I can summarize this entire story below with a few key points:
- If you want to recruit great people your company needs a great Glassdoor rating. It’s really important.
- You won’t always be able to manage for good reviews, and you shouldn’t (see below).
- If you run your company well and treat your people with respect the result will be that your Glassdoor rating will be high.
The first time I heard about Glassdoor was at one of our company happy hours, probably in 2012. Our Boston team was in town, and we took the entire company, then about 40-ish people in total, out for a private happy hour at a local bar.
I was sitting next to a new employee, who had just relocated from the northwest and had started with us that very same day. We were all casually chatting in a group about the serendipity of starting a new job at a new company in a new state on a day we were sponsoring a happy hour when she said to me “I was excited to join the company, but then I had second thoughts after I read the comments on Glassdoor about the cliques.” I smiled knowingly and without thinking murmured something like, “Oh, I don’t think there are cliques, and I think you will find everyone to be really friendly here. Like a family.”
But my head was spinning. First, what was Glassdoor? Second, up until that moment I just thought of my company as one big happy family. I mean, everyone loved our company and all the staff was warm, friendly and welcoming. Weren’t they? Someone thought we had cliques?
Looking back, that moment marked a loss of innocence for me.
Of course, when I got home that evening I went to check out Glassdoor. Ouch. There were many positive reviews about our company (yay—our employees love us!), and there were a couple of negative reviews (oh sh!t). They cut me like a knife.
Up until that point I had thought of us as a family, and I thought I had treated everyone—current and former employees both—with respect. When we had to let go of someone it was always because they weren’t living up to expectations and it was only after months of coaching and nurturing to get them where they needed to be. I had a saying that no one ever got surprised by a termination at our company. We eased into it, setting expectations that the end was near. I thought this was the professional, adult, mutually respectful way to go about it. I had a clean conscience. Until I realized that perhaps the other party could harbor negative feelings about it not working out. Clearly, I had been living in a utopian fantasy land.
In a company our size—still about 40 people then—it was really easy to trace the negative reviews back to the source. We could tell by what they said or how they said it. And that made the hurt a little deeper.
I recall one former employee in particular that I hadn’t hired personally but who ended up coming to work directly for me after a bit of shuffling of some team responsibilities. She had been struggling under her prior manager, so came to me with a lot of baggage. I endeavored to make sure we started working together with a clean slate. I wanted her to have a ‘do over’. But after months of trying, it still wasn’t working. I personally invested a lot of time and energy to help her grow and succeed, but we just couldn’t get into gear. It wasn’t her fault, she just wasn’t a good fit for our company and the role she was in. I thought she could see that as clearly as I could and I thought I was communicating that pretty clearly. For months we talked about ending the working relationship, and over her last two months, I gave lots of notice that the end was near, trying to encourage her to look for something else. It was respectful and collegial. When we finally parted ways, I thought I had handled it really well. I felt good about how it all unfolded. I thought she left us as a friend. Until I saw she posted a scathing, cutting review of our company and our department.
I was taken aback by what seemed like her genuine anger. And I was shocked to learn my impression of our time together (which I thought was cordial, nurturing and respectful) could be so radically different from hers. Her review just didn’t jive with my reality of how we worked together every day and the in-depth conversations we had about how things were going. I tried to lift her up in our interactions. She saw them as tearing her down.
There were others like that. Similar to most other organizations our size, we could trace every negative review back to a specific employee that we had parted ways with. But we were lucky, over time we continued to get many more positive reviews and our overall rating was always strong. But each negative review that got posted, no matter how rare, hurt my heart. Deeply. It was my company, and I took it very, very personally. Probably too personally.
And for a time, Glassdoor changed me. I let it influence my behavior with our team. I found myself walking on eggshells, so afraid about how my coaching, feedback or management might be perceived. My trust, which had always run deep with our team, started to come with a “but, you never know”.
I became guarded. More calculated in my handling of any employee issue. It eroded my trust in my team and our positive, supportive environment that I was trying to create. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an epidemic, and it was just a tiny part of the overall landscape of employee things I was managing, but it was a thorn.
Looking back at that time period, I regret that I let Glassdoor get in my head. I think hearing unvarnished reflections on your company from employees (even ones you didn’t know were disgruntled) can be a positive learning experience. There are always glimmers of truth in everything, and I am not so self-centered that I can’t acknowledge there are two sides to every story. But while I could always see a glimmer of truth, the reviews were one-sided and equally one-dimensional.
I don’t have a problem with sites like Glassdoor, and this isn’t a diatribe against them. Glassdoor is primarily an outlet for employees to voice their displeasure. Employees and former employees can post reviews, true or untrue, under the cloak of anonymity. Companies don’t get the same benefit, there are no reviews of employees. There’s also no way to negate a review other than to respond, and who wants to respond defensively?
Glassdoor is entirely one-sided. I don’t mind that it is. As I said, there is value in hearing unvarnished perceptions, even if they don’t jive with your own. My personal issues with Glassdoor are just that—personal. I took negative reviews to heart and they hurt. And I let that erode my confidence in my leadership and my trust in my employees. That’s really it in a nutshell.
Good Glassdoor reviews are critically important. Our job applicants, across all roles, clearly looked at our reviews on Glassdoor during the interview process. If they saw something they didn’t like, they would bring it up as a discussion point. Glassdoor is a part of your employer brand that matters and has to be managed.
If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have been afraid that anyone at any time might post something negative, and I would have just continued to be myself, earnestly trying to give everyone a fair shake, treating everyone with respect and creating a positive, collaborative, supportive working environment. My lesson learned is you have to lead in a respectful, humble, “do it right” way, but you can’t lead for a potential Glassdoor review. Do the right things, and the good reviews will come.