Worked Up About Manipulated Glassdoor Ratings? Maybe It’s Time For a New Approach

John Hollon Brand Ambassadors, candidate experience, Communication, Culture, Employee Engagement, Engagement and Satisfaction, HR & Marketing, Recruitment Marketing, Talent Acquisition, Talent Strategy, Web/Tech

I learned long ago that user-generated ratings — whether they be on Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor, or anywhere else — are easily manipulated and should be taken with a grain of salt.

So, is anyone really surprised that Glassdoor ratings get manipulated too?

The Wall Street Journal recently published an in-depth look at how some companies have figured out how to boost and inflate their ratings on Glassdoor by pressuring employees to say good things about them.

The cry on social media was instantaneous. Many people were shocked — SHOCKED! — that Glassdoor ratings could be manipulated that way.

Manipulated ratings are NOT a big surprise

My take? I wonder, as we continue to ponder how much (if any) the Russians used social media to impact our 2016 elections, why so many are so surprised that anonymous ratings on a website can be inflated by people with the money and the means to do so.

But, this should also concern any and every Talent Acquisition professional: Given how job candidates factor these ratings into their decision-making process, manipulating Glassdoor ratings, although not terribly surprising, is a really big deal.

The WSJ story spelled it out, saying:

Glassdoor has become an important arbiter of employee sentiment in today’s highly competitive job market. A Wall Street Journal investigation shows it can be manipulated by employers trying to sway opinion in their favor.

An analysis of millions of anonymous reviews posted on Glassdoor’s site identified more than 400 companies with unusually large single-month increases in reviews. Some companies, including Elon Musk’s rocket company Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and software giant SAP SE , have had multiple spikes.

During the vast majority of these surges, the ratings were disproportionately positive compared with the surrounding months, the Journal’s analysis shows.”

You can’t get too fixated on the numbers

If you dig into the Journal story, it’s clear that many companies simply do some targeted internal marketing to their employees and simply ask if they might consider saying how much they like their job on Glassdoor. And guess what? A lot of workers are willing to do that. The WSJ goes on to note that:

“Spokespeople for Slack, LinkedIn and Anthem said their companies have encouraged employees to give feedback. … In some cases, companies have encouraged loyal employees to post reviews as part of a publicity campaign. SpaceX and SAP, for example, galvanized employees to leave reviews to make Glassdoor’s annual ranking of the “Best Places to Work.”

Other companies, including Guaranteed Rate, have pressured employees to write positive reviews in order to raise poor ratings, according to interviews with current and former employees. Guaranteed Rate’s (CEO) said in a written statement that his management team felt Glassdoor ratings didn’t accurately reflect the company’s work environment and so it asked employees to post reviews.”

The problem with all of this chatter about Glassdoor ratings is a simple fact: Anyone who gets too fixated on the ratings on ANY employee-rating website is short-changing themselves.

It’s about managing your company reputation

FOT’s Grand Poobah (and HR savant) Kris Dunn made this very point way back in 2015 when he wrote,

The only people that use Glassdoor and sites like it are disgruntled ex-employees that you fired, right? Wrong. It was wrong 5 years ago, and it’s horribly wrong today. Rather than view these types of sites as a threat, smart HR and Recruiting pros are learning how to use the reputation/rating sites to manage their employment brand, connect with candidates and make better hires.”

If you agree, like I do, with the point Kris Dunn is making, companies encouraging employees to write good things on Glassdoor does two things:

  1. It manipulates the Glassdoor system in a way that it was not originally intended; and,
  2. It’s a smart way for companies to better “manage their employment brand, connect with candidates, and make better hires.”

Is there anything wrong with that? The underlying premise to The Wall Street Journal story is that there is, but really, if you DON’T work at managing your company’s reputation on sites like Glassdoor, who will?

This is life in the 21st Century, for better or for worse. As my friend KD says, “The outside world now has a huge say in how your company/employment brand is perceived, whether you engage or not. FOT thinks you should engage.”

I say Amen to that. Time for me to stop writing and start engaging.

John Hollon

John Hollon is an award-winning journalist and nationally recognized expert on leadership, talent management, and smart workforce practices. He currently is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media. He also was founding Editor of the popular talent management website TLNT.com, and before that, Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com.
John also held editing positions at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Orange County Register, and was top editor for Gannett at two statewide papers —Montana’s Great Falls Tribune and The Honolulu Advertiser. He also has deep experience in magazine and online publishing as editorial director at Fancy Publications, VP of Editorial at Pets.com, and Editor of the San Diego Business Journal.
In addition, John is an adjunct professor in the College of Communications at California State University, Fullerton, and a board member at the Kronos Workforce Institute. He holds an MBA from Pepperdine University’s Graziado School of Business & Management, and lives in Southern California.