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Written By
Xiao Ling

Ask an executive coach: How can leaders manage negative Glassdoor reviews?

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Table of Content

Table of Contents

In the digital era in which we currently live, our opinions and decisions can be significantly influenced by online information. And when it comes to workplaces, Glassdoor reviews serve as a window into a company’s culture and character, painting either a promising picture or a disillusioning one.

It is only natural for executives to be concerned when their companies encounter negative Glassdoor reviews. When my client, Brian*, stumbled upon a few negative Glassdoor reviews on his company’s page, he couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by emotions.

“I feel so wronged. They don’t see the full picture,” he said, and I could sense the frustration in Brian’s voice.

Brian founded his company approximately three years ago. After the initial glamour, the company began to face challenges as it entered its third year. When a recession hit, they had to restructure their teams and revise their financial strategies to survive the turmoil. For an early-stage company like his, one misstep could be fatal. Unfortunately, not all decisions were popular, and not all employees understood.

It’s normal to experience a range of unpleasant emotions when “confronted” online, including anger, frustration, resentment, hurt, and worry. But this is where mindfulness matters the most.

1. Beware of counterproductive actions

These powerful emotions may lead us into knee-jerk reactions, like writing an emotionally-charged response or going on a witch-hunt for the reviewer. Brian, too, wasn’t immune to these impulses when he received the negative Glassdoor review.

“It’s hard to admit, but for a brief moment, I felt the urge to respond with defensive comments like, ‘Why don’t you do my job If you think you know better?’”

Brian took a quick glance at me, as if he were gauging my reaction. Seeing no judgement on my face, he continued,

“And the petty side of me wanted to find out who was behind this, though logically I understand it won’t help the situation at all.” 

Others in the same boat may even mobilise employees to flood the company’s Glassdoor page with positive reviews. This move seems innocuous enough, but it has repercussions:

a) It puts employees in a spot and erodes their trust in the company
b) It makes employers appear “guilty”, compromising the company’s integrity
c) It conveys the message that the company prioritises its public image over the voices of its people.

Taking the above actions is no different from pouring gasoline on a fire. When employees feel cornered, they may air their resentment on public platforms including but not limited to Glassdoor, bringing us back to square one. This only escalates the situation further and harms the company’s reputation in the long term.

While experiencing emotions is a natural part of being human, it’s crucial to regulate emotions and maintain composure when addressing public reviews. Here are some emotion regulation skills to consider, and you can find more in the Intellect App.. 

  • Deep breathing 
  • Ground techniques
  • Meditation exercise 
  • Progressive muscle relaxation

Brian took a few deep breaths and said, “Well, of course I won’t really do any of those. But should we respond?”

My answer: Yes, but only after understanding the reviews.

2. Determine the appropriate responder

Ignoring negative online reviews can come across as dismissive and indifferent. However, the company should only respond when they have gathered sufficient information about the issues raised.

Often, in conversations, we rush into formulating our responses before we fully understand the other person, which can cause further misunderstandings. This “dialogue” on Glassdoor is no different. While it’s important to respond promptly and timely, responding without thorough investigations makes it difficult to address the situation adequately.

By appointing the right person to address the said review, the company shows that the message has been relayed to the relevant parties for problem-solving. But who should do it? This often hinges on the specific content of the reviews.

For instance, when the reviews concern company leadership and culture, it’s crucial for senior management to take the lead. In cases related to specific departments or teams, the respective department directors or team managers should step in. And when the focus shifts to matters involving employee benefits and personnel issues, it’s time for HR to become involved.

3. Craft a measured response

When replying a negative review, you will do well to offer:

a) Acknowledgement: Let the reviewer know that the feedback is well-received and taken seriously. This could sound like, “We hear you and have discussed the issues you raised in our weekly meeting.”

b) Empathy: Validate the reviewer’s negative experience, even if you know it’s a subjective one. Use statements like, “We understand this circumstance has caused you great distress.”

c) Recourse: Explore solutions especially if the reviewer is an existing employee. For example, if the criticism is aimed at the lack of support during onboarding, you may provide an update like, “We are considering offering an additional week of onboarding training in conjunction with a new mentorship program.” (Say this only if it is true, and be prepared to walk the talk.)

While you’re at it, refrain from:

Pointing fingers: Avoid shifting responsibilities to other departments, teams, individuals, or external factors like a recession. Taking ownership of the issue is key.

Using defensive language: Statements that start with “yes, but…” can appear dismissive, and may not help to resolve the concerns raised. 

4. Treat the root, not just the symptoms

Now we have clear guidelines on how to respond to these reviews, but the battle isn’t over.

We know this may be hard to hear, but the fact that employees feel compelled to seek attention on a public platform indicates the organisation’s shortcomings in providing an effective feedback system for its workforce. Posting public reviews can be seen as a form of protest against the absence of a safe space for open dialogue and a plea for organisational changes.

To address these issues on an organisational level, companies will have to cultivate psychological safety. By encouraging employees to share feedback directly, they may reduce the likelihood of employees resorting to public platforms.

a) Enable anonymity: What makes Glassdoor such an appealing platform is its promise of anonymity. While identifying specific individuals can help in targeted problem-solving, anonymity provides cautious employees with a safer space to provide candid feedback on sensitive subjects.

b) Pulse Surveys: Pulse surveys can be a valuable tool for identifying employees’ concerns and dissatisfaction at an early stage. Through these regular check-ins, companies gain insights into their employees’ perspectives, enabling them to nip issues in the bud before they escalate to Glassdoor.

c) Coaching: While organisations are responsible for cultivating a safe environment for employees to speak freely, employees can also benefit from learning effective communication skills. In Asian cultures, where social harmony is highly valued, people may tend to be more reserved and less outspoken, which can contribute to their difficulty expressing their opinions openly. Organisations can consider sessions focused on building assertive communication skills or understanding conflict management styles to help employees express themselves in culturally sensitive and effective manner.

Managing negative Glassdoor reviews effectively

It’s only natural for company leaders to feel perplexed by negative reviews, but the harsh words of employees past and present could also be an opportunity for self-reflection, growth, and transformation. Just as how businesses rely on customer feedback to refine their product, organisations, too, your employees’ input goes a long way in shaping your culture.

By regulating your emotions, responding thoughtfully, and addressing the issues effectively, you can help your organisation emerge from these challenges more resilient than ever. In the meantime, have compassion for yourself, practise self-care, and acknowledge that you and your company are and always will be a work-in-progress.

Like what you see? Read other articles by the author:
Keeping town hall real: 6 strategies leaders gained from our executive coach
How to conduct layoffs the “right” way: A coach’s advice to a guilt-ridden CEO
Ask an executive coach: How should outgoing company leaders onboard new executives?

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