Does Anonymity Have a Place at Work?

By Lindsey Novak

August 6, 2020 5 min read

Q: Why do people tell others to not take ownership and say what they think about situations and people at work? If you work with someone who is not good at what he or she does, you should talk to the proper people in charge and report it. If you complain to a department head or higher up, that leader knows the person who is reporting it and is going to take it seriously. On the other hand, the boss may ignore the complaint if the person is ashamed of signing their name to it.

Anyone can say whatever they want if they make it anonymous, and no one will know if it's a legitimate or fictitious complaint. People need to take responsibility for what they say if they want action. An anonymous complaint may wrongly accuse innocent employees or may be due to vindictive feelings made up to retaliate against someone they dislike at work. If employees have real problems to report, they should not withhold their names on the complaints. I think it disqualifies the person from making a complaint that will be taken seriously.

A: There's a place and a situation for anonymity when reporting any issue or complaint. In a perfect world, employees could trust everyone at work and feel comfortable talking about any issue that is upsetting or disruptive to the work environment. But the world is not perfect. Humans are not perfect, and neither is management.

Work is often thought of as a place where employees can befriend others. Some limit workplace relationships to friendly acquaintances, while others invest more of their trust to form close friendships. But sometimes, those friendships turn out to be a disaster in the end.

It seems natural to form a friendship with a person you see and work with daily. What can happen, though, is that workplace friendships take on less importance when situations become competitive. How does a person then file a complaint against a person they have formed a friendship with? They can warn management about a potential situation if they require anonymity.

Another situation can arise in companies where HR professes to value an open-door policy but violates the trust when an employee uses that open-door policy to voice an opinion that management may not want to hear. People have suffered the consequences in such situations — sometimes immediately and sometimes soon after in a sly and often indirect manner, blaming the employee for a made-up situation, firing the employee under the guise of another issue, and more. After discovering HR was not their friend, many employees have learned to silence their opinions and either tolerate the repercussions or start a serious job search.

Once an employee has been burned in that manner, it's unlikely that type of situation will ever be repeated. There is only one way to protect oneself, though for many, it may seem unacceptable. Maintain a friendly demeanor with all at work, and limit the closeness of any workplace friendship. No harm comes from going to lunch with a co-worker or boss, but it's wise to guard one's personal conversations. Of course, it feels better to be able to trust a person wholeheartedly, but it's best to hold back on inner personal thoughts and past experiences.

The best example is from a group of co-workers who went out for drinks after work. One of the employees who partied a little too hard became too open and free with her actions. After drunkenly stripping at the table with co-workers and then recovering her clothes, she discovered the next day that one of the co-workers reported it at work. That person could have withheld judgment of her drunken behavior and remained silent but instead chose not to. The young women who overdrank lost her job, her confidence in herself and her trust in co-workers.

A lack of trust of co-workers partners well with anonymity for the future. While employees may want to tell all and do all with co-worker friends, a co-worker is a co-worker first and a friend last.

Email career and life coach: [email protected] with your workplace problems and issues. Ms. Novak responds to all emails. For more information, visit www.lindseynovak.com, and for past columns, see https://www.creators.com/features/at-work-lindsey-novak.

Photo credit: FirmBee at Pixabay

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