HR Headaches: What to Do When a Former Employee Badmouths Your Organization

A company’s reputation is one of its greatest assets, so when a former worker speaks ill of an organization, it can hurt. Here are tips for handling these situations.

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HR Headaches: What to Do When a Former Employee Badmouths Your Organization

Here's what you need to know:

  • Negative rumors and misinformation can create a ripple effect on a company’s reputation
  • There are many available platforms for former workers to express their opinions about your organization, which is why companies need to take a multifaceted approach to best combat this situation
  • To better control your company’s online reputation, take ownership of your organization’s review pages
  • Consider posting a direct reply or reaching out to the former employee directly
  • If a former employee is spreading false information that is exceptionally and provably false, then legal recourse may be the best option
  • However, simple “badmouthing” may need a softer approach, at least at first

Companies work hard to build and maintain a positive reputation. So, when a former employee badmouths an organization, it can hurt. In today’s digital age, even one disgruntled employee with access to the internet can do massive damage in mere moments.

A company’s reputation is one of its greatest assets. It affects how customers view an organization. Negative rumors and misinformation can create a ripple effect.

It may even sway potential employees from applying for a position. A recent study showed that 76% of professionals research a company’s reputation online before considering a job offer.

For many companies, this scenario quickly turns into an HR nightmare. And for smaller organizations who rely on their customer base for survival, it can be crippling. So, what can organizations do to combat such a situation? The response depends a lot on the scale of the problem.

This article will explain how damaging negative press from former employees can become. And it will outline measures organizations can take to minimize harm to their reputation.

How badmouthing happens in the digital age

For many, the internet is a go-to source of information that helps them make decisions. A recent study showed that 91% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust a personal recommendation.

In the past, disgruntled employees only had a small network of people available to hear their negative opinions. But today, nearly every organization has an online footprint. Job boards and hiring agencies have dedicated pages for organizations that list reviews from consumers and employees.

Because many organizations don’t take the time to monitor their online presence, they may never understand how big of an image the public is creating for them. For this reason, companies must make an effort to monitor their online reputation.

There are many ways a former employee may take to the internet to badmouth an organization. We have listed some of the most common examples below.

Online review sites like Indeed and Glassdoor

These platforms are useful when companies are looking to recruit qualified talent. However, there is a feature that allows users to leave reviews and ratings of former employers. This can be difficult to manage for many organizations.

Because users have the option of remaining anonymous, it can be impossible to combat this type of badmouthing. For organizations that have been around for a while, it may not take long for review sites like these to rack up pages of negative comments.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter

If there’s one online tool that has caused the most damage to organizations and their reputations in record time, it’s Twitter’s hashtag feature. Former employees can use social media sites to spread misinformation and negative opinions far and wide in a matter of minutes.

All it takes is for someone with a large number of followers to share or retweet a post, and before long, it spreads like wildfire.

Social media sites are one of the most difficult channels for organizations to manage. Once a post makes its way around the internet, there’s no getting it back. While companies can post or tweet an official response when situations like this arise, most of the time the damage is already done.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is like the Facebook of the corporate world. The online networking platform has become the place to be for organizations. Professionals use it to make connections, share information, and even generate sales leads.

Users with LinkedIn profiles may include their entire employment history to attract potential hiring managers. This makes it very easy for users to find former employees of an organization.

LinkedIn provides an open forum for former employees to badmouth your company. It also provides an easy way for interested parties to search for and find those employees on their own. This creates the perfect opportunity for disgruntled employees to find an audience for their grievances.

How to manage negativity from former employees

There are many available platforms for former workers to express their opinions about your organization. That’s why companies need to take a multifaceted approach to best combat this situation.

Organizations need proactive and reactive solutions to better control their online reputations. We’ve listed some strategies below.

Owning the online presence

Many organizations may not even be aware of the size or scope of their online presence. But the fact is, whether you build it yourself or not, it’s out there. One of the best ways companies can manage this is by claiming ownership of their organization’s review pages.

Online forums often have avenues companies can take to identify a company as their own. Doing so allows users to flag negative reviews for removal and better monitor activity based around their company.

Post a direct reply

Although this approach may be risky, certain situations may need a direct response. However, it can be helpful to designate an HR executive or manager with expertise in human resources to handle this job. This prevents owners and CEOs from becoming emotionally embroiled and lashing out at former employees inappropriately.

A direct response is best saved for scenarios where the employee is posting verifiably untrue things.

A direct approach should be professional and to the point. Be gracious and thank the employee for their time, then politely disagree with their review. A direct response is best saved for scenarios where the employee is posting verifiably untrue things.

Arguing with former employees about their opinions won’t do much good. Remember to follow privacy policies and refrain from discussing internal company matters in public.

Consider reaching out to the former employee directly

If an organization has the means to do so, reach out to former employees directly. Perhaps a misunderstanding or miscommunication is the catalyst for their feelings.

Maybe they had a truly negative experience. Have an HR executive reach out and inquire about the employee’s concerns.

If the employee holds firm to their opinions or has a legitimate complaint, organizations should look internally for solutions. Preventing employees from becoming disgruntled in the first place is the best way to prevent situations such as this.

Send a ‘cease and desist’

In the unfortunate event that a former employee is spreading false and harmful information on a massive scale, it may be necessary for organizations to take the next step. If HR gets no response after reaching out directly and asking an employee to stop spreading misinformation, then the next action should be to consult the lawyers.

Remember to check if the former employee signed a non-disclosure agreement or any employment contract that limits their ability to speak about an organization’s practices or policies. This can add an extra level of validity to future legal actions.

Take legal action

If a former employee is spreading false information that is exceptionally and provably false, then legal recourse may be the best option. However, simple “badmouthing” may need a softer approach, at least at first.

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Be a company that creates advocates rather than adversaries

Building a strong reputation is an important achievement for organizations, and it often doesn’t come easily. But companies must work to do so in every aspect of their business. One of the best ways to prevent former employees from badmouthing an organization is to be the kind of company that creates advocates instead of adversaries.

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