How Should Small Businesses Handle Negative Online Reviews from Former Employees?

Online review sites like Glassdoor, Indeed and Blind are nothing new.  Through a desktop platform or a mobile app, these employer review sites allow employees to vent their frustrations, share experiences and provide insights anonymously about their likes and dislikes on the job. Recently, the Japanese organization, Recruit Holdings, who also owns Indeed, acquired Glassdoor. Recruit Holdings plans to integrate Indeed’s recruiting website with a review platform where applicants can research organizations to learn about job perks and company culture. Glassdoor now has 64 million users on their platform every month.

Small Businesses May Find a Smaller Pool of Talent because of Negative Online Reviews

At last count, Glassdoor has employee reviews for 900,000 companies across the world and Blind, a South Korean firm, now has 70,000 reviewed companies and has plans to expand into various industries starting with finance. Within the last decade, small businesses have seen critical employee reviews and negative job seeker comments increase, decreasing their talent pool and casting a shadow on their carefully crafted online brand.  Small employers have two priorities: handling the criticism swiftly and protecting their company brand.  So, should small businesses ignore or respond to the criticism? What is the best way to handle negative online reviews?

Career Arc, a company that develops social recruiting software, completed a survey of 1100 professionals and found that 91 percent of job seekers visit at least one online source when evaluating a small business for a job. If a small business doesn’t think their reputation or brand is important, consider that 64 percent of the respondents stopped buying goods or services from companies that revealed poor employer reviews. In addition, 90 percent of potential job candidates said learning about a company’s poor treatment towards customers or employees would keep them from applying. While 86 percent of organizations surveyed questioned the equity of online reviews, 91 percent of employer respondents believed that the star rating system could lose or win job applicants.

Damage Control for Small Businesses and their Online Reputation

Depending upon the industry and employee skill set, there are ways to manage the online reputation of a small business and still attract top talent. If a small business is already proactive with mentions on social media, this is just one more platform to add to that list. However, we supply a few techniques for consideration in addition to the monitoring many small businesses already conduct.

  • Regardless of how difficult it is to read online criticism, answer thoughtfully, non-defensively and address the issues directly. Consider the points made and reply with a course of action to correct the problem.

Also, come clean about recent developments, like a change in management or a recent acquisition, it shows positivity and transparency. Like social media, employer review websites are here to stay. Candid and carefully-worded answers to negative reviews show customers and employees that a company cares. It can also be a relief to many employees, especially when morale takes a nosedive.

  • Hire employees that are professional not to air their dirty laundry on-line.  This should be done with the advice of counsel as internet searches of employees, in and of themselves, may be dangerous for employers. 
  • Besides answering negative feedback directly on Glassdoor, consider a more direct approach during the hiring process. Have employees sign a non-disparagement agreement as part of the standard onboarding process. When an employee resigns or is fired, conduct an exit interview with the copy of the non-disparagement agreement to review.
  • Incentivize existing employees to keep their opinions to themselves.  The most straightforward way to do this is through optional payments to employees that are tied to promises not to broadcast negative thoughts.  This must be done carefully and with an attorney as some types of complaints are protected as civil rights and some may be protected by other statutes, such as Texas’ SLAPP statutes.
  • Develop a policy on how to handle negative online reviews internally. Taking a proactive stance may mean dedicating a point person to monitor social media, and the Internet in general. It can help isolate and address any issues before they become unmanageable.
  • Address the elephant in the employee lounge. If there only a few reviews on Glassdoor, but they’re all negative, evaluate circumstances by conducting an internal survey.  Addressing an issue internally before it becomes a ‘social media bomb’ may be the only way to acquire a clear picture of internal issues. Relying solely on social media or online reviews can be misleading.
  • Increase online advertising. This approach accomplishes two things; a small business can increase positive visibility while simultaneously sinking the bad online reviews on search engine results pages (SERP). Use this advertising space to promote awards, charities, community involvement and spotlight exceptional employees.

With social media growing exponentially, small businesses shouldn’t be fearful of open dialogue with individuals who care enough to talk. Whether business owners realize it or not, people are already talking about their brand and their culture. Now, all small employers need to do is take part in the conversation. 

Sources  (Study attached)

Develop an HR Strategy to Address Anonymous Online Reviews by Nicole Lewis (SHRM)

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