negative online reviews

6 dos and don’ts of responding to negative employee reviews

Master carpenter Norm Abrams made famous the old saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” The careful thought implied in this good advice also applies to how and when a company should respond to negative online reviews from employees.

The consequences of rash retaliation can be significant. For instance, the EEOC recently sued a company for the way it responded to an employee’s negative review on Glassdoor.com.

Glassdoor, is one of the best known sites where employees and interviewees report everything from interview experiences to salary ranges and rate management for honesty and leadership ability.

With this in mind, what do businesses need to be aware of before responding to online comments? Are there ground rules that business leaders should be aware of before responding?

1. Pay attention to postings

Just as you monitor your company’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, have someone on your HR team regularly review your company’s profile on employment sites.

A few of the national employee review sites are Glassdoor, Indeed, Vault, Kununu and CareerBliss, to name just a few. Specific industries or careers also may have sites where an employer’s work environment, pay scales and management style are rated by employees.

Keeping an eye on these sites provides insight into how your company fares compared to your competitors and helps you spot potential problems before they blow out of proportion.

2. Don’t confront a suspected employee

Particularly for founders who’ve built a company from the ground up, it can be difficult not to take such reviews personally.

Whatever you do, don’t confront the employee you suspect of posting negative comments. Remember, you may be wrong about who posted what.

An emotional over-reaction can cause significant problems, the least of which is legal action from an employee who believes they can prove you retaliated when they were exercising their legally protected rights. Those rights include discussing the terms and conditions of employment or reporting certain conduct that could be construed as discrimination or harassment.

A negative response to the situation can also make otherwise happy employees think there’s something to the allegation.

3. Consult a neutral third party

In addition to bringing in your internal HR partner, insert some additional objectivity by asking a neutral third party to review what’s been said. Examples include an outside HR specialist with your PEO or an employment lawyer who can assess the situation and give guidance based on best practices.

It can be hard not to take negative comments personally, but these types of comments on social media can become insidious and require a professional and strategic response. Determining where these comments stem from and how to effectively address them is an important part of finding resolution to the core issue rather than just stopping the comments on the surface.  You may need to conduct an employee survey to gauge employee engagement and identify problem areas.

4. Investigate and take appropriate action

Your company is obligated to investigate and take appropriate action to complaints of discrimination or harassment based on a protected class. Trigger words that may indicate a discrimination or harassment complaint include those related to gender, sex, disability, age, race, religion, national origin or other protected class. If you believe someone is using one or more trigger words, consult a trained professional.

Don’t conduct the investigation yourself. It should be done by someone trained in proper investigation and response techniques, such as a human resource professional or attorney. This protects you and your company should a case be serious enough to go to court.

Keep in mind that you may not be able to respond to overly vague comments like, “XYZ Company doesn’t pay well.” But, a more specific comment such as, “XYZ Company pays men more than women in the same job with the same experience,” provides enough information to begin an investigation.

An investigation in this example could include a salary survey comparing internal pay rates by gender (or other protected class). If you find pay disparities, fix it.

5. Don’t salt your reviews

It can be tempting to combat what you feel are unfair reviews by posting fake, positive comments. But, you need to give online readers the benefit of the doubt.

If you’ve got one negative review among many good ones, readers will likely think the pessimistic review came from someone who wasn’t a good fit. Bogus reviews just lend credence to the negative comments and make it seem like there’s something to hide.

Further, it’s easy for an online audience to judge the genuine versus phony. Consider these two reviews:

  • “Charlie Horse is the best CEO ever! I’d follow him anywhere!”
  • “Charlie Horse is a taskmaster who challenges his managers to do their best. But he doesn’t ask anyone to work any harder than he does.”

Which one seems more genuine? Just as you can tell the first comment seems over-the-top, online readers can tell when your company tries to counterbalance genuine, negative reviews with false, positive ones. It’s better to disprove negative reviews through legitimate means or change your culture to change the mindset of distraught employees, perhaps to the point where they only have good things to say.

6. Change your attitude about negative reviews

Rather than looking upon negative reviews as a hassle, consider this free input into how your company is doing when it comes to employee relations.

Consistently, negative reviews may highlight problem areas that impact your company’s productivity. Some of these comments can provide excellent fodder for how your organization can improve, from inefficient processes to problem managers who generate excessive turnover.

Depending on the negative comments, you may need to change your pay structure, better train your managers, or learn to communicate your vision better to the rank-and-file.

Finally, one of the best ways to combat negative reviews is to participate in best-company-to-work-for surveys.

Winning a position on such lists provides an excellent recruiting tool as well as a point of pride for current employees. And, if you don’t win, you’ve got an evidence-based survey comparing your company’s benefits and environment to your competitors, giving you a guide for improvement.

For more tips to reduce your risk and liability, download our free e-book, Employment Law: Are You Putting Your Business at Risk?