"Corporate psychopaths": How to handle negative online employee reviews

by Janie Smith03 Jul 2014
Employees aren’t pulling any punches when it comes to reviewing their workplaces online.

According to anonymous reviews on the employer rating website Glassdoor, National Australia Bank is “an environment perfect for nurturing corporate psychopaths”, while BHP Billiton is “a textbook example of bureaucracy, office politics, dysfunctional communication and operational inefficiency”, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

So how seriously should business take scathing online reviews?

Randstad strategic account director Mike Roddy told HC that while such complaints shouldn’t be ignored, employers must be mindful of how much focus to give them and not to go over the top in terms of their reaction.

“You’ve got to be mindful of what is being said out there, whether it’s online or not. Some of the key things you need look at as an organisation with your employment brand is, is there a volume of complaints out there?

“And if there is, is there a particular trend in the number or theme? Is it a particular issue about communication, is it to do with performance management, pay, environment, safety?  This is ABC of leadership, you’ve got to know what is being said about you and whether it has any resonance.”

He said there wasn’t much employers could do if reviews were posted anonymously, but if there were names attached to them, it was important to manage the issue in “real time”.

“You try to take it offline in the sense that you get in contact with the individual, or somebody in the organisation does, and seek to calm the waters a little bit there.

“Never get into an online war, you’ve really got to take it offline as quickly as possible.”

He said the nature of social media meant that complaining employees could gather lots of followers in a short time and it could lead to people who were not connected to the company forming a negative impression of the brand.

If a business was looking at publicly stating a position on an employee complaint, it would have to consider whether the subject matter had enough propulsion to make it to the broader media, where it could affect the customer base and potential future employees.

“The key for any business is to try to reduce the risk of online complaints. With technology today, people can complain in a medium that is very difficult to address in a private way so it gets out there pretty quickly. The new rules of engagement are that you do it in real time and you do it quickly.”

Ways businesses could minimise the risk of complaints included having a strong employment brand proposition that was a living practice, rather than a framed statement on the wall, said Roddy.

“Most businesses fail when they prescribed a set of values and objectives that are not into the DNA of the place and that’s when you start to get culture problems. Anybody in a leadership position really has to embody those values and objectives of the business.”

Doing “stay” interviews to find out how employees feel about their jobs and take the temperature of the organisation was important, as was conducting exit interviews to find out why people left.

“Sometimes people will give you the real reason, sometimes they won’t, but at least it provides the opportunity that if there’s a serious grievance, it will certainly be aired there. If you’re leading your team as effectively as you can day to day, you’ll find no surprises.

“You’re never going to please everyone at every moment of every day, but at least you can minimise the fall-out in the event that you do get someone disgruntled [complaining].”

Have you had to deal with online employee complaints? What did you do?


  • by Catherine Cahill 3/07/2014 12:19:16 PM

    I think the rise in employee opinions being published on-line really reinforces the need for organisations to do very good, impartial (third party) Employee Engagement Surveys.

    If there is a slice of bullying or corporate psychopathy operating, a good survey will uncover it. To act on this requires a strong and impartial review process.

    If these surveys are done regularly (at least yearly) and the company tracks and measures results then they have a ready, and objective, response to negative reviews.

    There will be issues in any organisation; the important thing is to uncover them and actively work to create and nurture the culture you want in your organisation.

    There will always be problems and issues in any organisation, ignoring them won't make them go away - and might send staff scurrying off to websites to vent their frustrations.

    The best thing any business can do for its future and its success, is to pro-actively uncover and change bad management behaviours.

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