Is anonymity a cloak under which people can hide to say what they really mean? Or does it empower people to be really mean?
This Web site, www.betterme.com, seems to think you won’t get the constructive criticism you deserve unless your coworker’s identity is kept secret. We also have a mechanism at work that allows staff to ask questions anonymously and read the answers later when they’re posted to our Intranet.
I have mixed feelings about this. Keep in mind that I am only speaking about anonymity in the workplace and not online support groups where anonymity is key to a successful healing process.
Based on my experience, at least 80% of the anonymous communication online amounts to junk. A lot of people use the anonymous tool we have at work to tattle on their coworkers or complain about stupid things like the quality of the soap in the restrooms. I’ve also experienced the chatter than goes on in online forums and chat rooms where people use anonymity to deceive or harass their peers.
However, good things can also happen when the messengers feel safe expressing themselves knowing their identity is protected. In some instances, at work, staff were able to suggest changes to some managerial practices. In another situation, someone felt comfortable enough to report an ethical conflict of interest they witnessed. Had we not had this anonymous tool, who knows if these issues would have surfaced.
So should we take a leap of faith and assume the quality of workplace communication would improve if people posted under their real name? Or should we weed through all the junk to ensure we don’t miss out on what those who won’t speak out loud have to say?
We chose the second option but with the added twist of placing some restrictions on the 80% crowd of time-wasters. Inspired by this BNET article, we will no longer consider anonymous online complaints unless the messenger offers at least 1 solution to the problem.