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The right to anonymity?Not at certain company meetings

In some companies, the practice of many skilled workers who regard it as a workplace right is now at risk of being abandoned.

For many years, large and small companies have allowed anonymous questions in plenary meetings as a way to encourage free communication around sensitive issues.

But after a year of split elections, nationwide protests against racial justice and the global pandemic pushed many business activities to remote work, and many employers began to question this practice. Some companies are considering getting rid of the anonymity problem altogether. Others are filtering or editing content that may be offensive.

Consultants say that as technology companies start a new year, it is more important than ever to make employees feel that they are heard by others and collect honest bottom-up feedback to management. However, the best way to do this has yet to be debated: Is anonymity the most effective mechanism for employees to promote complaints and get answers? Or inhibit trust and transparency? Who will benefit when a name (or an unnamed) is associated with a sensitive issue? Who risks not speaking at all?

“My personal idea is to get rid of them,”

; said Hubert Palan, CEO of Productboard. Productboard is a product management software company based in San Francisco with approximately 230 employees. He said: “If someone asks an anonymous question, it really doesn’t seem to be transparent.” “Are people worried that if the request is not made anonymously, it will lead to repercussions or punishment?”

“What they didn’t say was: “Can we only have 80,000 city halls?” ”’

-Professor James Dutter

Like many companies, Productboard held more all-hands meetings to make employees feel connected while working remotely. It is now weighing whether to continue to allow anonymity issues, which have not yet been resolved.

While most employees use their names, since everyone is remote, Mr. Palan has noticed more anonymity issues. He suspects this is because more than half of his employees are new employees, and the company has recruited 130 employees remotely in the past year. Most of the questions were constructive, but Mr. Palan found anomalies, including inquiring about the details of other people’s salaries and complaints about bad relations with the manager.

He said: “From the context, it’s obvious who it is.” “It doesn’t seem to be a problem you want to solve in front of the entire company.”

The company’s former senior human resources director Laszlo Bock (Laszlo Bock) said that the issue of anonymity has been Google’s main job for many years and is usually very effective. Using popular internal tools, whether it is a gathering of 20 people or a gathering of all members, everyone in the meeting can see questions with or without names. He said that posts can be submitted in advance and will not be planned. Participants can “approve or oppose” any given post. (Google, owned by Alphabet the company

Some types of internal debates have been curbed in recent years, but since Mr. Bock left in 2016, he has declined to comment on how to deal with anonymous employees. )

Bok said that the issue of anonymity at work has a lot in common with the anonymity issues of other parts of the Internet. He said: “Those who feel fear, anxiety, underrepresented or unpopular, or unpopular views can use anonymity to express their views.” “The downside is that these systems seem to inevitably degenerate into discourse. The lowest common denominator.”

Mr. Bok himself is afraid of the question of anonymity. Humu, a human resources startup he now runs, once allowed this but ceased operations in June. He said the company hopes to create an environment where people can speak safely when using names, and this situation is important when trying to address people’s concerns.

He said: “Because you don’t know who this person is, you often lack important background information.” “As one of the people answering on stage, you want to give a satisfactory answer.” For example, if someone is Asking questions helps to understand whether they are engaged in sales (expenses increase expenses) or finance (investigations in expenses).

In a high-profile incident last summer, LinkedIn hosted a staff hall to discuss the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.Microsoft employees the company

The owning company is allowed to ask questions anonymously-an option that was not available before. Some people took this opportunity to comment, calling the company’s CEO Ryan Roslansky (Ryan Roslansky) later called it offensive and appalling.

“In the moderator mode, those of us cannot track comments in real time,” he wrote in an email to employees, which had been posted to LinkedIn. “[W]e provides the function of anonymous questioning, the purpose is to create a safe space for everyone. Unfortunately, this makes it possible to add offensive comments without being held accountable. ”

A company spokesperson said it does not plan to allow anonymous questions again.

Akilah Cadet, CEO of Change Cadet, a diversity and organizational development consulting firm, said that if more companies do get rid of the anonymity problem, then underrepresented groups and new employees will be the most vulnerable groups. She said: “Now those who are insecure don’t say anything.”

In the past year, Dr. Cardet said that she had received requests from technology companies on how to deal with questions such as “Why is there no white history month?” “Why does the discussion about diversity turn to race instead of gender?”; and “Why isn’t age considered more of a diversity issue?”

“When will our company fulfill its promise against racism in the summer?” This has aroused more and more doubts.

On the other hand, others want to know why they must continue to participate in diversity seminars.

She advises companies not to filter out insensitive issues (which may ultimately reflect the prejudices of the host), but instead use them as opportunities to state their values ​​and whether to tolerate the tone or language used on specific issues.

She said, for example, a company can say: “The comments we received indicate that our diversity efforts are no longer necessary due to the implementation of the new government. We want to remind everyone that this is a lifelong journey.”

Slido, a company that develops software tools for hosting corporate Q&A, said that the number of plenary meetings it facilitated increased from 45,000 times in 2019 to 110,000 times in 2020

James Detert, professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, said that since the pandemic, plenary meetings have become the preferred way for people to communicate.

Share your opinion

What do you think are the pros and cons of letting employees ask anonymous questions in company meetings? Join the conversation below.

“What people say when they say I need more communication from senior leaders is,’I need a real opportunity to have a conversation, dialogue, express opinions and listen. I need to have a feeling that you know who I am and you care,'” He said. “Aren’t they saying:’Can we only have 80,000 city halls?”

Conversely, the company may want to gather employees in smaller groups where it may be more comfortable to use their names. He said: “If I am the CEO, then what is important is that I somehow obtain the unchanging facts.

Jenny Dearborn, chief human officer of Klaviyo Inc., a digital marketing startup with 650 employees, said that she believes there is no worse time to get rid of employee anonymity.

She said: “I have experienced the Internet bubble burst and economic recession in the 2000s, but I have never experienced such a situation.” “Like, everything is fine, but you will scratch the surface, and man, oh, that will It makes people feel anxious.”

When Ms. Dearborn joined Klaviyo in August, she said she might feel nervous about anonymity through the company’s internal website. They can be published at any time without filtering, and discussed in the monthly plenary meeting. She saw all sorts of things, from rants about compensation instead of Bitcoin instead of Bitcoin, to the end of the epidemic, to people expressing anger at the “Black Lives Matter” protests that the company did not act. .

Ms. Dearborn said that companies need to be prepared to take action and solicit feedback from employees. She said: “That is the beginning, not the end.” In order to better understand which issues are priority issues for employees, she implemented a voting function on certain topics, which can be resolved in future plenary meetings. She also began to edit the tone of the submission and merge the duplicate content.

However, she did not ask employees to use their own names, which was her management habit when she found deaf-mute people.

She said: “You should have a culture based on trust and transparency.” “The way to do this is to make people feel safe where they are, not where you are.”

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