Meet John. John is hunting for a brand new job. When he finds a job description that seems like the perfect fit for him, he decides to do some digging about what the company is really like.

The first places John looks at are Facebook and Glassdoor. And, as excited as he is about everything the position entails, he’s not as thrilled with the reviews he’s seeing posted there.

Unrealistic hours. Unsupportive management. No room for growth. Toxic office politics.

Despite the crisp photos of friendly employees enjoying a chili cook-off that fill the company’s “About Us” page, John now assumes that the culture is the exact opposite of what the employer actively promotes. As a result, he clicks away from the job description and sets his sights on something that’s a better match.

If you’re an employer, this story probably made you cringe. The fact that a candidate could place that much trust and value in a review—which very well could’ve been posted by a disgruntled ex-employee—immediately negates all of the thought and elbow grease you’ve already invested into your employer brand.

But rest assured, this happens more often than you probably care to admit. And the fact that applicants rely on that information before ever submitting an application comes with some dire effects.

How Important is Culture… Really?

“On Glassdoor—where a large majority of workers across North America go to make employment decisions—the impact is likely to be felt through a negative hit to recruitment and an increase in turnover,” explains Perry Petrozelli, CEO of Aventr, a company that produces various apps to support employee engagement.

Indeed, culture is a key concern for many applicants, particularly those in the Millennial generation. In fact, 80% of Millennials consider culture and people fit to be the most important consideration when vetting employers, even ranking above career potential.

What Millennials look for in employers

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If your online reputation isn’t actively managed or mitigated, you run the risk of having a company culture created for you — rather than you proactively creating one yourself.

“When there’s one bad comment, many assume that’s a disgruntled former worker blowing off steam," explains Cara Silletto, MBA, President and Chief Retention Officer at Crescendo Strategies, a company focused on reducing employee turnover. "When multiple comments from current or former employees start to build a pattern, that’s your brand. If you aren’t intentional about proactively creating the employer brand you want, an unintentional one will creep up like this.”

According to research from Glassdoor itself, 74% of users are more likely to apply to a job if the company actively manages its employer brand.

“We’re in an employee’s market today where applicants and candidates have the upper hand,” adds Silletto. “Part of that is because of access to information like the employer reviews online.”

And when it comes to your existing team? One study indicates that employees who give their company culture low marks are 15% more likely to look for a new job than their counterparts.

How to Foster a Positive Company Culture

By now you understand that establishing a vibrant company culture is important for both recruiting new employees and retaining your existing ones—whether you’re worried about negative online reviews or not. But that doesn’t mean that the process is easy.

Rest assured, you aren’t alone in feeling that way. According to a Deloitte survey, 87% of organizations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges. It may be a large undertaking but it’s still doable —provided you’re willing to do the following:

1. Learn From the Bad

Your inclination might be to roll your eyes or scoff at the first sight of a negative review on Glassdoor or Facebook. While your bitter feelings are understandable, they really won’t accomplish anything. Instead, take a fine-tooth comb to any harsh reviews and pull out some valuable lessons.

Company Culture: Learn from your negative reviews online

“Similar to a football team, we view sites like Glassdoor as game tape for our HR and recruiting teams, meaning we review what’s working, what’s resonating and what isn’t, and learn from it and plan accordingly,” explains Katie Burke, Chief People Officer at HubSpot.

“I view Glassdoor, Facebook, and social media perspectives from candidates as invaluable feedback on the things we can do better and initiatives that really work,” she continues. “I think companies who ignore this rich feedback are really missing an opportunity to reflect, respond, and improve.”

So grab a notepad and see if you can identify any common trends or themes that crop up in those reviews. This will help you zone in on areas of your culture that need the most improvement and refining—as well as what might be getting lost in translation.

2. Prioritize Culture

A positive culture isn’t something that’s going to happen just because you’re thinking about it or talking about it. You must take action. It needs to be a high priority for every leader at your company.

Unfortunately, this might involve some convincing.

“One of the mistakes I see people making over and over again is trying to convince their C-level team to ‘do culture’ just because it’s ‘fun’,” Burke explains in a post for the Zenefits blog. “You have to make a business case for culture. Explain why it actually matters to the business and show how it ties to core business objectives.”

