· Features

Should HR worry about online job reviews?

Cath Everett assesses how much influence review websites have on prospective job applicants and how employers can capitalise on their image on such sites.

In today’s feedback-rich society, online customer reviews have a huge amount of sway over most people’s purchasing decisions. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, for instance, estimates such posts influence as much as £23 billion of consumer spending each year.

So by the same token, in a highly competitive recruitment market where significant numbers of workers across all industries are in the process of changing jobs, the make or break degree of employer reviews on websites such as Glassdoor and WorkAdvisor Opinions is, it seems, a mixed bag.

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Nick Gallimore, director of talent transformation at business software and services provider Advanced, a Glassdoor customer, says such reviews are now a fundamental part of the candidate experience.

“We get four times as much traffic going to Glassdoor than our website in terms of job discovery and candidate vetting, so it’s absolutely critical for us in enabling candidates to make decisions,” he says. “From a reputation perspective, it’s really important – you have to take it seriously as part of the process of managing your employer brand.”

But Anja Honnefelder, chief people officer and general counsel at hotel price comparison website Trivago, is not so sure. She believes that online reviews are just one of a multitude of factors that candidates consider when making a choice about a new job.

“Reading about other people’s experiences is one thing, but first-hand perceptions of a company and its culture seem to influence applicants far more,” she says. 

“As reviews are so subjective, I think most applicants don’t regard them as a central consideration – unless there’s a huge negative consensus.”


What about fake reviews?

As for the important matter of how accurate and credible such reviews are, again opinions are mixed. 

Honnefelder says: “One point I found interesting when I looked into increasing our online job review score is that the more you pay, the better your reviews get – either by having external service providers identify and proactively approach people who leave a good review, or by subscribing to these platforms.”

Gallimore, on the other hand, believes the advantage of becoming a paying customer is more about ensuring consistent branding and messaging across all career-related platforms, including Glassdoor, the corporate website and social media. 

But he does acknowledge “people who are net detractors of the brand are more likely to go online if they’ve had a bad experience, not just in the case of Glassdoor but for all review websites”.

Although he’s aware of the debate about fake reviews, he says he hasn’t seen any evidence of such activity.

Chris Goulding, managing director of recruitment consultancy Wade Macdonald, takes a similar stance. “Most reviews are legitimate. There’ll be the odd fake one, but there’s not a pandemic of fake reviews out there,” he says.

Glassdoor spokesperson Joe Wiggins meanwhile attests that the company does not treat employers any differently if they have free or paid-for accounts. It does however provide clear guidelines as to what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. 

It also operates a two-step moderation process to guard against fakery and ensure comments are balanced. Wiggins says: “You’ll see a range of different reviews, not just from those with an axe to grind or who have had negative experiences.”

The first stage of this process is based around an artificial intelligence system, which assesses each review. Should it fail this approval test, the review is passed on to a human team for further evaluation. Users can also flag any input they believe to be suspect, which likewise goes to the content moderation team. A total of between five and 10% of reviews are usually declined, says Wiggins.

A key advantage of this approach, he adds, is that it reduces the polarisation bias, where scores tend to be either one or five out of five, that are seen on other review sites. 

“We’ve got more scores in the two to four range than any other,” Wiggins says. “People are not doing it to have a rant but to talk about their experiences.”

As for who the most prolific users of the site are, he indicates that in the main they are university-educated ‘knowledge workers’ in areas such as technology and business services like law and accountancy. In age, the spread is across the board.


Dealing with negative feedback

Should employers find themselves on the receiving end of negative comments, the consensus is to directly respond to the posts. In fact, according to statistics from Glassdoor, a huge 76% of UK users say their perception of a company actually improves if it takes time to react to reviews, whether positive or negative. 

As Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula, points out: “Ignoring things doesn’t look great as people will feel you can’t be bothered or assume a negative review is true.

"But if you say something like ‘I’m sorry to read this review but would love to speak to you about it and here’s our email address’, it shows you’re trying to get to the bottom of things and do something positive about it.” 

Perry Timms, founder and chief energy officer of consultancy PTHR, agrees. 

“Inviting further anonymised or without prejudice correspondence is one way of dealing with the situation,” he says. “A response that challenges some of the comments with company data or other information that sets the review in context is another, as long as it’s not overly defensive and certainly not attacking.”

Counter-intuitively though, there are direct benefits to be gained from obtaining negative feedback too. The point, says Wiggins, is that “Glassdoor is just a window into your company. Feedback is a gift rather than a threat.”

The gift comes from the idea that such input can help employers understand what is working well internally and what is not so they can take action.

Gallimore likewise views negative reviews positively as a means of getting the board’s attention to discuss the crucial matter of employer brand. 

“People are often willing to invest in different parts of the employee lifecycle, but it can be a struggle to get employer brand issues high enough up the HR agenda let alone the board’s – and online reviews can help with that,” he says.


The importance of employer brand

Gallimore also acknowledges that employer brand, which includes online reputation in its broadest sense as well as the company’s culture, mission and values, consists of more than just online posts.

“Online reviews are one element, but ultimately when thinking about employer brand, it’s important to understand and capture what makes the organisation attractive to work for and what will appeal to job-seekers,” he says. 

As to which channels are most important to focus on in online reputation terms, he ranks online reviews first, followed by professional networking site LinkedIn, the corporate careers site, social media, such as Facebook, and other content. 

Gallimore is less convinced that dating websites, such as Tinder and Bumble, are the future of recruitment though. According to a recent survey by cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, such sites are now used exclusively for networking purposes or to find new employment by one in 10 Brits. 

Although Gallimore acknowledges the approach may appeal to younger or gig workers, he suspects the trend could go the same way as social media.

“Social media was seen as the next big thing in recruitment a couple of years ago but it hasn’t delivered”, he says, although he recognises that this can be affected by who your target demographic is.

Goulding, meanwhile, believes that a positive online reputation, while important, is really not the only thing employers should be concerned about these days. A key deciding factor for job-seekers at the moment, he says, is whether employers are offering flexible and hybrid working options or not. Cultural issues, such as company purpose and social conscience, are also increasingly important.

As Honnefelder concludes: “Online reputation can only get people through the door of an organisation – it won’t make them stay. It’s important to consider retention and engagement alongside recruitment or any achievements in attracting talent will be short-lived.” 


The full piece of the above appears in the September/October 2021 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.