How to Handle Negative Employee Reviews the Right Way (8 Steps)

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Online reviews have the power to make or break a restaurant or blast a product to the top of Amazon’s search engine. Realizing this, many companies have learned the delicate art of responding to negative customer reviews, turning something potentially damaging into an opportunity to take the high road, display greater transparency, and even mend a relationship with a grumpy customer.

But what happens when a company review comes from one of your own employees? Do the same rules apply? Is there any reason to see a bad employee review through rose-colored glasses?

You bet. Let’s uncover where you might encounter employer reviews, the impact of negative reviews on employer brands, why bad employee reviews happen, and the best way to respond.

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What Are Employer Review Sites?

Employer review sites offer up a space for employees to share their experiences. From compensation to company culture, these sites cover all the bases of the employee experience. While this article focuses specifically on negative employee reviews, employer review sites showcase a wide range of ratings, from bad, to meh, to outstanding. Here are some employer review sites where you’d likely find ratings of your company:

You may also encounter employee reviews on more general review sites like Yelp and Google, although they are against those review sites’ terms of use. (More on that later!)

How Employee Reviews Impact Your Employer Brand

Unsurprisingly, disgruntled former employee reviews can stain an employer’s brand, even if they’re not true. The vast majority of employees and job seekers—86% of them—turn to employee review sites for company research before deciding where to apply for a job, and 50% of candidates say they aren’t interested in working for a company with a bad reputation, even for a pay increase.

In an era when recruiting top talent is a top priority for employers, negative employee reviews hold more weight than ever before and can heavily affect your ability to build and maintain a talent pipeline.

Why Bad Employee Reviews Happen

When a negative employee review comes through, it can be tempting to see yourself (or your organization) as the innocent victim, but the fact is, there’s a reason why they felt the need to leave a bad review.

Many workers who leave bad reviews feel wronged by the company they worked for, and a negative review is one way of airing grievances, warning other prospective employees, or getting the last word after quitting, getting laid off, or being terminated for cause.

Whatever the intent, a negative review is often a sign of a communication breakdown before that point. When you receive a negative review, consider these questions as you reflect on the employee’s experience:

Respond to Bad Employee Reviews in 8 Steps

Now for some good news. No matter how vicious a former employee’s review may seem, simply responding can begin to steer things in the right direction. In fact, 62% of job seekers say they think more highly of a company that responds to employee reviews, and 75% are more likely to apply for a job at a company where the employer responds to reviews.

Here’s how to tackle the task smoothly:

1. Respond Promptly and Calmly

It’s best to be prompt when responding to a negative review on Glassdoor or any other employer review site—commenting on a stale review won’t have the same effect. That said, responding in the heat of the moment is an equally bad idea.

Instead, regularly check employee reviews, create an action plan or checklist to ensure you have a firm grasp of the issues, get input from team members who worked closely with the employee, and then formulate a response over the course of a day or two. It’s also a good idea to put one (level-headed) person in charge of responding to reviews. It can be difficult to convey tone via writing, so consider asking someone from your marketing or communications teams—or someone who’s especially good with words—for help with this particular task.

2. Empathize

While your gut reaction may be to prove your innocence, jumping directly into a defense can make you look, well, defensive. Instead, step back and put yourself in this employee’s shoes. You may not agree that they were “poorly compensated,” but if they perceive that they weren’t valued, that’s a bummer—no matter how you frame it. At the end of the day, we’re all humans and we likely value similar things. Make that clear in your response.

3. Set the Record Straight

While you want to be empathetic and understanding, don’t be afraid to set the record straight if a review includes false information. Of course, you want to do this delicately and without exposing sensitive individual or company information.

For example, suppose an employee claims your company doesn’t provide a safe space for feedback. In that case, you can point to the bi-annual performance reviews, anonymous HR feedback form, quarterly eNPS surveys, and any other feedback space you offer in your review response.

When it comes to facts vs. opinions, you may also encounter reviews that require you to do some digging. If an employee makes incriminating claims in an online review, it’s essential to take their words seriously. Even if the claims turn out to be false, the incident still deserves (and may legally require) a thorough investigation.

You don’t have to perform a full investigation before responding, but it’s worth knowing whether you have a serious issue to address before making any public statement.

4. Be Specific, but Choose Words Carefully

It’s easy to come up with a canned response to online reviews, but most people can spot one (especially if the same reply is used for every review), and that could be worse than not responding at all. Specificity shows sincerity, which can go a long way to cool off a disgruntled employee. Consider each point made in the review, then address those concerns thoroughly and thoughtfully. Avoid legal and PR risks by choosing your words carefully—don’t disclose any personal information, say anything that could be misconstrued, or include any details that paint the organization or former employee in a damaging light.