Obviously, there are tons of statistics out there about how culture impacts recruitment, retention, and employee engagement. So, you’ll have no trouble arming yourself with all the proof and justification needed.

Beyond that, leaders need to realize that there’s really no end game with culture. “Company culture is a journey, it’s not a destination,” explains Petrozelli. “Rather, it’s a living, breathing organism that changes as companies innovate, adapt, and scale. It’s not as simple as throwing employees in a room with a beer keg and some ping-pong tournaments.”

Culture is only going to become increasingly important in the future. Find out why in this enlightening TED Talk by Rainer Strack:

3. Set Real Goals

Culture can be notoriously hard to measure. But, that doesn’t mean you should cross your fingers and blindly hope that your culture efforts are resonating.

Instead, Burke recommends that you set a measurable goal that you can strive for. Perhaps it’s boosting your retention rates by a certain percentage. Maybe it involves exceeding a set number of applicants for an open position. Or, perhaps it’s something as simple as achieving a record attendance number for an employee outing.

“Document all of these goals, and then base your culture-building activities around hitting them,” explains that same Zenefits post.

Monitoring those goals will help you determine whether the work you’re investing is actually paying off—or if you need to change your strategies and focus.

4. Collect Feedback

Transparency is a key ingredient for a positive culture. And if Glassdoor and Facebook are the only places that employees can turn to provide their opinion on how your culture is functioning, then there’s a problem.

“As organizations wake up to the rising demands of inclusivity, constant and transparent feedback is becoming critical,” says Petrozelli.

While you can collect feedback on a wide variety of aspects related to your company, finding out how employees are feeling about your culture in particular will help you better understand what needs improving or tweaking.

Use surveys to collect employee feedback - Foster Positive Company Culture

Many companies utilize surveys to uncover issues and feedback specifically related to culture and overall job happiness. Amazon, for example, famously launched daily job satisfaction surveys for their employees.

You don’t need to do anything quite that frequent—in contrast, Hubspot releases one quarterly. However, implementing some sort of survey specifically dealing with culture can help you get a more realistic grasp on how your culture is resonating with your existing employees and then make any necessary targeted adjustments.

5. Focus on What Matters

Culture is easily confused with perks. The two are not the same thing. Perks are a great complement to your culture but they don’t make up the entirety of it. Think of them as the icing, rather than the actual cake.

So what sorts of things matter more in terms of your culture? Preferences will differ from employee to employee, but here are some core things that matter most to your workforce:

  • Professional development and room for growth
  • Rewards and recognition for a job well done
  • High level of transparency and feedback
  • Sense of purpose and contributing to the larger picture
  • Supportive and encouraging leadership

Checking the boxes on those big things will get you a lot further than your in-office barista and bean bag chairs.

But Wait… Should You Respond to Negative Reviews?

All of the above tactics can help you build a more vibrant culture for your company. But you’re likely still left with one big question: what should you do with the negative reviews that have already wiggled themselves onto your Glassdoor and Facebook profiles? Do you ignore them? Respond to them?

Company culture - should you respond to negative reviews on Glassdoor or Facebook?

Honestly, the answer to this is: it depends.

In some cases, it can be helpful to address the concern that’s highlighted in that review — provided you remain polite, professional, and pulled together. By replying to comments about your organization (yes, even the scathing ones) you can demonstrate that you’re actively invested in your company’s employer brand and reputation.

To take it a step further, walk the walk when it comes to seriously considering every single piece of feedback—whether good or bad.

But what if the review is totally unfounded or will only escalate to an emotional exchange? You’re better off staying silent. “Fighting the review battle online is not the answer,” warns Silletto.

Over to You

Negative reviews on social media sites are enough to make you clench your fists and grit your teeth. But before you publish that snarky reply, you need to address the root of the issue: your company culture.

You must proactively manage your own culture, before the social media sites create one for you.

By making your culture a priority, you’ll be able to make important adjustments that will lead to happier employees, improved retention, and much stronger recruitment. Ultimately, those more serious efforts will take a you a lot further than a curt comment about a review’s unfounded claim.

“Painting a crappy car makes it shiny, but it’s still a crappy car,” Silletto concludes.

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