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The biggest risks to your business are often the ones you can’t see. But with many people still reluctant to “speak up” about workplace issues, these risks can remain hidden. 

Enabling anonymous reporting about workplace concerns can help break down these barriers and reveal crucial information – before it’s too late. 

What is anonymous reporting in the workplace?

Anonymous reporting is a process where people submit a whistleblowing report without revealing their identity. Anonymous reporting may be favored by people who are fearful of the risks of being identified. 

Is “anonymous reporting” the same as “confidential reporting”?

Anonymous reporting is not the same as confidential reporting. Confidential reporting means the discloser’s identity is known (by at least one person or entity, such as the report recipient or investigator) but it remains protected. 

Is anonymous reporting illegal?

There are some legal restrictions on anonymous reporting in certain countries. These restrictions typically relate to: 

  • The type of issue that can be reported anonymously 
  • The protections afforded to people who make anonymous reports 
  • Whether anonymous reports are legally valid in specific cases

However, the landscape is shifting. In recent years some countries, like Australia have lifted restrictions on anonymous reporting. Another example with wide-reaching implications is the European Union Whistleblower Protection Directive which allows for anonymous reporting across the EU. Though it is not required to allow anonymous reporting, most EU Member States have now transposed the Directive into national law and many allow anonymous reporting.  

To learn more about the whistleblowing regulations in the country or countries in which you operate, see our guide to national whistleblower protection laws

Why should you allow anonymous reporting?

1. Anonymous reporting builds trust

Fear of retaliation for disclosers is a huge factor preventing people from speaking up. 

Giving people the option to remain anonymous when raising their concerns helps build trust in your whistleblowing process. It tells people that addressing an issue is more important than identifying a discloser. 

2. You can still communicate with anonymous reporters

It is a common misconception that it’s impossible to have a dialogue with anonymous disclosers. 

Solutions such as the NAVEX Whistleblowing & Incident Management enable two-way communication between a discloser and their organization – regardless of whether they remain anonymous or not. 

3. Anonymous reporters often reveal their identity later 

In 2023, 56% of whistleblowing reports received through NAVEX were submitted anonymously, keeping with the long-term trend of anonymous reporting rates being in the mid-50% range. The decision to conceal one’s identity is often driven by the uncertainty that can exist around the speak-up process. 

Once the organization responds to the discloser and takes steps to reassure them about the protective measures they have in place, it’s quite common for people reveal their identity and become more deeply engaged. 

However, follow up to anonymous reports still lags and presents an opportunity for improvement. NAVEX whistleblowing benchmark data shows in 2023, for the second year in a row, the follow-up rate on anonymous reports was only 27%. This leaves a lot of room for improvement with more than two-thirds of organizations missing opportunities to further their investigations into reported issues. 

4. Anonymous whistleblowing reports are still valuable 

The fact that a report has been submitted anonymously should not be a basis for dismissing its validity. Indeed, our analysis of over 1.86 million whistleblowing reports in 2023 shows the overall substantiation rate for anonymous reports holds steady at 33%, with named reports substantiated 50% of the time. However, it’s important to note the caveat that its possible anonymous reports are substantiated at a lower rate given the lower rate of follow up compared to named reports. 

Anonymously submitted reports can shine a light on issues you may otherwise be unaware of. They can highlight areas of risk within your organization requiring attention, or provide a crucial piece of information that relates to an existing investigation. 

What are the drawbacks of anonymous reports? 

Aside from potential legal implications (which should be assessed with help from external legal counsel), anonymity can complicate the investigation process. This is particularly true if: 

The report submitted lacks crucial details pertinent to an investigation 

Further information is required from the discloser 

The discloser made their report using a one-way communication channel 

How to reduce the risks associated with anonymous reporting 

Use a structured question set as part of your report capture process to ensure you get the key details every time. 

Utilize an incident management platform that enables two-way conversation with anonymous disclosers to aid your investigation. 

Offer a range of reporting channels that span web, telephone and mobile to improve accessibility. 

Train employees on the anti-retaliation and confidentiality measures you have in place. This may increase the chances of the reporter choosing to identify themselves. 

The role of anonymous reporting in your organization 

Offering anonymous reporting is a simple but powerful way to encourage a strong speak up culture. 

Removing barriers to reporting will result in a greater volume of reports, and in turn greater insight into the risks within your business. Anonymous disclosers can then be encouraged to reveal their identity and take a more active role in the investigation process. 

Implementing a reporting platform that enables secure two-way communication– regardless of a person’s disclosure preferences – will enable you to make greater use of anonymous reports, and better protect your organization from the risks it faces. 

Ready to learn more about how NAVEX can help more effectively manage your whistleblowing and incident management? 

Let’s get started!