When journalist Oobah Butler set out to hoax TripAdvisor into naming his garden shed as the top-rated restaurant in London, he didn’t expect to succeed. But with the help of a £10 verification, professional photos of shaving foam masquerading as artisan desserts and fake reviews written by friends, it took just seven months to beat the likes of Claridge’s and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay to the prize – and all without feeding a single person.
If it is so easy to ‘game’ the world’s pre-eminent review website, what chance do employers have with Glassdoor, which takes the TripAdvisor model to workplaces and has become an online sensation since it launched a decade ago?
Today, almost every business of reasonable scale has dozens of frank reviews from its employees on this public platform. It has become a vital calling point for candidates keen to check out a prospective company, and is arguably now a huge component of employer brand – albeit one HR teams can’t control.
But while many Glassdoor reviews are fair and factual, plenty are vitriolic – from the review of a US law firm in our headline to uncensored views on some of the world’s shiniest tech firms (try: ‘Absolutely no work-life balance. Could not think of a worse job or place to work’ or: ‘The place is filled to the brim with nut jobs’). The question for HR professionals terrified a rogue employee – or, perhaps, those with legitimate gripes – could ruin their hard-won employee value proposition, is whether it’s better to engage with Glassdoor or ignore it.
“Glassdoor is part of the inevitable movement towards transparency when it comes to people deciding where they want to work,” says Matt Alder, digital recruitment expert and author of Exceptional Talent. “From a jobseeker perspective, people want that insider view of what it’s really like to work at a company – something they might not have been able to access before. Organisations have mixed views on this, but some are embracing that transparency and treating Glassdoor as an important part of their employer brand.”
National car dealership Lookers – which has a 4.4 star rating and 93 per cent CEO approval, and holds sixth place on Glassdoor’s 2018 Best Places to Work in the UK table – is one such business. In fact, it’s brimming with zeal for the site.
“In the last year and a half, we have been encouraging our staff to use Glassdoor as a feedback site, rather than solely relying on traditional employee engagement surveys or paying for one of the many new apps designed to test engagement,” says Andrew Stephenson, group people director. “We took the bold step of making it obvious to our employees that if they wanted to say what they thought of working for us, they could stick it on the website. This is promoted in every newsletter, on our intranet and at conferences.”
In throwing open the feedback doors to current and former staff, the control of a company’s reputation is taken entirely out of its hands. But Stephenson’s rationale for actively promoting the site is simple: typical user behaviour on websites like Glassdoor is that those who have positive experiences won’t take the time to share their thoughts, while those with a bone to pick are more likely to vent online.
“I am a great believer that companies employ far more people who are happy than those who are miserable – it just tends to be the miserable ones who post in public forums,” he says. “If our positive reviews were mostly inaccurate, we would be experiencing horrific staff turnover, which we’re not; we are recognised as a top employer and perform well in more traditional rankings, such as the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For.”
Even so, can employers be sure that the crowdsourced nature of the comments – and the fact that they’re not subject to verification or objective contextualisation – won’t leave them open to sabotage? “The fact that individuals can make anonymous comments without a verification process means people could theoretically troll the site without repercussion,” says Dan Hawes, co-founder and marketing director at career consultancy the Graduate Recruitment Bureau.
“There’s an element of danger when people can’t be held accountable for the comments they make; what’s to stop a competitor casting aspersions, or a company compelling its employees to leave positive feedback, which will bump up the overall scores?”
Now-bankrupt Powa Technologies was slated by the media in 2016 after CEO Dan Wagner was caught offering staff Starbucks vouchers to leave positive reports on Glassdoor. Accusations of doctored reviews are commonplace on the site. But Alder suggests most prospective jobseekers have the ability to smoke out falsely damaging comments, and are savvy to the odd five-star review in a sea of negative feedback.
“A common complaint regarding Glassdoor is that people have written negative reviews that are not representative of the business, or that companies are gaming the system,” he says. “But as consumers, we are so used to dealing with review sites, whether for hotels, services or stuff we are buying, that we are reasonably good at seeing through fake things online.
“It’s a small cost for companies if the transparency ultimately means they get candidates who are really willing, as there’s no point in people thinking the company is going to be a certain way, only to arrive and discover it’s not.”
But if employers are unhappy with their treatment on the website, there is little recourse. The site has a strict policy against removing comments, which proved problematic for Tutorful (formerly Tutora), a small business that received a spate of negative reviews from self-employed tutors when it introduced new fees. The organisation felt the fallout from what amounted to a localised industrial relations problem inaccurately represented the nature of the wider firm.
“As a small employer, receiving lots of complaints from people who are not full-time employees of the business can be very damaging,” says marketing manager Giorgio Cassella. “We have approached Glassdoor about this, but they see the reviews as being genuine and valuable to people reviewing the company, so we are unable to get them removed.”
In tackling bad reviews, most experts agree that the best solution is to embrace the feedback in an honest fashion. “Either make the site accessible to everyone and rely on the fact that you are better than you are worse, or don’t make it accessible – but ultimately what people write is entirely up to them,” Stephenson advises.
Alder adds: “It’s about making sure a prospective employee’s perception of the company matches the experience they have when they get there, which can demand a real mindset shift for certain employers, to realise they need to be that transparent.
“On the flipside, many organisations struggle to find the right talent, and offering that level of transparency can really help that process, ensuring the lived employee experience is in line with their expectations. It’s an important aspect of performing effectively and company retention, and the trend is very clear in this direction; on Glassdoor or elsewhere, it’s only going to get bigger.”
A one-day CIPD course provides the tools and techniques you need to develop an effective employee engagement strategy. Book your place now