Job candidates have never been in a better position to research potential employers, and employees have never been more empowered to spill it all when it comes to reviewing their current workplace. Sites like Glassdoor, Vault and CareerLeak give interview candidates and employees the unprecedented opportunity to share the inside scoop on what it’s really like to interview or work at a particular workplace; and this is leaving many employers feeling more than a little uncomfortable at the prospect of receiving public negative reviews.

One recent example of a company getting blasted on Glassdoor is Technorati.com, after a recent decision by its CEO to close its contributed content program in an effort to re-brand. According to multiple reviews on Glassdoor, many long-time contributors to Technorati.com were abruptly terminated, without thanks, respect, or appreciation. Many reviews from these employees and contributors reference Technorati’s CEO as the reason the company is “a sinking ship” and “taking a rapid nose dive.”

So, how does this sort of feedback affect future recruiting and business growth? According to research into consumers’ use of online reviews, 88% of people have been influenced by an online customer service review. And while the research into how online company reviews impact employee job decisions doesn’t reveal quite the same degree of influence, we do know that a significant number of job seekers rely on these sites when evaluating a potential workplace.

In one study, for instance, out of 4,633 random job seekers surveyed, 48% had used Glassdoor at some point in their job search. The study also found that 60% of job seekers would not apply to a company with a one-star rating (on a five-point scale). This suggests that many job seekers do seem to use workplace review sites, and negative reviews can dissuade them from applying to a particular company. 

How to Deal with Negative Reviews

If you’re an employer who has received negative online reviews, you’re likely to feel powerless; there aren’t a lot of options to defend yourself. There are steps you can take, however, to salvage your reputation and get the ball swinging back in your court. Here’s how.

1.   Ask your current employees and interview candidates to leave reviews.

Since disgruntled employees are much more likely to leave reviews, actively requesting reviews company wide may help by increasing your overall ratio of positive to negative reviews. You may want to include links to the review site in your employee newsletters, verbally ask job applicants to leave a review following an interview, or periodically have managers remind employees of the opportunity they have to give feedback to management.

 2.   Respond to all reviews – positive or negative.

Review sites give employers the opportunity to respond to reviews, and the value of this opportunity shouldn’t be underestimated. No one wants negative reviews, but the more optimistic among us believe these can be harnessed for good – if dealt with properly.

If you receive a negative review, respond as quickly as you can. Job seekers will not only be reading the reviews, they’ll be looking to see how businesses respond to these reviews. Responding promptly and politely will show you care about the opinions of your employees; and this can go a long way to minimizing the impact of a negative review.

 3.   Take the issue offline, and leave a brief update once the issue is resolved.

As much as possible, try not to engage in discussions of details; the last thing you want is to air your dirty laundry online, or get into a “he said, she said” situation. Respond in a non-defensive way that shows you’re listening, and whenever possible, take the conversation offline as quickly as possible.

For instance, rather than specifically addressing negative remarks, you could say, “Thank you for your valuable feedback. I would love the opportunity to talk with you about your experience in detail. Please contact me at your earliest convenience.” Where possible, having someone directly involved in the situation respond is preferable to having a customer service agent respond.

Once an issue is resolved, it’s always a good idea to ‘put a cap’ on the discussion. For instance, “It was great speaking with you, and I’m glad we could resolve this issue.”

4. Request that defamatory reviews be removed.

If a review is defamatory or you suspect it’s been left by a troll, you do have some recourse. While you can’t delete a review, you can sometimes request that the post be reviewed by a member of the publisher’s team. From what I can tell, the burden of proof is then on the reviewer to show that the review is in fact legitimate.

Looking for more help with managing your online reputation? See my article, Your Guide to Online Reputation Management.

Limitations of Company Review Sites

While company review sites are an excellent tool for getting insider data like salary reports and for getting a feel for the general landscape of a workplace, job seekers should be aware of the potential limitations of these sites.

1. Negativity Bias.

Our brains are wired to be more sensitive to negative news – in this case negative reviews – than to positive ones. It takes many more positive reviews to outweigh the effect of negative ones; and this means that even though a company may have an overall positive employee satisfaction rating, negative reviews are more likely to influence us.
In fact, some researchers estimate that (at least in marriage) it takes five positive interactions to make up for 1 negative one; and if we put this in the context of online job reviews, five positive reviews to make up for one negative one. And given that unhappy employees are far more likely to leave reviews, these review sites are likely disproportionately slanted toward the negative. Which leads us to point number two:

2. Inaccurate Data.

Research carried out by employee survey company Workplace Dynamics set out to determine how accurate Glassdoor reviews were for evaluating workplace satisfaction. They compared results from detailed surveys they had done with 406 companies to the corresponding Glassdoor ratings. The plan was to test the accuracy of the Glassdoor employee satisfaction scores with the much larger sample they had collected. The results? Almost no consistency between the two sources. They write: “We found that there was virtually no correlation—the overall Glassdoor star rating was a very poor indicator of what it is really like to work at a company.”

They pinpointed two main reasons for this: The number of reviews on Glassdoor only accounted for a very small percentage of total employees, and the reviews were disproportionately from “grumpy” employees. In fact, they found that unhappy employees were five to eight times more likely to leave a review on Glassdoor than happy ones.

Final Thoughts

Company review sites do help provide some important insights into company culture and employee satisfaction. For this reason, it’s critical that employers take negative reviews seriously, and respond to them in way that showcases their commitment to employee satisfaction and a positive work environment. While the ratings aren’t necessarily an accurate representation of overall job satisfaction, individual reviews  – and perhaps more importantly, employer responses to these reviews – do hold weight when it comes to evaluating potential employers.

Have you used sites like Glassdoor in your job hunt? Or as an employer, have you experienced negative online reviews? Share below!

This article was written by Jayson DeMers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.