5. Express Gratitude

Saying thanks for a bad review can seem a little cheesy, but this simple act can work miracles if you really mean it. Leaders who ask for (and respectfully receive) employee feedback are perceived as more effective by their superiors and employees alike, and reviews can serve as a helpful feedback channel. Former employees who felt unheard will appreciate that you’re trying to make amends. Likewise, prospective employees will appreciate your openness to criticism.

6. Take the Conversation Offline If Necessary

Publicly responding to negative reviews has benefits, but there are also some drawbacks to consider. For instance, publicly engaging with an upset employee could be risky from a PR or legal standpoint, as the issue may involve sensitive or confidential information. If that’s the case, offer a brief response, then invite the employee to discuss the matter further with an HR representative offline.

7. Flag Reviews (As Necessary)

Review sites like Glassdoor don’t allow employers to delete negative reviews on their own—doing so would diminish their reputation as a neutral review platform. However, employers can flag negative reviews if they violate the website’s community guidelines or terms of use. Violations include making false claims, making negative comments about individual (non-executive) employees, and using profanity or other inappropriate language, to name a few.

More general review sites like Google and Yelp prohibit reviews written by employees or former employees, so if a reviewer self-identifies as such, that’s grounds for removal. Once flagged, the site will review and remove the content if deemed inappropriate. Read up on each review site’s terms of use to familiarize yourself with what’s flaggable (and what’s not).

8. Use This as an Opportunity for Self-Reflection

Finally, it’s always a good idea to think about preventing further bad reviews. If a poor review points to problem areas in your organization, consider what steps you would need to take to resolve them for other employees. Is there a particular department that seems to attract negative reviews or a specific project or policy that comes up repeatedly? Of course, not all issues are solvable, so it’s necessary to weigh business objectives against the time, effort, and resources it might take to fix something major or minor. But even simply acknowledging issues openly and seeking feedback can go a long way to keep employees from feeling their only outlet for complaints is a review site.

Get Ahead of Bad Employee Reviews Before They Happen

As we round out our list, it’s important to note there’s one essential piece of responding to public employee feedback: keeping a pulse on employee sentiment and having candid conversations before it’s too late. Tools like Performance Management and Employee Wellbeing can help you automate feedback loops and give your employees structured environments to let their voices be heard before those conversations move to public platforms.

If you haven’t already, consider creating multiple spaces for both anonymous and direct employee feedback so your team can air grievances in a comfortable and supportive place.

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Approaching Employer Review Sites as an Employee

Let’s shift gears and dive into employer review sites from the employee perspective. Are there consequences to posting negative reviews? What should you consider as you share your experience? Below, we’ve outlined a few employee review FAQs to keep in mind.

Employee Review FAQs

Can a Business Sue a Former Employee over Posting a Negative Review Regarding Work Conditions?

Technically, a business can sue a former employee regarding a negative review if it qualifies as defamation. But while online anonymity is not always a guarantee or a legal right, most dedicated employee review sites are completely anonymous, and those sites go to great lengths to protect that anonymity.

How Can I Leave a Negative or Positive Review as an Employee?

Employees can leave reviews about their employer (or former employer) by signing up for a job review site like Glassdoor and submitting a review under the company’s profile. We don’t recommend writing reviews on more general sites like Google Reviews or Yelp for the reasons below.

What Are the Risks of Leaving a Bad Employer Review?

Leaving a bad review for a previous employer may be justified in some situations, but it’s essential to know the risks before doing so. While dedicated employer review sites like Glassdoor prioritize anonymity, outlets like Yelp and Google are less stringent about keeping reviewers’ identities private. Reviews you write are often tied to your personal account with your name, location, or other revealing information. If you don’t take steps to remain anonymous, future employers may someday see your posts, and former employers could take legal action if the review violates a contract or makes damaging claims that you can’t back up with proof. So, it’s best to use anonymous sites like Glassdoor when leaving a negative review.

Is It Unprofessional to Leave a Bad Review for a Previous Employer?

In our opinion, leaving a poor review for a previous employer is only unprofessional if it’s untrue or contains protected or sensitive information that could harm an individual or violate a nondisclosure agreement. Everyone has the right to express their opinion—good or bad—and review sites are a valuable resource for both candidates wishing to know more about their prospective employer and employees who feel their company is leaving problems unresolved.

Take Negative Employee Reviews in Stride

Knowing how to respond to negative Glassdoor or other reviews isn’t always easy. Still, when the task is done with sincerity, transparency, and thought for legal implications, it can benefit companies actively managing their employer brand. So take heart! With a bit of strategy and forethought, a negative employee review could be a helpful way to show past, present, and future employees that you’re listening and eager to improve.

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