What to Do About Bad Employee Reviews Online

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It happens. A bad employee review. They pop up on sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, Vault, and on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even things that now seem archaic – like online message boards.

Do they hurt an employer’s brand and reputation? Yes, according to one study as reported in this Society of Human Resources Management article titled Should You Respond to Negative Online Reviews?

That article reported that 94 percent of workers believe that negative comments on employer review sites damage an employer’s brand, according to a report by CareerArc, a social recruiting platform based in Burbank, Calif. In addition, the survey reported that 75 percent of job seekers consider an employer’s brand before applying for a job, while 62 percent of job seekers visit social media sites to evaluate an employer’s brand, yet only 57 percent of employers say they have an employer brand strategy.

How should employers handle bad employee reviews? Carefully, to start. That same SHRM article offered these techniques to protect an employer brand from a bad online review:

  • Respond to online criticism in a way that shows that the organization is genuinely committed to improving.
  • Create intranets for employees to expose concerns internally before they turn to outside sites.
  • Ask current employees—including new hires—to comment about their application process and work experiences on review sites.
  • Mine online review sites for actionable aggregated data.

One CMO said that asking employers to respond to negative online reviews with positive online reviews can backfire because they can look superficial. In some cases though, employees of companies take the lead, and respond to negative reviews before a social media team or reputation management plan is put in place. That is of course, with the employers blessing.

“If you happen to come across a negative comment on any of our social media platforms, you’ll see that it is our community who responds in our defense before our social media staff even has a chance to,” says Tim Mulligan, Chief Human Resources Officer at San Diego Zoo Global. “We’ve made it a policy to let people, employees or otherwise, be heard through these channels with the realization that anything negative will ultimately be refuted by one of our many passionate supporters.”

Rebecca McClure is the Social Media and Community Engagement Specialist for Axia Public Relations. The PR firm created a reputation management software called ReviewMaster, a tool that helps businesses gain more positive reviews, while filtering through the negative ones. ReviewMaster monitors sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, Vault and more. It is McClure’s job to respond to negative employee reviews for them for clients who use ReviewMaster.

And the best way to handle bad employee reviews is to rise above the negativity.

“Apologize that the employee had a negative experience, and then compliment something they did well while they were working with you,” says McClure.

For example, “We apologize that you didn’t enjoy working here, Sarah. We appreciated how organized you always were and how you always stayed on top of your projects. We wish you the best in your future!” Responding with “we” and not “I” says McClure. Because “we apologize” sounds more sincere than “I’m sorry.”

Joseph Sullivan, partner at Taylor English, an Atlanta law firm routinely counsels businesses on legal issues surrounding online reviews, reminds employers that they can’t  remove bad reviews from sites like Glassdoor as they have policies against doing so, but there are steps they can take to mitigate the fallout from receiving bad reviews. There may be certain circumstances in which the website will remove the review, but it is very uncommon. Sullivan recommends employers also respond to positive reviews to accentuate them and overpower the negative reviews. If responding to negative reviews address the public rather than the critic directly. And sometimes, saying nothing is the best policy.

“Sometimes silence is the best response,” says Sullivan. “Often, when a comment is not responded to, people will take it with a grain of salt. Responses can grant credence to the complaining employee and employers shouldn’t get personal or get into a back and forth conversation.”

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