someone gave me a terrible review on Glassdoor

A reader writes:

I work for a tiny company and manage a team eight people in a niche industry. There is fair amount of turnover, generally by design – people often take this job with the explicit goal of going to a particular grad school in a few years. I recently learned that someone left a very negative review about the company and me on Glassdoor and I cannot figure out how to handle it.

Some things were true enough — i.e., inconsistent workload and some weekend work (though those are both normal in our industry, which has seasonal schedules, and we are upfront about that when hiring). However, it also said that “management is mean and mistakes are not tolerated.” I am flabbergasted. I work very hard on providing feedback that focuses on explaining the impact and working on the way forward, and we expect mistakes due to the niche nature of our work, where people are learning as they go — and people have been promoted after committing errors that costed the company tens of thousands of dollars as they were really strong in other things and learned from mistakes. I am not particularly touchy-feely, but I thought I have warm and collaborative relationships with the team members, and I’ve served as a reference for most people who left.

My boss does exit interviews when people leave and the feedback he gave me following those has been generally positive about my management (though I understand people are under no obligation to share negative comments in their exit interviews).

Now I feel stuck. I don’t know what to fix and how to fix it. I am feeling anxious and awkward around my team (do they all actually hate me?!), and I am barely sleeping. I also am having a hard time giving feedback on ongoing projects, which results in me being vague and only makes things worse. I feel that I fundamentally failed at my job – and failed the company, as the only other review of us is from an outside contractor, so is not that relevant and does not speak to the same things. Other than quitting my job and never managing again, where do I go from here?

It’s good to be open to feedback about yourself and your management style, but letting a single anonymous review affect you to this extent is counterproductive.

First, are you absolutely sure that the review is about you? Unless the reviewer used language that referenced you specifically, it’s possible that the “mean management” remark and other issues refer to problems above you. That would be a different concern, but not the one you’re worried about.

But let’s assume for the purpose of this answer that it’s clearly about you. The reality is, when you’re a manager, not everyone will like working for you. You could be the greatest boss in the world and some people still wouldn’t like you. Partly that’s because being a good manager means giving feedback, addressing problems, and holding people accountable in ways they might not like. If you need to correct someone a lot, or have difficult conversations with them about their work, or say no to something they wanted, it’s human nature that you might not end up being their favorite person. Or you might have a style that doesn’t align well with theirs — maybe you’re very direct and matter-of-fact and that feels brusque to them, or maybe you’re a planner and a devotee of process and they work more spontaneously. That wouldn’t mean either of you is in the wrong; it would just mean you don’t mesh well together.

Sometimes, too, people dislike a job or a manager for reasons that aren’t as much about the manager as they are about other things going on with that person — a dislike of their career path, stressors outside of work, a generally bad fit with the role, or all kinds of things.

Or, frankly, you might be an imperfect manager — most of us are — but that doesn’t mean you’re a horrible one. Managing people is hard, and every manager will get things wrong now and then. Ideally you’ll establish a track record of fairness, transparency, and good judgment so your mistakes are judged within that context … but you still might encounter an employee who judges your mistakes harshly. You’re basically on a stage when you’re the boss; you’re going to be scrutinized by the people under you, and there will be things they take issue with. It’s part of the job, and you’ve got to be okay with that.

Or, yes, you might be a terrible manager! It’s possible. There are lots of terrible managers out there. But I’m skeptical that you’re terrible in the specific ways the review described (mean and intolerant of mistakes), because your detailed explanation of your approach to mistakes sounds pretty healthy and because you sound genuinely thoughtful and caring toward team members. People can delude themselves, of course, and managers aren’t always reliable narrators of their own management styles. But the way you talk about how you operate — and your reaction now — doesn’t seem to line up with that review or with the feedback people have given your boss about you. That doesn’t mean that review is definitely wrong. I obviously can’t say that with certainty. But I don’t think it warrants the self-flagellation you’re doing.

That said, all managers have ways they could improve — things they’re doing that irritate or upset their teams, or make things run less effectively, or allow problems to fester. I can say with confidence that you could be a better manager, because we all could. So one option is to take this as an impetus to do a real inventory of the way you manage, figure out where you could improve, and lean into doing that work.

