Walking the line between privacy and transparency

Inequalities of power in organizations are inherent and the risk of discrimination is high. So, at Friday Pulse, we recognise the need for a design that walks a line between privacy and transparency, between psychological safety and social accountability.

Walking the line between privacy and transparency

Good design is always aligned to specific goals, which are based on assumptions about the way the world works. Our research has taught us that psychological safety is foundational to wellbeing at work. And it’s also the case that wellbeing is created in the interactions between us. It’s a product of our social worlds as much as our introspection. So, a core design goal for any wellbeing at work initiative like Friday Pulse is to protect individuals while promoting group interaction and action.

Friday Pulse is designed so it:

  • keeps individual responses to numeric questions private
  • keeps individual (non)participation private
  • shares team scores with all team members
  • shares organization scores with everyone
  • attributes names to responses from open text / comment questions

Our privacy promises to individuals are complemented by a highly transparent reporting interface for group scores and open text questions.

But, why not let people leave comments anonymously? Here are a few reasons…

  1. Friday Pulse is a tool to catalyse conversation. Rarely do we enter into a conversation with someone in everyday life who is nameless and faceless. We engage in lively interactions as people who are accountable for our feelings and who care about the outcome. This sort of adult-to-adult conversation is what Friday Pulse seeks to encourage in workplaces. We’re not saying this is always easy, but for wellbeing it remains an important goal.

  2. Anonymous open text responses are psychologically unsafe. To say something without that comment being attributed to you feels comfortable initially, but it doesn’t lead to comfort. We’re often less careful about how we phrase things when we can’t be identified and this can create more aggression and division. Even the best intentions can lead to second-guessing who said what. This second-guessing leads to wrong assumptions, which triggers confusion, frustration and distrust. As John Suler, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Rider University puts it: “It’s very easy to take this shadowy image of this other person online and start using that to create this internal dialogue where you unleash all your stuff on this other person”.

  3. We know the limitations of technology to “fix” culture. Launching Friday Pulse in your company won’t fix a lack of openness in an organization’s culture, at least not immediately. It cannot plaster over the holes - the personal insecurities, the gaps in professional empathy, or the chasms of privilege. But technology can create spaces for people to grow the skills and confidence they need to have more open conversations with colleagues.

Studies show anonymity can help people to share personal information and seek support on sensitive issues. But nameless sharing does not develop a sense of togetherness, nor a shared sense of responsibility for culture.

For organizations truly concerned about issues of diversity and inclusivity, it’s necessary to complement the use of Friday Pulse with offline approaches like employee forums, employee resource groups or affiliate groups. These create the spaces for people to converse on the issues affecting them, but which they experience as marginal or counter dominant culture. This way you grant individual concerns safety in numbers, just as Friday Pulse does when it presents back team scores for happiness and culture without exposing the feelings of individuals.