Hi Evil HR Lady,
We’ve just received word from our HR team that we’re being asked to participate in a workplace job satisfaction survey. It was made clear in the email that the emails we received contained unique survey codes for each recipient. The statement from the HR team was that this code would only be used for aggregate statistical information. However, having a background in sending commercial email, it’s highly likely that the unique survey code and questions could be traced back to my individual email address (and ultimately back to me).
The question is, knowing that the HR team could trace my individual survey back to me, should I participate in the survey at all? I’m concerned they are specifically looking to target unhappy individuals by helping them to the door faster. I also know that lying on the survey to make it look like everything is great is really no better. Personally, I’m not particularly fond of the idea of this survey in the first place as I don’t know how many people would be truly honest.
Should I participate? If so, what kinds of responses should I give them?
Well, here’s the thing. You’re absolutely right about them being able to trace the answers back. The question is, will they. If it’s being done by an outside firm (which is probably is, I doubt your HR team is sophisticated enough to pull this off without an outside firm), there is a big chance that your HR department truly never will see anything but aggregate data.
That said, let’s talk about aggregate data. Once upon a time, I managed a small department with 4 direct reports. My manager wanted me to undergo a 360 evaluation, which was fine. My direct reports were assured that their responses would be 100 percent anonymous. And they were. Except for the part that they broke down the results by exempt and non-exempt employees. I had 3 exempt direct reports and one non-exempt direct report. Oops, her answers are no longer anonymous. And then with 3 exempt employees? How hard is it to figure out who is saying what? Not hard at all. Especially since they included the “long form” answers on my report. I worked with these people every day. It wasn’t at all difficult to tell who said what.
Now, either I’m a manager that walked on water (pats self on back) or my direct reports were all smart enough to know that I would be able to figure out who was saying what and did the appropriate sucking up. They were smart, savvy techy HR people who undoubtedly figured out that if they were mean it could come back to bite them. (That said, none of them were mean people, they were all awesome. Best department ever.)
And even though this a a company wide survey, when they break it down, it may not be difficult to tell. “Here we have the marketing department at the Nobsville facility broken down by race and gender!” Yeah, there goes your anonymity.
So my point (and I do have one) is that even if HR is being honest that it will all be anonymous, depending on how they break the data down, it may be blatantly obvious who said what.
So, should you participate? Absolutely. They are probably tracking your email address and you’ll get bugged until you respond. But what should you say? Only what you would say to your boss’s face.
Not enough vacation? Absolutely, comment on that.
Pay below market average? Absolutely comment on that.
You’re blissfully happy with your work-life balance? Tell the truth.
Your relationship with your manager? Errrr, be as honest as you can be without being rude. Remember, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Because, unless you have 40 co-workers who all have the same job title, it may be broken down to identifiable levels.
Because if your boss is a jerk, him finding out that his employees think he’s a jerk is unlikely to make him take a deep look at his management techniques and make major changes. No, he’s likely to go full out monster on you. You don’t need that.
I love surveys. I love data. (See that Techy HR person thing above.) I would love to have an employee survey that was 100 percent honest, but I also totally understand that you’ve got to look out for yourself. So, my advice? Honest on company wide policies, and polite on departmental practices.