One way to do that is to gather feedback from your team. You can do that formally (for example, by asking your boss to solicit anonymous feedback from them), although people won’t always provide candid answers when you do that. You can also do it in lower-key ways, like by asking informally as you talk with staff members about ways to make the team operate better or what would improve their lives at work. Of course, for that to work, you’ve got to make sure you’ve built an environment where people feel comfortable offering input, including dissent — and if you realize you might not have, that’s probably the first issue to work on.

You should also pay attention to things like: Do people seem happy and engaged with their work? Are they open with you when they have concerns? Do they take risks, or seem scared to try anything new? When they make mistakes, do they panic? Is there a generally positive energy on your team or do people seem guarded or downtrodden?

You can also talk to your boss and trusted peers about the review and how it lines up with what they see of how you operate. They won’t have the same perspective on your leadership as the people you manage do, but they might have useful insights.

What doesn’t make sense is to stay mired in how bad it feels to read something like that about yourself. If the review is off base, you’re punishing yourself needlessly (and potentially making things weird with your team). And if there’s truth to it, you’re preventing yourself from learning what you can from it and figuring out what you can change.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 103 comments… read them below }

  1. serenity*

    Alison’s response is very thoughtful and spot-on here, as always.

    Reviews – and in general, any one person’s opinion! – are by their nature subjective. There are times when feedback from others can help us to see things or behaviors we have ignored or taken for granted, and to correct them. In other instances, one person’s thoughts are likely going to be colored by their particular perspective and experience, which we might not share or agree with. It absolutely is not worth losing sleep over this if you are a supportive and empathetic manager, as you seem to be.

    1. Panhandlerann*

      I taught at a university for years and thus was evaluated by students on many, many occasions. It was impossible not to garner some negative comments; after all, I was grading their work! One thing I learned to do was to look for patterns. Certainly, a single comment that was serious enough would result in soul-searching and steps to correct a problem with what I was saying or doing, but mainly, I would look for any multiple complaints and consider those to have more weight than a single mention of some issue, which might well mean simply that the student was disgruntled about a grade. I also was very much aware of a tendency I think most people have to zero in on the one negative comment that is actually amid many positive ones. So I would ask the OP about any other (Glassdoor or similar) reviews they’ve received: have they been positive? While you want to consider whether there is something to the negative feedback, you also don’t want to lose sight of other, positive feedback you’ve received.

      1. Venus*

        Agreed that it’s about the larger picture, and many sources of feedback. I remember a coworker complaining about his boss being a micromanager when I’d heard his boss was typically known for flexibility bordering on not giving sufficient feedback. It didn’t take long to realise that the employee wasn’t doing a very good job, refused to improve, and was complaining because his boss was having to give him feedback that his coworkers didn’t need so he was bitter about everything.

        There are people who are critical as a reaction to their own deficiencies*. Bosses shouldn’t doubt themselves except for doing what Alison suggests, and shouldn’t let one bad employee propagate their destruction any further than it already has.
        * As another example, there is of course the classic asshole move from this morning’s vineyard post of “She’s a bitch because she doesn’t like it when I’m creepy.”

      2. Cautionary tail*

        Agreed. I also teach at a uni. Within the same class I can get reviews that span the entire range of 1 through 5 with some people commenting that I was amazing and changed their lives while others comment that I was the worst thing that ever happened to them – yet everything I did for both to earn both sets of extremes from these people was the same. In the last set of reviews I got 80% 5s and 20% 1s with nothing in between. The comments spanned “[Cautionary tail] was an awesome instructor, very willing to help me learn all about the subjects and really discussed it in ways that made sense to me. Very grateful for the way the knowledge and expertise was shared. [Cautionary tail] gave us priceless information – real information.” From the same class I also got that the material and information I shared did not have relevance to real-life and the student got nothing out of the class.

      3. Letter Writer*

        I guess this is part of the issue – this is the only relevant review out there, so it is the only public feedback – and now the face, so to say, of the company. I am proud of the work we do and we have many satisfied clients, but generally when I do things right it means not a specific achievement, but the absence of problems, if that make sense?

