Wind back five or six years, and Glassdoor was barely on my radar. I’d heard the word dropped once or twice into conversation by HR contacts, but had barely placed any significance on it other than clocking that it was something like the equivalent of TripAdvisor for HR.

Fast forward to 2020, and Glassdoor is, for me, one of the most important tools any business has in their arsenal when it comes to showcasing their employer brand and attracting talent into their organisation. Funny, the difference a few years can make.

A startling transparency

For the uninitiated, Glassdoor allows employees – both current and former – to leave reviews of their employers, alongside a five star rating. Interview candidates are also able to leave reviews of their recruitment experience with a particular employer. Reviews can be left anonymously, and employers are unable to go in and edit or remove reviews. The net result is a sudden startling transparency of the previous opaque and frequently murky organisational HR practices and inner workings.

Sounds terrifying, right?! Such was my first thought, when I realised that any employee or candidate would be able to go and leave their warts and all feedback on my organisation, without so much as needing to attach an identity to their comments. Surely, I concluded, this was going to be an opportunity which was going to attract disproportionate numbers of disgruntled and disengaged employees, vastly skewing ratings?

Warts and all

Not for the first time in my life, it turns out that I was entirely and emphatically wrong. Sure, it absolutely gives a platform for those employees who happen to have a personal and unfounded vendetta against their employers – but actually, these employees are typically far and few between. Instead, what generally builds up over the course of a series of employee and candidate reviews… is a searingly honest picture of what an employer is really like to work for. Warts and all.

Okay, you might be thinking at this point; but how can a warts and all picture possibly be good for our employer brand? Surely the whole point of an employer brand is that it hides the warts, plays up and polishes the strengths, and presents your employee experience as a glossy brochure within which there are no flaws?

This, in my opinion, is where so many organisations go wrong when it comes to their employer brand. Businesses are run by and inhabited by people, which means by their very nature they are fundamentally flawed. Not always in a bad way, either; it’s those flaws which make us human, those flaws which distinguish one workplace from another and define our organisational culture. Much as with just about everything in life, no employee experience is perfect. And, to suggest that we are the one organisation out there who has somehow managed to create one that is, is both disingenuous and potentially deeply damaging to the psychological contract we have in place with our employees.

No place to hide

When it comes to the traits we most value from an employer, honesty and transparency are right at the top of that list. We want to feel that we are going to work for a business which will front up to its flaws and won’t be afraid to openly address them.

Which is where Glassdoor comes in. Don’t get me wrong; the concept of a completely transparent reviews platform, over which we as the employer have no control, can feel nerve-wracking at first. “But what happens if we get a negative review?” we might think to ourselves. “How can we get around that, if there’s no way of hiding it?”

There is no way of hiding it, that’s true; but that in itself is what makes Glassdoor such an important tool, because it’s the way in which we choose to respond to such negative reviews which perhaps says most about us as an employer.

A learning opportunity

Over the time I’ve worked at Benefex, we’ve received reviews on Glassdoor ranging from the stunningly complimentary to the painfully scathing. I have read and responded to every single one. No, to hear that anything is less than rosy in the working environment you’ve worked so hard to cultivate, is never easy to hear. But it’s how we choose to respond to that feedback which can really set the best employers apart.

The very worst thing we can do in response to a negative Glassdoor review is to ignore it. Job seekers reading such a review will think that the silence from the organisation either means that the comments are indefensibly true; or, worse still, that the employer simply doesn’t care. A response is vital, but how we respond is equally important.

If you approach them correctly, Glassdoor reviews – even the negative ones; in fact, particularly the negative ones – are one of the best learning opportunities we have as an employer. With an anonymous platform, employees aren’t going to hold back on giving you an honest view of how they feel. Denying that view – or even overtly defending it – is telling in itself. We might think that we’ve created a great place to work, but if we’re hearing feedback from someone who doesn’t feel that’s the case, then it’s our duty to listen.

A great place to work

When I receive negative feedback via Glassdoor, I do my very best to do exactly that. I listen, and then I respond. I’ll point out any factual inaccuracies, but that aside, I will do my very best not to be defensive. I will acknowledge what’s been said, and I will hold my hands up where there are things we need to work on, where we still need to be better.

Is it worth it? You may well ask that question, and for me, there is no better proof point than in the unsolicited feedback I regularly receive from candidates at interview. “What made you apply to come and work for us?” is something I’ll always ask them. Increasingly frequently, they will respond by mentioning our Glassdoor profile, and specifically, referencing the fact that I always reply to all reviews, that I show that they are important to us as a business, and that I make sure I take the time to read them.

“Based on Glassdoor, it seems like Benefex is a really great place to work,” they tell me.

I believe that it is, and I’m very proud that our Glassdoor rating reflects exactly that. But I certainly don’t take our employee experience for granted, and I’m eternally grateful to Glassdoor for keeping me honest on that, and reminding me that, when it comes to creating great places to work… our work as HR professionals and as business leaders is never finished.