Alright, now you know how to manage some portion of negative reviews – but why are negative reviews published in the first place?

I’ll paint the picture for you: you work in Human Resources, Talent Acquisition or Marketing, and leadership has come to you asking for a strategy around your negative reviews. OR, scenario two: rankings and reviews are, in part, an output or expectation of your employer brand strategy, a KPI if you will. In either scenario, you’ve been asked in some part to “solve for” negative reviews.

Negative reviews are a complex problem. There’s a lot of reasons they come about, and before you promise an increase in your average Glassdoor ranking as part of your objectives and output, I want you to consider the reasons that negative reviews occur in the first place. None of these reasons are to dissuade you from using these reviews as a metric, but they are in place to identify areas of impact and influence, and areas of the potential need for wide-spread, systemic change.

I think this is an important topic because employer brand has always been a vast and multifaceted program. But there are problems that it can’t solve – and until we open up our understanding of the stimulus behind our employees’ actions, we won’t effectively solve for the impact on the brand. 

First, resolution.

Employees aren’t usually coming to Glassdoor for a resolution. They are coming because they didn’t get one, didn’t like the one they got, or didn’t know a resolution took place.  

Let’s break these down.

An employee feels as though they didn’t receive a resolution.

Whatever process your organization has in place for HR complaints or escalations, there is a system to intake feedback. Sometimes that comes in the form of an anonymous complaint, and others in the form of a hotline or email distribution list. It can come from your Human Resource Business Partners, or funnel up naturally in conversation. Regardless of the format, we usually have a process for intake.

Where we tend to fall flat is our output. Are we effectively communicating our resolutions to our employees when they are reporting a claim? If it was an anonymous review, is there a channel to reflect and report out on changes or improvements made based on anonymous employee suggestions?

Obviously, this is only applicable in specific scenarios – in that there are times that we simply won’t be able to provide the employee with a resolution, even if one is taken. But I emphasize that we need to be proactive about finding ways to do so as a perceived lack of one will result in a disengaged employee and a damaged brand.

The employee didn’t like the resolution they received OR there WAS no resolution taken.  

Well, this one is a challenge and a very real one at that. If an employee has received their resolution, and they dislike or disagree with it, you can bet they will take it online for further satisfaction. Think of yourself as a consumer – have you ever taken the review online because the resolution you received was less than satisfactory? (Raises hand). I think the reality of the stimuli for these reviews is a general acknowledgment that they will happen.

The best you can do in this instance is to ensure the process to resolve employee complaints is well-structured. And for that, there are some questions you should be asking:

  • When our employees aren’t receiving the solution we know they are looking for, how can we still make it a positive experience for them? Is there an alternative, creative solution?
  • Is your organization leading with denial? Are they taking reviews with a scoff or a shake of their head, and immediately attempt to justify why the company was right in this scenario?
  • Is your review process leading with normalization and validation? Regardless of how you feel about the complaint, regardless of whether or not you agree, are you still validating the employee’s feelings, and telling them it’s okay to express them?
  • Are we reporting out after the resolution has been provided about the impact of the resolution selected?
  • Are we continuing to follow up with the employee after the resolution has been provided? Or are we treating this complaint like a one-and-done scenario so that we can check boxes and close tickets?
  • Do we have our HRBPs, or employees who are taking and receiving complaints, set in a position of empowerment, rather than a position of “stuck in between a rock and a hard place” of pleasing managers, the business, AND the employee?

Some of these questions should open up conversations to discover the effectiveness of your resolution process within your organization – and these are difficult conversations to have. I say their difficult because they are challenging questions to ask, and at times, very difficult to solve without the support of your organization.

But I bring it up because while they are difficult conversations to have, they are incredibly important to do – and without doing it, your employer brand and review presence will suffer.

Second, Education.

 Often times, we see reviews piled on because our employees are unaware of the options available to us. Luckily, this is a more easily solved concern because it’s the “simple” solution of widespread internal communication around every program your organization has that might offer a resolution to an unhappy employee.

