Glassdoor: Honest resource or troll's paradise?

Some HR professionals embrace Glassdoor, others think it's a risk. Who is right?

Good old Harrods. The boutique for the rich and famous is now (according to a recent Bloomberg poll) Britain’s third best employer to work for.

Job done, HR top of its game. End of. Well, maybe not. ‘No recognition of good work’, ‘blame culture’, ‘managers have something mentally wrong with them’ – these are just some of the most recent reviews of Harrods on Glassdoor, the website often described as the TripAdvisor for jobseekers.

Launched in the US in 2008, and in the UK since 2013, this repository of 10 million-plus anonymous and ‘real-life’ employee/former employee reviews gives a very different image of the famous Knightsbridge store – 3.7 stars overall. Or, to put it another way, just above an average ranking. So, who’s wrong?

“Glassdoor is a troll’s paradise,” says one HRD for a different retailer. “In three years on Glassdoor we’ve had just 170 reviews. This compares to 30,000 staff that have actually been through the business in that time. The most recent post was by someone I personally removed; his account was vastly different to my memory of it.”

For many this experience sums the website up – that it merely gives oxygen to the angry rather than being anything more useful. But is this also the voice of denial? For all the claims (and there are many) that Glassdoor gives a jilted view of corporate life one thing is certain: this antidote to carefully crafted corporate spin has become intoxicating. In 2014 recruitment intelligence firm ERE Media found 46% of US jobseekers said reviews they read in the last six months had the greatest impact on their view of that company.

“UK traffic has grown 50% year on year to reach 2.5 million visitors each month,” says Diarmuid Russell, head of international at Glassdoor, in an exclusive interview with HR magazine. “The UK site now holds 650,000 insights on 60,000 companies. We’re here to help people make better decisions about where they work, and our growth indicates people need us.” The message is loud and clear – you may not like it, you may think what’s there are the ravings of the irrational few, but that’s not the point. This is your brand that’s being talked about and maybe Glassdoor’s reach is such you can’t ignore it any longer.

“Lots of HRDs think ‘if we ignore it it will go away’,” says Sara Duxbury, head of people at negligence and serious injury law firm Fletchers. “But it won’t. Type us into Google and a Glassdoor link is the fourth one down, so it’s impossible to hide from it nowadays. We might only have had 19 posts and 34 job interview reviews, but we know they play a massive part in how people understand our brand. Our Glassdoor page gets 600 to 800 views a month. We actually find it heartening that even though 98% of interviewees don’t get a job they still say they like our culture and values, and still give us a great 84% ‘would recommend’ rating. That shows we’re doing something right.”

The fact former, current or prospective employees are already likely to be talking about your firm is revealed by recruitment giant Hays. “We only realised staff were talking about us when we were named the UK’s 14th Best Employer by Glassdoor itself,” admits Sandra Henke, its group head of people and culture. “That’s when we decided to engage with it more. We’re in a new world of transparency and sound bites. Channels like these will only proliferate, so we feel HR has to get involved. Today we’ll take time to respond to comments we feel are not wholly correct [Glassdoor will never delete a post, but it gives the right of reply] and we also encourage our staff – at all job levels – to write reviews, such as on work anniversaries, or even those who attended interviews.”

Suggesting that staff leave comments is a tactic Duxbury also follows. But some regard this as the antithesis of what Glassdoor should be – corporate-free, end user only, and no solicited views.

Recently gone bust start-up Power Technologies was chided in the press when its CEO offered employees Starbucks vouchers to write nice things. However, both argue it protects the brand from extremist-only views, that they don’t tell people what to say anyway, and that by at least replying it shows the outside world that here is a company that listens.

But there’s something else too. Henke argues that if HR is doing its job, what it sees on the site really shouldn’t be a surprise. “We have to be careful the tail doesn’t wag the dog,” she says. “We don’t rely on Glassdoor to learn our reputation, we’d be doing something wrong if we did. However, as an external review mechanism it’s great.”

To those who are still unconvinced, Glassdoor’s Russell argues most visitors will take a measured view of a range of comments, and can make their own minds up about those that appear overly vengeful. “We have technology – I can’t say what exactly – that can work out who and where people are to help ensure comments are genuine.”

He adds: “We’re not here to show up bad employers.”

There will still be sceptics that think Glassdoor really is having its cake and eating it. After all, here is a business that gives people the platform to make a fuss then charges worried firms for ‘Enhanced Employer Profiles’ where they can add responses, put up blogs, and even post job vacancies (Glassdoor is ultimately a job board).

“No, we’re absolutely on the side of the jobseeker,” retorts Russell. “Our objectivity is what gives us our value so we wouldn’t endanger that.” He even explains how advertising agency AKQA improved its holiday entitlement after staff moaned about it on Glassdoor. “We’re changing HR,” he says. “We’re almost an early warning system of things that might take time to show up on an employee survey.”

Is he right? It’s ultimately up to HR to decide. But perhaps the best way to see Glassdoor is as yet another ‘channel’ organisations have to be aware of as part of their brand management. “We undoubtedly saw Glassdoor as a ‘risk’,” says Jane Graham, resourcing manager at Wiltshire Council, which last year became the first public sector organisation to tie-in with it, and now has 114 jobs up on its Glassdoor page. “At the end of the day we want to promote our brand and we feel this helps us. We only get two to three reviews per month, but we get 1,500 to 2,000 visits a month – that’s 50 a day. I feel strongly that HR has to take ownership of its recruitment brand. Glassdoor enables you to do so much more. That said, it’s not the entirety of our digital strategy. We’re also on five other social media platforms too.”

Kathryn Pritchard, HRD at Odeon and UCI Group, adds: “We make it our business to ask our people what they think about working at Odeon, so we use a wide range of internal and external channels, of which Glassdoor is one of them. It may not be the be all and end all, but this way of keeping in touch with opinion mirrors real life, and the way current and future colleagues form their views to gather feedback. It makes sure we don’t miss anything.”

Top tips for HRDS

Wiltshire Council’s Jane Graham’s advice for flourishing on Glassdoor:

  • Reply individually and speedily: “This does require a commitment of resources, but it’s your brand you’re investing in. We aim for punchy replies, either to say thanks for a great comment or to put our side of other ones.”
  • Encourage staff to use it: “For us Glassdoor is also our employee voice. We never force, but say it’s there if you want to use it. We’re thinking of creating digital ambassadors because we want our own staff to be our assets, to demystify certain job roles for example.”
  • Don’t churn stuff out: “There’s an art to a good response. Don’t cut and paste the same ones, and don’t downplay any negatives. Acknowledge them but don’t promise anything you can’t deliver.”