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Article | EX Insights

Survey best practice: Data privacy and confidentiality in employee surveys

By Andromachie Lella | January 18, 2021

This article explores the differences and offers steps to help you understand what can be done with the data from a legal standpoint, while making sure your employees don't feel uncomfortable.
Employee Engagement |Employee Experience

Data confidentiality has been an integral part of employee surveys for decades but how it's managed has evolved. Once upon a time, it was important that anonymous paper questionnaires were not seen by management. These days technology allows us to produce datafiles that include the responses of all participants alongside their personal data. In addition, data privacy has become increasingly important as more and more countries introduce legislation to protect the rights of individuals.

Data privacy and data confidentiality are often conflated, but are in fact quite distinct:

Data privacy - protecting the personal data of your employees is a legal requirement in most countries and there are specific rules about who can access it and for what it can be used.

Data confidentiality - whether you, as an employer, have access to an individual's responses to the survey is a commitment companies often make to employees in order to encourage open and honest feedback, but it is not a legal requirement.

It is very important that you are transparent with employees on both aspects.

It is sometimes difficult to reconcile what the company wants to be able to do with the survey data with what is legally possible and what employees are comfortable with, but the following steps will help you get there:

Plan ahead

Before you embark on an employee survey (and especially if it’s the first one you've done in a while), make a list of all the countries involved and get in touch with a local legal or privacy colleague. The earlier you let them know, the more they can help you set the right expectations with leaders. This is especially important in countries such as Germany, where Employee Works Councils need to be involved in the planning phase.

Strive for transparency

To address your data privacy obligations, you should be able to describe in clear and simple terms how an employee's personal data and survey responses will be handled. That includes, among others, where the data will be stored and for how long. We know this can be daunting so we have designed a standard Data Processing Notice that you can make available for all your surveys. Alternatively, you can create your own based on your specific requirements and with advice from your legal and privacy colleagues.

Further, you should consider whether you wish to have access to the individual responses to your surveys. That would enable you to perform your own analytics outside of our Employee Engagement Software, but it might make employees feel uncomfortable. You can put safeguards in place to alleviate these concerns, such as limiting the number of people who have access to the data and limiting the amount of data. No matter what you decide to do, you should be upfront with employees and be prepared to answer their questions. Employee Engagement Software supports various confidentiality approaches by restricting access to datafiles and offering standardized confidentiality statements. Most importantly, we've built our reports with confidentiality in mind so that users will only ever see the responses of groups with at least the minimum number of respondents.

Willis Towers Watson cannot offer legal advice, but we would be happy to discuss how our Employee Engagement Software can support your needs. Contact us for a demo today.

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