Online reviews proliferate for everything from rentshares to restaurants, and corporate cultures are hardly immune: Sites like Glassdoor, Indeed and Vault give disgruntled employees a platform to expose the underbelly of their organizations' managers and practices--whether fairly or not.
"Job candidates and employees are now empowered to provide instant feedback on employers, at any time, and they can rate a company's culture and management just as they rate a hotel, restaurant or movie," said Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, a New York City-based HR executive network and research firm.
And these reviews can potentially be seen by untold numbers of job candidates.
A survey from Bayt.com—a job board for positions in the Middle East—found that 76 percent of professionals research a company online before considering a job there. An Indeed survey shows that 83 percent of job seekers will probably rely on company reviews to decide if they should apply to a job.
If negative reviews threaten a business's brand, reputation and future hiring prospects, what's a company's recourse? And what if the review is accurate about a negative aspect of working for your company?
What If a Reviewer Lies?
Robin Richards, co-founder of CareerArc, an HR technology company based in Burbank, Calif., suggests two options if a company spots a fraudulent review:
1. Flag it. On its website, Glassdoor says that employers "can flag [a review] directly and our Content team will give it a second look. If we find that we missed something the first time, we'll take it down."
- Misrepresents his or her current or former affiliation with an employer.
- Posts content that's defamatory, libelous or fraudulent; that the poster knows to be false or misleading; or that does not reflect the poster's honest opinion and experience.
- Discloses information that violates legally enforceable confidentiality; nondisclosure or other contractual restrictions; or rights of any third party, including any current or former employers or potential employers.
2. Respond to it. "This may be the most effective course of action," Richards said. "Simply being aware of negative comments is not enough. Today, [potential job] candidates expect a reply. Sixty-two percent say reading a response improved their perception of an employer, according to one Glassdoor survey."
The response should be prompt. To that end, companies should create alerts that notify them immediately when they're mentioned publicly in a post or on social media. Leaders should also ask workers to notify them, or HR, if they spot posts that could harm the company.
What If the Review Has Merit?
Responding too swiftly might not be the best course of action, however, if a review makes an allegation that has merit. If reviewers can provide evidence supporting a negative posting, an employer's defensiveness will only reflect poorly on the business.
"Make sure to not be combative and to consult with your legal team before responding to any serious claims, such as harassment or discrimination," Richards said.
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing and Sustaining Employee Engagement]
Do show appreciation for the feedback.
"Listen to what the review has to say," Richards said. "The worst thing to do is ignore a bad review simply because it's negative. Keep an open mind and investigate if there are merits to the claims. They may represent real opportunities for change that could genuinely improve your company culture."
And if companies do make improvements, he said, share those actions on the site where the bad review appeared.
Finally, companies may want to ask current employees to respond to a critical review by posting positive reviews.
"Encourage employees to share why they love working at your company," Richards said.
But, Glassdoor warns, "we do not allow employers to incentivize or coerce employees to leave positive reviews."
If a review is especially nasty, or is starting to receive media attention, consider issuing a press statement to address and, if applicable, refute the issues that the post raised.
If a company isn't satisfied with how a review website responds to its complaints, it may want to pursue legal action, such as a cease-and-desist order.
But be aware that the courts have ruled that employees' complaining about their company to try to improve working conditions is protected speech. And posting personnel file details about a current or former worker could violate privacy.
Also, many websites allow reviewers to discuss companies' senior leaders by name, though not anyone below that level.
Glassdoor notes that the law protects such websites from responsibility for the content that users submit, and "If you sue our users and ask us to tell you who they are, we object and often fight in court to protect their anonymity."
Richards also recommends that employers:
- Analyze comments on employer rating sites to inform HR strategy.
- Listen carefully to current employees so you know what makes them happy and what doesn't.
- Assign a team to analyze and respond to positive and negative feedback on employee satisfaction surveys.
"In much the same way that marketing departments have become customer-centric, human resource departments must treat their employees as customers and continuously use listening platforms to better understand employees needs and wants," Meister said.
"This means ending the once-a-year employee survey and replacing it with continuous, monthly or weekly surveys. It means a relentless focus on transparency and responsiveness in the workplace. As more employees use an expanding set of these employer rating sites," she said, "power is shifting from the employer to the employee."