The Difference Between Anonymous and Confidential Reporting

The ethics of a company are oftentimes affected by whistleblowers. A whistleblower is someone who brings to light any observations of misconduct in the workplace or system. But, for information or allegation reporting to work properly, whistleblowers need to feel confident that no reprisals or blame will end up working against them. The same is often required for other incident reporting systems such as those in aviation, medicine and maritime.

Enter anonymity and confidentiality. Two terms that are often used interchangeably but are in fact two separate kinds of reporting. Both, however, secure reporters in the knowledge that their identity will not be exposed for all the world to see. 

So what exactly is confidential and anonymous reporting? And what’s the difference between the two? Read on to find out the definitions of each, how they work, and how they differ. 

What is Confidential Reporting?

When you report confidentially, you provide your employer or relevant authority with information about both the potential wrongdoing, observed incident or accident as well as some information about yourself. 

This includes things like your name, contact information and how you have come to know about this wrongdoing. But, this identity information does not go far. If you request to be a confidential source, nothing about you will be shared with anyone. Your identity will be safe, and you can rest easy knowing that no blame will be put on you. 

Confidential incident reporting is often used in safety-critical fields like medicine and aviation. These fields put systems in place to allow for potential problems to be brought up and, ultimately, for the development of safety measures. 

Confidential reporting is a kind of umbrella term used for incident and near-miss reporting. For example, aviation near-miss reports in Britain use the Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme (CHIRP). If an incident occurs whereby a collision of aircrafts almost happens, this would be the channel to use to report it. 


What is Anonymous Reporting?

Reporting anonymously is a little different. While you still report as a whistleblower to the organisation or relevant authority, you don’t need to provide any of your personal information at all.

Nobody, not even the investigator, will know anything about your identity. This is helpful in relieving the psychological burden that sometimes comes with having to report something you may have witnessed, experienced, or even taken part in. 

Anonymous reporting also relieves stress. This is because it is never assumed that you take part in the investigation or provide more information. And even in the cases you do take part, the dialogue between you and the investigators is best when it is also anonymous and protected.

For example, you may report something like harassment in the workplace as an anonymous source. All you would need to do is provide as much information as you see fit. Then, you can either leave the complainant name section blank or use anonymous channels set up by your company itself.


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Confidential vs Anonymous Reporting - What’s the Difference?

It may still seem as if the application of both of these kinds of reporting are similar enough that the differences sound irrelevant. After all, both provide the whistleblower or reporter with a safe space to report their grievances. However, there are key differences in the outcomes of each kind of report.

In confidential reporting, the inclusion of information like one’s job title and identity helps to guide the investigator. The investigator can confirm sources, ask follow-up questions, and even work together with the confidential reporter in order to find a solution for the issue. This way, the investigator can confirm claims easier and faster as they know who to talk to from the get-go. 

Anonymous reporting is different in that it is a bit more difficult for the investigator to assess the credibility of the complaint. The investigator must go out and look for additional sources. Thus, leads are harder to find and follow. This is also the reason why keeping the protected dialogue going on with the whistleblower is so important even when anonymous channel is used.

It’s also hard to know whether the solution the investigator finally decides on will be sufficient. In spite of this, anonymous reporting definitely has its perks. People are far more likely to engage in reporting if they feel 100% safe and comfortable in doing so. 

Confidential and anonymous reporting should not be used interchangeably. This is because a confidential report will not always be anonymous. For example, your name in a confidential report may be shared with the relevant investigators so that they can ask you follow up questions. 

In a similar vein, an anonymous report will also not always be confidential. Although no one will know your name, your employer may share the complaint itself among the employees of the company. This is so that they can make people aware of the issue and find out if anyone else has information.


Why Does This Matter?

Both kinds of reporting matter to the inner workings of any company wishing to maintain integrity in ethics and sound system and culture for safety. Whistleblowing and incident reporting in both these forms help people to feel comfortable in reporting anything they feel may jeopardise the company, its employees, or its consumers. 

Allowing for both anonymous and confidential reporting of suspicions, accusations or nonconformities ensures that employees will feel more comfortable reporting all types incidents and observations. This is because there will be no retaliation or blaming placed upon them as the whistleblower. It also helps the company to improve upon itself and keep its employees happy.

While many companies prefer the confidential reporting approach due to its potential for follow-up questions and credibility assessment, it’s important to also consider the right to report anonymously.

Having both kinds of reporting available is therefore the best way to go. Doing so can help ease the psychological burden of reporting wrongdoings as the whistleblower can choose whether they want their identity known or not. 


Final thoughts

Incidents, wrongdoings, and near misses all impact upon the ethical standpoint and safety measures of a company. So, having both confidential and anonymous reporting channels is the best way forward. 

Allowing employees to choose between which option they prefer is crucial as it may encourage more people to come forward. It is therefore important to put platforms in place that allow for reporting that is either confidential or anonymous.


If you don’t have one already, have a look at our Whistleblowing tool and contact us for more information.

We are building the world's first operational involvement platform. Our mission is to make the process of finding, sharing, fixing and learning from issues and observations as easy as thinking about them and as rewarding as being remembered for them.‍

By doing this, we are making work more meaningful for all parties involved.

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