hardware&software is not tracking you. That means, do not attempt to do anything above from your work computer, use your own machine only. Because if someone else had access to the hardware or OS, then there may be keyloggers and other spyware.
And the most important, think about what you write. Sometimes it's easy to detect a person within a group solely by what did (s)he write.

If you do everything right, the chances of getting you are very small. Good luck!

  • 1
    Ok. But if you're that suspicious that the survey is not really anonymous and that there will be repercussions for any honest criticism, why would you think there's any point in giving honest criticism anyway? If managements response to any complaint is not going to be "oh, there's a problem we need to fix" but "let's track down that employee and punish him", then there's nothing gained by offering suggestions anyway.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 13:57
  • @Jay it's generally impossible to know in advance how they are going to use the results… so it's better to cover yourself Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 14:01
  • It's reasonable to expect a unique token as part of the link itself. Such surveys should endeavor to restrict multiple responses from individuals. Commented Apr 12, 2015 at 8:53
  • @user2338816 in that case, it's obviously not anonymous. Commented Apr 12, 2015 at 9:17
  • @SargeBorsch Though a unique link allows a potential for identification, it does not indicate identification. More about the circumstances must be known, for an obvious example see SurveyMonkey. My sample: surveymonkey.com/s/LBYS6VQ -- as a web survey, the link is not unique; but sent to e-mail addresses, each e-mail has a unique link and there is no way I can determine anything about the respondent. Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 9:03

You can be de-anonymized, even if the survey giver doesn't mean to. This happened to me once, and it was harrowing.

At the very beginning of my career, way back in 2008 and several companies ago, I worked for a big multinational company under a manager named Bob. It was my first job out of college, but my second role within the company. The job itself was a grind but I loved working for Bob. Bob was a heck of a guy and was running himself into the ground for the company. The team he managed was core to the product but, since it wasn't directly revenue producing, it was chronically underfunded and understaffed.

About six months after I started working for Bob (and, *cough*, right before the annual employee survey) the word came down that we were going through a reorg. In my exceedingly wise 22 year old opinion, Bob was getting screwed. His team was being distributed out to the various client-facing (and revenue-producing) teams, he was being left with no team or portfolio, and the work that we'd been doing on the core of the project would only be done from then on if a client directly funded it.

[N.B.: I've tried to give a flavor above of my perception of the events leading into my anonymous survey snafu. I recognize now that there could have been much more going on here. The tone of the above does not reflect how I feel about the situation now.]

The company was quite hierarchical; including Bob, the CEO, and the entire reporting chain in between, I had 17 levels of management. As a young employee, it struck me as criminally unfair that this line manager who was working his heart out lost his team and portfolio of responsibilities while the layers above him just shuffled things around.

And then, sitting among the empty cubes waiting to be reassigned, I received an email reminder that it was time to fill out the annual employee survey. The anonymous annual employee survey. Oh my.

Almost every relevant metric was a one. Job satisfaction, one star. Happiness with direction of the company, one star. Advice for management? Oh boy do I ever. Every comment box got three to ten sentences worth of rant. I complained about the 17 layers of management. I complained about everything about the company except for Bob. It was a therapeutic experience; getting that anger at the unfairness of it all out in writing let me start to adjust to the new realities of the situation. I enjoyed another week or two of slack time, was assigned to a new team, and moved on with my life.

Three Months Later...

Life on the new team was going okay. The people in the new cubes were nice enough. I was looking to leave the company, but my feelings about the company had transitioned from their nadir at a level of approximately unfathomable loathing to a more moderate, say, acute distaste. One day, our director (lets call him Randy) schedules a surprise meeting for the entire department on fifteen minutes notice, and with no title. I grab a coffee (and pay for a creamer packet because, natch, this company isn't paying for creamer for employees any more) and head in with everybody else.

The managers are there, and they are somber. It's a meeting about the annual survey results. We're going to talk through the feedback that was given on the survey. Oh yeah, I forgot about that. I wonder how this group did.

It seemed I wasn't the only person who'd given bad numerical scores. The team scores were low enough that the managers had been assigned some remediation tasks. It did seem, however, that I was just about the only person who had filled in the comment boxes. As we talked through a selection of the comments left on each item, 80% or more of them are my rant against the company from before I'd joined the team. I know from the first one that it is mine, and I am mortified.

The director read through comments aloud. There were definitely tells in mine. Some of them lined up with things I'd said after arriving on the team about screwing over really good folks. The 17 layers of management comment showed up. Lots of little hints about which clueless new grad might have authored them. About three quarters of the way through, my manager's gaze snapped to me. She'd been reading along and looking down, but some phrase had finally clicked and I knew things were going to be tough for a while.

The director wrapped up and said he was glad to speak about complaints with individuals who had them on a one-on-one basis. There were now two line managers in the department glaring at me. *Gulp*.

Things got testy after that. I assume word spread pretty quickly. After a week or two of the cold shoulder, I decided I needed to do something. It wasn't that I was being mistreated or anything; I felt terrible that in the eyes of my managers and coworkers, I'd come into their group and for no apparent reason just crapped all over everything. I also had already been accepted to a Master's program which I was intending to leave for, so I didn't feel like I had a lot to lose. So I went to the Director.

I explained that it was me who had left the feedback. I explained that it wasn't meant for him, his managers, or his organization, and that I'd left it when I was angry after the core team had been disbanded.

In a weird storybook ending, he said he agreed with a lot of it the complaints, especially (I assume) given the context. He appreciated my honesty. I got a (probably pre survey results) promotion and raise a few weeks later and left for school about a month after that.

The moral of the story is that, even aside from malicious technical measures, good old common sense, the distinct voice you write in, and the things people have heard you complain about over and over again (looking at you, fella who took away the company-provided creamer because it was too expensive) are plenty to out you in anonymous survey results. Think before you write, don't make assumptions about who or in what circumstances your comments will be read and always assume Randy will read them aloud to thirty befuddled coworkers and a couple of very unhappy managers.


I too have taken lots of anonymous surveys in my office. I don't know if they are actually anonymous or not.

You should think very clearly and answer according to the situation and the people involved. If you are really not happy with the job environment or some specific person like your boss, say that in the survey.

The consequences all depend on what your boss is like really. If he is a moron then you will have to pack your bags and be ready for a job change, but it might turn out that he is actually a sensible guy that wants to hide his humble nature from his employees by acting as a tough cookie. So it could go either way.

Best of luck to all the guys who have done or are about to do such anonymous surveys.


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