        1. Hannah*

          People are bombarded by reviews these days. Any savvy reader has learned that you have to take them all with a grain of salt and, as said, look for a pattern.

          If I looked at a review of anything – ranging from a company to work for to the next toaster I’m going to buy – and they only got 2 reviews then I wouldn’t put any stock in it. Too little data. I think most people feel the same.

          So stop stressing about being the face of the company! You are not. Somebody mentioned you once in a pretty public location but that doesn’t negate everything the company has ever done.

        2. londonedit*

          Yeah, I think if I saw one review and it happened to be negative, I’d probably just dismiss it or not put too much stock in it because I’d assume it was just one disgruntled employee. The trouble with reviews is that it doesn’t tend to cross people’s minds to leave positive feedback – they’re much more likely to make the effort to complain about something. So I always take reviews with a pinch of salt anyway. And if there’s only one review, I’m not going to base my entire opinion on that. There isn’t nearly enough information to go on.

      4. Butterfly Counter*

        Oh yes. Between evaluations and RateMyProfessor, I’ve developed more of a thick skin.

        There are just some students who will not like me for whatever reason. We just don’t vibe is what I figure and it’s not a thing I can actively do something about. Most students seem to like me. A few ADORE me.

        Like you, I look for the patterns. If 60% of my class said that having online assignments due on a weekend rather than a Friday would be more helpful, sure! Thanks for the feedback! If one person says I’m not available to students (despite office hours every week and a personal policy of getting back to emails within 24 hours), meh. They’re probably not trying very hard.

        I think if the person is complaining about inconsistent work despite it being a well-known phenomenon for everyone in that area, the letter writer can believe that other people will not fully trust the rest of the review.

  2. Aggretsuko*

    I’m guessing maybe this person was fired, hence the “mistakes are not tolerated” remark. Maybe that was their experience–they did something bad enough that they could not be forgiven.

    But other than that…it’s one review, not a slew of them saying the same thing.

    1. LKW*

      And I interpreted it totally differently. I assumed that the person made some mistakes and was asked to correct them and not make the same mistake going forward. Sometimes people don’t care about making mistakes and getting called out is seen as nagging, being abusive, whatever but there’s a big difference between “As we discussed” and “Ass we discussed” (this mistake actually happened and went out in a physical, printed letter).

    2. Andy*

      Honestly, that sounds like making stuff up to make someone feel good. And it is too apparent making negative stuff about someone who said uncomfortable thing to work that way.

      It is also quite possible to have opinion like that and not be fired if even badly treated.

    3. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

      Definitely could be that. Sometimes being held accountable (even reasonably and kindly!) feels like an attack to some folks.

  3. NeutralJanet*

    Given that the review also criticized some of the norms of your industry, assuming that the inconsistent workload is something that would be expected at any organization in your industry, I wonder if the reviewer was generally discontented with the nature of the job, which influenced their perception of you and/or the organization as a whole. This is not to say that the reviewer didn’t genuinely mean what they said, but when you already aren’t happy with your job, it can be easy to jump on anything that isn’t perfect and make it a big deal in your head. Of course it’s good for you to reflect on whether this is an accurate description of your management style, but also keep in mind that this is a single anonymous review from someone who may just not have suited the job.

  4. Beth*

    Online reviews are useful in aggregate; individually, though, they mean almost nothing. There’s no way to know who left any individual review! It could be that there’s truth behind this, but it’s just as possible that it’s someone lashing out in anger or basing their feedback on unreasonable expectations. It’s even possible that it’s a troll who never worked at your company. Because it’s anonymous, there’s really no way to know for sure—you have to take them with a grain of salt.

    1. PT*

      I used to read parent reviews of youth programs and I have to say the same thing. Most of the reviews we got were useless, and involved things about our program that we couldn’t change.
      “I don’t like my teacher’s age/gender/race.” There’s this law called EEO and we have to follow it, sorry if that’s an inconvenience to you.
      “I want you to do major construction to the building because I don’t like something about it.” Yes, our building DOES need work but a capital finance plan takes 10 years and your kid will be in college by then.
      “I signed up for lessons but I didn’t want you to ever tell my kid what to do.” That is not how any of this works.

