Negative reviews are a part of life. Everyone and everything will, at some point, receive a negative review. While this hasn’t changed for millennia - gossip has existed since the dawn of language - today sites like Glassdoor, Comparably, and kununu let us air others’ dirty laundry to the world.
In other words, what has changed is our (and everyone else’s) access to those reviews.
In the information age, what differentiates great companies from the not-so-great is not how they are reviewed, but how they respond when those reviews are negative.
Every negative review is unique, and different types of negative reviews require different strategies. Here we’ve put together a collection of the most common response strategies, and where they are best put to use.
1) The Brute Force Method (Might Makes Right)
The most Machiavellian of the strategies on this list, the Brute Force Method is simple: encourage your current employees to flag the negative review as inappropriate or spam. After a certain number of “flags”, most review aggregation websites will feel compelled to remove the review.
If this method feels intuitively wrong, you’re probably on the right track as a talent acquisition professional. Then again, a non-existent review can’t harm your employer brand. Or can it?
Think about the effect on workplace morale: if HR is consistently leveraging its worker base to remove negative online reviews, what will your employees think? How will they receive your other initiatives (employee engagement, etc) if they think their opinions will be scrubbed in an Orwellian censorship campaign?
They’ll inevitably grow tired of silencing dissident voices - and will probably join them. Eventually a review site that does not delete reviews will come along and expose the sham.
But there are a few situations where this method is useful.
Best Use Cases:
- When a negative review is blatantly false.
- When a negative review is clearly not written by a current or past employee.
Needless to say, the Brute Force Method should be used sparingly.
2) The Growth Method (Everything’s an Opportunity)
Practitioners of the Growth Method see every negative review as an opportunity to improve the workplace.
Complaints about lighting? Fix the bulbs. Complaints about a manager who consistently mistreats employees? Find out who, why, and coach them on more appropriate management styles. More general complaints about the “company culture”? Perform a culture audit. For every complaint, there’s an action to help remedy it.
Work to fix the cause of the negative review, and detail what you’re doing to fix it in a well-written, authentic response. Do not respond until you are making an attempt to fix the problem outlined by the reviewer.
Of course, you can’t perform a full-fledged fact-finding mission for every negative review.
Best Use Cases:
- When there are obvious trends throughout negative reviews.
- When negative reviews are few and far between (or you have a lot of time on your hands).
When there are no obvious trends throughout your negative reviews (or you don’t have the manpower to take action on them), the Laissez Faire Method provides a compromise between the Brute Force Method and the Growth Method.
3) The Laissez Faire Method (Out of Sight, Out of Mind)
The Laissez Faire Method is entirely hands off. For large companies with high turnover, this is often the best course of action. Realistically, you won’t have time to respond to every negative review, or work to remedy every complaint. Some people relish the ability to anonymously tear into past employers, and there’s not much you can do about that.
In situations where the Laissez Faire Method is the only remaining option, take comfort in the fact that every single other organization deals with the same thing. Do some companies, in aggregate, receive better reviews than their peers? Sure. But even Glassdoor’s “Best Place to Work” in 2017 sometimes gets reviews like this:
“Constant big brother feeling, Hr will make you feel like you are incompentent of being independent and responsible for your work. No flexibility to work from home, every step in and out of the office is logged and critiqued. Difficult for working CSS moms. The company's core values seem stuffy and old school. HR team is immature and hard to communicate with.”
You can’t please everyone.
Best Use Cases:
- When you receive a large number of reviews and are unable (or unwilling) to respond.
- When addressing anonymous complaints is at the bottom of the priority list.
While the Laissez Faire Method is the easiest to implement (you don't do anything) and has a low chance of blowback, it might be tempting to ignore negative online reviews entirely. But if your online reviews are overwhelmingly negative, your past employees might actually be on to something - and you should begin taking steps to improve your workplace.