Generative AI could make employee surveys truly anonymous

Qualtrics is exploring generative AI to maintain anonymity in employee surveys by rewriting responses, a move that could enhance participation and trust.

Qualtrics is examining how generative AI could help maintain anonymity in employee surveys.

Employee surveys can take many forms, including those that ask for written responses, which can become a problem.

Distinctive writing styles can give clues about the writer even in anonymous surveys, said Wojtek Kubik, head of product management for employee experience at Qualtrics. "There are people on my team that I could probably pick out from a mile away," he said.

Qualtrics is testing generative AI's ability to rewrite survey responses in a style that is different from the original writer, making it difficult to determine the author, Kubik said.

A machine rewrite of an employee survey response that makes it "incredibly difficult" to figure out who the author is "might make people a little bit more comfortable" with responding and increase participation, Kubik said. It also enables employers to conduct written response surveys with smaller groups of workers. According to Kubik, employers set survey thresholds of 30 to 50 employees to preserve written response anonymity.

Employee surveys have an overall response rate of about 60%, said Jeanne Meister, executive vice president of Executive Networks, a San Francisco-based resource group for HR managers. Most of the improvements HR vendors make to their survey products focus on improving user experience -- not user privacy. "[Using generative AI] to rewrite the employee's response is brilliant," she said.

Boosting anonymity

Employers have been expanding active listening programs for all segments of workers, Meister said, and boosting anonymity will be especially important.

We're dealing with people and their jobs, and that's a pretty high degree of trust and psychological safety that we have to maintain.
Wojtek KubikHead of product management for employee experience, Qualtrics

Qualtrics is improving the automation of its pulse surveys with new features that reduce the level of effort needed to administer employee surveys. The new features include automating the rotation of questions to specific employee segments and feeding the resulting analytics to a dashboard. The automation improvements will enable employers to increase the frequency of pulse surveys, Kubik said.

He said Qualtrics is also using generative AI to explore making dashboards more conversational -- something other HR vendors are also considering. The AI could create a narrative based on data sets or suggest discussion points for a team, which could, for instance, enable managers to have difficult conversations without HR's help.

But with HR, the bar for success has to be set high when it comes to AI because of "what happens if we get it wrong," Kubik said.

"We're dealing with people and their jobs, and that's a pretty high degree of trust and psychological safety that we have to maintain," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget Editorial. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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