      1. Bubbles*

        Oh the parent reviews! I worked for a career summer camp that gave kids an opportunity to see what our education and jobs were actually like. One parent had the gall to complain that I was dealing with a temporary disability that summer and thus shouldn’t be in charge of middle school students! Unfortunately my boss almost fired me because I needed some accomodations, but ultimately didn’t. She asked me to hide my disability entirely and lie about it. She didn’t understand why I declined to attend the end of summer BBQ while recovering from surgery. *eye roll* Thankfully she left and the new camp director was very interested in why I wasn’t attending the orientation for the new group of counselors the next summer and was horrified by what happened.

    2. Sara without an H*

      True. Online reviews are mostly useful when there are enough of them to let you detect patterns. A lone review is almost useless. A review from 10 years ago is useless. A cluster of half a dozen bad reviews in the last couple of months would indicate something that needs your attention.

      1. twocents*

        Especially a review like this. “Management is mean.” What does that mean? Because I’ve known people who would use that to mean “verbally abusive” and I’ve known people who would use it to mean “doesn’t entertain my long rants about how I’m sure Jane’s Bermuda shorts are too short.”

    3. basically gods*

      Thiiiis. At a previous job, I was the person in charge of aggregating every review for around 250 stores around North America, and while individual reviews can be rough (one called me out by name, since I was the one who had to reply to negative reviews, and that shook me up pretty bad), it’s the overall picture that really matters.

      1. TheAG*

        Generally I agree but I had this happen to me with a disgruntled ex employee (who was angry that they didn’t get hired into a full time position from a temp position) who called me out by position and made a lot of false accusations and said I should be fired (which is a violation of their TOU unless you’re C suite, which I’m definitely not).

        In the position I was in I hired A LOT of people into the company. If I had read that and believed it I’d have some doubts also, because it’s not like any other people called me out by position to offer a counter-point.

        The kicker is the person who left the review, their significant other works in my department, and when I sent the review to HR manager, we both knew exactly who wrote it. Not a good look for the employee who still works there.

  5. Tyche*

    Yeah I’d say that a lot of times people receive messages from their managers in ways that aren’t intended. Most peoples’ perspectives aren’t impartial and it makes it hard to take constructive criticism. We can feel attacked or like a manager only focuses on the negatives and not all of the hard work we’ve put in. I would chalk it up to a difference in personality unless you see a pattern emerge. You can try to be warmer or give more compliments, but unfortunately as humans we do tend to focus on the negative being told to us (typically anyway).

  6. Heidi*

    This is not nearly the worst review I’ve read about an employer. I guess there could be more stuff that the OP chose not to include, but if this is truly all and the only such review, I don’t think there’s justification for the OP being this thrown by it. I also am not sure what to make of the comment that “management is mean.” It doesn’t really offer a lot of insight for course correction. I’ve heard people complain about mistreatment for being told that they were wrong (when they were truly wrong). The second part is more informative, I think. If there is the impression that people are punished harshly for mistakes, that’s worth digging into. Of course, the reviewer might have meant that they made a lot of terrible mistakes and were resentful about being corrected.

    “You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

    1. anonymouse*

      I think this is not the worst review that OP has gotten, I think it is the only negative review OP has gotten. That would shake me, too.
      Yes, it’s worth looking at the content of the message. It is also worth looking at how this message is hitting OP.
      Too much internalizing, too much second guessing, too much assumption of “guilt.”
      OP, please talk to a mentor/your manager about this. Hopefully someone can share a couple of stories of how they dealt with it. Because it will happen again.
      Not everyone is going to be happy and some of those people will blame you.

      1. Hundredthlion*

        I mean here’s another issue. The OP doesn’t want their employees to dwell on the negative feedback they’re giving them, and instead they want them to just not make the mistake again and move on. But they themselves can’t take their own advice. They’re in turn dwelling only on the negative aspects of the review. Maybe this can be a reminder to have a bit of introspection on how they’re delivering their message to their employees.

