Anonymity and Transparency: Striking a Balance

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The Core Issue With Reporting

Part of what makes addressing mistreatment so difficult—and make no mistake, this has been a problem since the very first organized workplaces—is a dichotomy at the very core of the issue.

For those suffering from mistreatment at work, maintaining their anonymity can help tremendously with the emotional burden of what they’re going through. But for those in a position to address others’ mistreatment, anonymity makes things far more difficult, if not impossible to fix.

There are many reasons a plurality of workers who experience mistreatment at the office never report it: a sense of personal embarrassment; fear of retaliation; concern they won’t be believed. But one thing each of these justifications has in common is the notion that coming forward with allegations would worsen the situation. For workers experiencing mistreatment, these feelings are valid, but for those outside that experience, these reasons can be frustrating justifications to not reporting. However, rather than chastise someone suffering from mistreatment over their reluctance to report (a counterproductive, if not cruel plan of action), it’s up to the organization to cultivate a culture of trust, to combat any potential fears over reporting mistreatment, because that’s the first step toward wiping out mistreatment itself. That comes from greater transparency—an understanding on the part of employees that their concerns will be taken seriously, will be addressed in a straightforward manner, and they’ll be involved in the process should they desire to be.

To create a culture like this, an organization needs a critical mass of trust, which entails employees being willing to discuss their issues with those who can help.

How Speakfully Preserves Anonymity…

As a platform, Speakfully operates under a full understanding of this conundrum, but also approaches workplace mistreatment based on the belief that greater transparency within an organization leads to a more trusting and secure working environment.

That’s why Speakfully’s documentation tools allow for total anonymity for as long as a user wishes. As a user logs their experiences into a folder, they are asked a series of questions about each incident. This helps them keep their thoughts organized as they maintain their anonymity in the early stages of chronicling their experiences, and ensures no information is lost over time, should that person eventually want to report their mistreatment. 

Answers to the questions asked by Speakfully remain anonymous until formally submitted, but HR will be able to view aggregate data from all organization-wide responses, to make high-level observations about potentially systemic issues. Individual users won’t be able to be associated with their data until they formally choose to submit. This allows for the organization to intervene preemptively, with a broad stroke approach to its corporate policy if a widespread issue is detected, taking some of the onus off of the individual suffering from mistreatment.

Additionally, Speakfully strips away one major barrier to reporting by preserving an aspect of anonymity: online submission of incident folders. 

…and Promotes Transparency

It may seem like a small thing, but allowing exhausted, emotionally depleted recipients of unfair treatment to step forward by handing over their documentation without having to verbally explain themselves at the same time can greatly increase the likelihood of them reporting in the first place.

Simplifying the process without sacrificing the person’s ability to paint a clear and complete picture of their experiences is essential to encouraging them to come forward. Past iterations of anonymous reporting tools—hotlines or “comment boxes”—don’t allow for the breadth of reporting Speakfully does. And once the report is submitted, that’s when transparency can factor in.

Speakfully asks users questions pertaining to their comfort level with a supervised mediation with involved parties, as well as for any preferences the user might have over which HR staffer will oversee their investigation. The goal is to get people opening up and talking.

For one, when these issues are discussed openly, the mistreated worker can be better supported by the organization, as well as their peers. And the more mistreated workers anticipate a positive outcome and experience when reporting, the more likely they are to do so. It feeds itself. 

And to go one step further, as company culture shifts toward one that supports those suffering hardship at work, and embraces its billing as truly zero tolerance, all employees evaluate their own behavior more closely. This contributes to a further decrease in mistreatment.

It’s a positive feedback loop. And the sort of mechanism required for things to systematically improve. The ultimate goal of any reporting tool should be complete eradication of mistreatment. But at the end of the day, that aim can only be achieved incrementally, from openness, and the gradual creation of a workplace where all employees feel comfortable, safe, and supported.