Are you starting to see why I put “simple” in quotes?

Internal communications deserve a post alone, but the point here is that our employees often don’t know all the programs available within our organizations and we need to do a better job of detailing them, and talking about them frequently.

Think of your employee communications like a social media network. Your employees are getting your information, but that doesn’t mean that they processing, remembering, or hearing it. They are overwhelmed with messages, and often dismiss messages that are irrelevant to them. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t ever be relevant.

When was the last time you spoke to your general employee population about a complaint hotline? Have you done it in more than a poster? How about in more than your onboarding process (when your employees are overwhelmed with the amount of information you are giving them, anyway). Or how about just at a regular cadence so that if something does happen to your employees, the hotline is top of mind?

These are easy wins for your organization. Think about the most common negatives identified in your review strategy. Is it around resolution? What about training and development? What about career progression? Are these areas that your organization have dedicated resources to? Some kind of programs?

I bet there are – and I bet your employees don’t know enough about it. This is content you should be reminding your employees of frequently and in different formats. Use success stories to prove it – and head off any negative reviews that might come up simply because employees might not have been aware of what was available to them in the first place.

Third, culture shift.

The second hardest challenge when it comes to negative reviews: the culture shift. This can be the result of an acquisition, a leadership change, a new investor, a new product, an intentional shift in culture, or an unintentional one. Regardless of what it is, it causes ripples through your organization.

If this was an intentional change in the form of new leadership, new products, new priorities, new purpose or mission, there will be a period of change. With a culture shift, comes a new persona that is a good fit for your organization. This doesn’t mean that employees can’t shift to a new persona, a new culture. And your adaptable employees will, and can. But, some employees don’t like change. They liked the organization the way it was. And that’s okay.

Part of your negative reviews will come as your organization shifts away from what it was, to what it wants to be. And there will be people who leave because of that – and those employees should be empowered to do so. Expect to see resulting negatives trickle down from that, and know that there isn’t much (unless you have a review response strategy) that you can do with them aside from ensuring future change continues to be intentional, guided, methodical and planned.

And last, but not least, the systemic.

Culture change is hard, but hopefully planned and purposeful. But what if it isn’t? What if things are happening in your organization that aren’t planned or encouraged? What if the work environment really is that bad?

First – I realize that Glassdoor, Indeed, and other review sites aren’t statistically valid. Second, I don’t care. These reviews are being presented (and trusted) to our candidates.

BUT – when we come to this last stimulus of negative reviews, you do need to be cautious of how you act on this data. 

If you have been tracking your negative trends from review site by category for some time (it will differ based on your organization and the quantity of reviews you get per week), and you notice a trend that is starting to become overwhelmingly negative and consistent, it’s time to start digging in.

I’d start with your employee engagement surveys. Look to see if the data you see is matching the more comprehensive data within the employee engagement survey.

What I’m saying more plainly is – find data that is statistically valid to support the feelings you are getting from your reviews. This will help you forge a change within your organization – but that’s a large-scale effort that often requires a budget, change of minds, leadership sponsorship, and people. But at least the data can help you get started in an organization receptive to change.

Final Words

As a final comment – I’d say that your reviews are a change agent – regardless of how many data points they are providing. Very seldom is someone posting a review with malicious intent, and people hunger for an employer who will help them feel valued and validated.  

After many years organizing communication efforts for local, federal, and international campaigns, Lindsey gave up her constituents for candidates upon entering the recruitment marketing world. For seven years, she worked at Symphony Talent, assisting Fortune 100 companies with their recruitment marketing content marketing strategy, attracting talent to organizations by encouraging the right fit for both the company and the candidate. She now manages a Global Employer Brand Program for Palo Alto Networks, innovating new ways to reach out to candidates, leveraging regional stories, an improved candidate experience, and pushing the boundaries of how we think about the recruitment and candidate process. 

In her allusive “free time” she can be found picking up new hobbies like Girl Scouts leadership, reading all the books, speaking for her cat, and asking her kids for the 100th time to pick up their toys. Follow her on Twitter @LindseySanford