        OP says they don’t see themselves as a touchy feely person. Which is fine in theory. But I guess that all depends on what they consider touchy feely. If they’re not sandwiching in some positive feedback with the negative, or being encouraging, or showing the employees that they believe they’ll learn from their mistake and grow then I can absolutely see why an employee would feel that mistakes aren’t tolerated. It’s not enough to just lay out facts to people – you need to be someone who actually inspires growth and who employees feel like they can be transparent with when they do make a mistake. And maybe this manager is. But if they aren’t, it’s pretty hypocritical for them to expect their employees to not dwell on the negative feedback when that’s what they are doing themselves.

        At the end of the day there’s really not enough to know for sure what the situation is. There’s some minor red flags from the management and employee perspective on this one. The other thing to keep in mind is that this has been described as a small niche team. Even if other employees feel the same way it’s possible they’re not comfortable saying anything and risking being blackballed.

  7. not that kind of Doctor*

    My employer had some negative reviews left by disgruntled former employees – those who left on good terms did not leave reviews. The company had a third party conduct a confidential survey of current employees, hoping to balance things out. It worked.

    1. 100%thatlizzofan*

      I would love to know more about this! Thoughts on what I should search for to learn more about this service?

  8. KHB*

    I empathize with this so much. When you build so much of your identity around your job – and specifically, around being someone who’s good at their job – it can be hard to process evidence to the contrary. This is something I’m feeling right now.

    So in addition to all of Alison’s great advice, I’ll suggest investing in aspects of yourself outside of work. Call some friends or family members, take up a new hobby or revive an old one, start planning your next vacation, whatever. Granted, the pandemic has made some of these things hard (and thus has made some of our lives a lot more work-focused than they were before). But if you can build a robust vision of yourself as something more than being a great manager, maybe it won’t feel like quite so much of an existential threat when someone thinks you’re not.

    1. Julia*

      And also, potentially therapy could help, if you happen to have a therapist. When you have such a strong and persistent emotional reaction to one employee disliking you (losing sleep), it may be a sign that there’s stuff to unpack there. Maybe you had insecurities about your management style already and this “confirms” them? Talking to someone about it could help remind your irrational-brain of what I’m sure you already rationally know: that your employees don’t all feel that way (and if one of them does it’s not a major crisis).

    2. Letter Writer*

      Thank you for this thought. It is true that work is a large part of my identity, and esp the last year fairly encompassing. It is a good reminder that I need to balance things out at least somewhat.

  9. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I cannot remember if Glassdoor lets you respond? But if it did, would Alison’s advice be to respond or to let it go?
    I am usually impressed when I am looking up a service like a plumber and they address any complaints. It usually shows if the customer was accurate or not. Would a response to an angry ex-employee hit the same note?

    1. Marsupilami*

      Most of the times I have seen companies/… address negative reviews, I was really not impressed with their responses. They very rarely helped and often even worsened the impression I got.
      I am not sure that it can be done well at all – in my opinion, you should rather have enough positive comments to outweigh the negative ones.

      1. Venus*

        The only time I have seen this work is when there is a campaign against specific companies. There was something recently about how some very unethical companies are leaving bad reviews and then essentially blackmailing the legitimate company in order to improve their ratings. I have seen cases where a good company has a known customer list and they will respond if someone isn’t a customer.

        I typically look at the content of the bad reviews and decide if it was something that bothered me. If someone was complaining about industry norms then I would largely dismiss the rest of their review as likely to be unreasonable.

      2. irene adler*

        Yes, a company can respond to a Glassdoor review. But Marsupilami is right; the response to negative reviews is rarely impressive to read. Mostly they are defensive. Or they express no knowledge of what the reviewer is talking about. Or there’s an apology that the reviewer had a bad experience while working at [Company]. Sometimes this is qualified by indicating that some departments are run differently than other departments. Again, not doing the [Company] any favors with such comments.

        I did see one company correct a negative review. The reviewer stated that paychecks were often shorted. The response: working less than the 40 hours per week will result in a smaller paycheck. Try reporting to work on time, and limiting lunch to just 1 hour.

        I do see acknowledgement of positive reviews.

