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Hiring used to be a one-way street—employers held the key to dream careers, and hopeful job seekers waited for them to open doors. After a great interview, companies could call up former coworkers for references on a prospective employee. But what could the applicant do?

Unless they knew someone personally who worked at the company, candidates were traditionally out of luck when it came to getting a second opinion on the culture, work and leadership of a company. But today, with sites like Glassdoor, Paysa, and Fairygodboss, candidates can read all about what employees (current and former) think about your company in just a few clicks.

It's a new world for employers, and it's a difficult one to navigate. If an employee writes a bad review about your company, how should you react?

Ignore the Extreme

I recently received an email from a reader who wanted to know if they should respond to online attacks on their company from an employee who quit in... 1986. He liked to post Glassdoor reviews and even created blogs to smear the company. The posts were filled with grammar and spelling errors, and were clearly meant to do more harm than help potential candidates avoid a bad job. I advised the reader to leave the posts alone—these sites will remove posts that are fake or unreliable, and, like any crowdsourced content, one horrible review won't mean much to prospects if it doesn't match up with the rest of the comments.

Reflect on the Feedback

If your reviews claim the culture is negative, salary is under market, or vacation time isn't possible, don't dismiss them. Sure, your company policies may be impeccable, but if individual managers aren't treating team members with respect, alerting leadership about high performers or approving time off, it doesn't matter what the policies say.

This does not mean going on a witch-hunt to figure out which employee wrote the review in order to set him or her straight. It means reflecting on the feedback, and evaluating whether or not it's true. If the complaints are about a lack of vacation, run a report on vacation usage. Does one department have a ton of unused vacation on the books? If your company is small, you can probably see for yourself that no one in IT has taken a vacation recently.

But what if the charge is more subjective, such as "the culture is oppressive"? The answer is to talk to employees, management and your executive team. You can hold in-person meetings, or run an anonymous feedback survey.

Review Your Policies

After researching the verity of a review, take a closer look at your policies. You may find that certain policies, even those created with good intentions, have backfired.

For example, let's say you have a strict policy of no more than a 10 percent raise with a promotion. That sounds fair, until you realize that the 10 percent raise rarely brings employee up to a market rate salary when they reach the manager level. You may have a huge drop-off of employees in that position, and turnover is expensive—especially for more senior roles.

The same is true for onerous review processes or forced rankings. There may be good reasons behind these policies, but they may not be creating the results you hoped for. Practice more transparency with employees, and consider weighing the eventual impact of certain policies on your retention rate and engagement levels.

Respond—Yes, Really

Review sites like Glassdoor actually want you to respond to reviews. As Lisa Holden, Employer Communications Manager at Glassdoor, wrote to me, "Glassdoor makes sure everyone is entitled to their opinion about a company, and that includes the employer... Since 90 percent of folks find the employer perspective useful when learning about jobs and companies, [responding] is a great way to make sure your voice is part of this discussion."

In your response, just remember to state the facts and offer your support either way. For example: "Our policy at Acme Inc. is to allow everyone 3 weeks of paid time off, in addition to holidays. We've looked into this allegation and found that some managers were preventing employees from using their vacation, and we are working to rectify that situation. Please come to HR if you're not able to use your vacation. We have your back."

When it comes to more subjective reviews like culture, respond with care. Instead of, "Yeah, well, we like it here! Good riddance!" or "We're sorry you feel this way," try "Thanks for bringing this to our attention! We want to make sure everyone feels comfortable and will take your thoughts into consideration."

Don't forget to respond to positive comments as well. Overall, feedback that goes two ways is a great thing—just as your employees develop throughout their careers, your business should develop as it grows and expands. A listening ear, clear communication and thoughtful policies can go a long way toward making your company a great place to work.

Photo: Twenty20