How to Respond to Negative Employee Reviews

In today’s highly connected world, online reviews have the power to make or break a restaurant, blast a product to the top of Amazon’s search engine, or even become a viral source of entertainment. 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 negative 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 the reasons why negative employee reviews happen, the impact of negative reviews on employer brands, and the best way to respond to negative employee reviews.

Why Negative Employee Reviews Happen

The first step in handling a bad review from an employee is considering why it happened in the first place. 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, and that reason probably isn’t that they woke up feeling mean and picked a random target for their ire.

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 some kind of breakdown in communication prior to that point. Whether it was unclear expectations, lack of a safe space to voice concerns, or simply a surprise decision by upper management that led to an employee’s departure, poor communication is often a big reason why people feel upset with their employers.

How Negative Reviews Impact Your Employer Brand

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

In an era when recruiting qualified talent is one of the top concerns for employers, negative employee reviews hold more weight than ever before.

Responding to Negative Employee Reviews in 7 Steps

Now for some good news. No matter how nefarious a former employee’s review may seem, simply responding can begin to steer things in the right direction. In fact, 62 percent of job seekers say they think more highly of a company that responds to employee reviews, and 75 percent 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. Get the Facts Straight

Negative reviews often include more than just opinions; 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. Some situations may require more than a quick scan of past performance review questions, so be sure to contact the proper authorities as needed. 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 you make any kind of public statement.

2. 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, rushing into a response is an equally bad idea. Pouring out your thoughts in the heat of the moment could backfire. Instead, make it a routine to keep a continual eye on employee reviews, create an action plan or checklist to ensure you have a firm grasp of the issues, then take time to formulate a response over the course of a day or two. It’s also a good idea to place one (level-headed) person in charge of responding to reviews; this prevents the kind of fire-drill reaction that can lead to an ill-worded reply.

3. Be Specific, But Choose Words Carefully

It’s easy to come up with a canned response to online reviews, but most people can spot a canned response, and that could be worse than not responding at all. Specificity shows sincerity, and sincerity can go a long way to cool off a disgruntled employee. Take time to 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 information that paints the organization or the former employee in a damaging light.

4. Express Gratitude

Saying thanks for a bad review can seem a little cheesy, but if you really mean it, this simple act can work miracles. Remember, employee feedback has been shown to drive performance and boost leadership effectiveness, and leaders who ask for (and respectfully receive) feedback are perceived as more effective by their superiors and employees alike. Former employees who felt unheard will appreciate the fact you’re trying to make amends. Likewise, prospective employees will appreciate your good attitude in the face of negative feedback, taking note of your openness to criticism.

5. If Necessary, Take the Conversation Offline

Publicly responding to negative reviews has its benefits, but there are some drawbacks to consider, too. There could be legal and PR risks associated with a public exchange with an upset employee, or the issue may involve sensitive information that would make it inappropriate to discuss openly, so it’s best to take the conversation offline after offering a brief response. Invite the employee to discuss the matter further with an HR representative rather than engaging in further online discussion.

6. 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. Once flagged, the review site will look over the content and remove it if it’s deemed inappropriate.

7. Look Within

Finally, it’s always a good idea to think about how to prevent further bad reviews from happening. If a poor review points to problem areas in your organization, consider what steps you would need to take in order 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 over and over? Obviously, not all issues are solvable, and 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 complaint is a review site.

Negative Employee Review FAQs

Can a Manager Sue a Former Employee Over Posting a Negative Review Regarding Work Conditions?

Technically, a manager can sue a former employee regarding a negative review of working conditions. 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 or Monster and leaving a review under the company’s profile. We don’t recommend leaving reviews on less-specific review sites like Google Reviews or Yelp for reasons below.

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 if the review contains protected or sensitive information that could harm an individual or violate a nondisclosure agreement. Every person has the right to express their opinion, good or bad, and review sites are a valuable resource both for candidates wishing to know more about their prospective employer and for employees who feel that their company is leaving problems unresolved.

What Are the Risks of Leaving a Bad Review?

Leaving a bad review for a previous employer may be justified in some situations—but it’s important to know the risks before doing so. While dedicated employer review sites like Glassdoor make anonymity a priority, 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 careful 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. For this reason, it’s usually best to use anonymous sites like Glassdoor when leaving a negative review.

Taking 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 provide an overall benefit to 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.