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      Let it go. It shows more maturity from the business/individual. A “thanks for your feedback” is okay too.

      1. calonkat*

        “We enjoyed working with you as well. Best wishes in your future employement!”

    3. Roscoe*

      I think companies responding to reviews almost always is a bad idea. Its a lot easier when its “Jack’s Plumbing” and Jack is the only one working there. But when its an actual company, and “the company” or head of HR responds, it comes across bad IMO. At best, they are negating or minimalizing the persons (possibly valid) issues. At worst, they call them liars. Neither of which makes them look better.

      1. Starbuck*

        I think it can be useful when there’s an obvious factual error that shows it’s the reviewer that was the problem (eg. “They refused to groom my llama for no reason!! Terrible service!” and the response is “As we informed you, this is an alpaca grooming business, we don’t have the equipment to service llamas”) but even then getting overzealous about responding to reviews can be an odd look.

    4. Lenora Rose*

      The only time to respond to a negative review is if you can fix the issue by doing so. The number of times this is possible are extremely low; even if the issue is fixable, it is almost nwver fixable via that method. The rule is “Don’t.”

      1. Metadata minion*

        Yeah, I appreciate it if there’s a reply along the lines of “We’re so sorry about the noise when you visited the restaurant; we were replacing our HVAC system and we’d love to have you back now that the work is completed and you can enjoy our new and better building”, because that gives useful context. There isn’t really any meaningful reply you can give to “management is mean” other than “no we’re not”, which would frankly make me *more* likely to believe the review. And while it’s useful context to know that the inconsistent workloads and weekend work are common in the industry, probably most applicants will know that and a review site isn’t really the right place for a “welcome to the world of exotic cockroach breeding; here is how our industry works” guide.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Thing is that “mean” is subjective. For me to believe it, it has to be backed up by facts. Management may be deemed mean for refusing to let me have time off during the peak season, or during the slow season, I’ll agree for the latter but not for the former.

  10. Bookworm*

    Agree with the response. The review may not be about you at all and may have been more about the organization. Could this be a reflection of your organization’s culture, rather than you? I can see both sides of this. I could see myself leaving a vague comment about how “mean” “management” is but not go into the specifics as to which manager or what exactly happened, if only to keep identifying information out of the interview.

    On the flip side, I do understand why it hurts. And while I obviously don’t know the specifics of your situation, it’s nice that you care. I’m speaking out of my own experiences here, but I’m baffled by managers who clearly don’t care, can’t be bothered to actually process the feedback, etc.

    I wouldn’t take it too hard unless it comes up somewhere else (reviews, conversations with other employees, etc.).

  11. Unkempt Flatware*

    I can tell you as a subjectively reasonable person, I can see through one negative review in a sea of positive both in Glassdoor and simple Google reviews in my daily life.

  12. Lacey*

    When I was in college I had a friend who really didn’t like a student leader who I felt went above and beyond in her role. She really liked another student leader who I thought was nice as a person, but not great as a leader.

    At the time I chalked it up to personality differences. Later it came out that my friend had been lying about her contributions and actually stealing the work of others. She preferred the less attentive leader because it was easier to get away with it around her.

    And, even though leader 1 really wasn’t involved in my friend being found out – my former friend went scorched earth in trying to ruin her reputation at the school (it didn’t work, my friend was “invited to leave”)

    All that to say, you can get horrible feedback… and it doesn’t always mean you’re the one who is horrible.

    And especially if it’s just one person… you’ve got to hold that lightly.

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      I agree. It’s not a bad idea to look at your behaviors and processes because of one bad review, but if you do that, and you are comfortable, then I don’t think you have to take one bad review as proof positive something needs to change.

  13. Jennifer Strange*

    OP, I feel like your response to this is very strong given that it was one review on Glassdoor. Is there something else going on in your life (either related or unrelated to your work) that might be feeding into this anxiety you’re having?

    1. Sloan kittering*

      I felt this too. It’s natural to be bummed out or upset, but OP seems to have taken this very much to heart (not sleeping??). Is there a deeper reason this is hitting you so hard, OP?

      1. Letter Writer*

        This is possibly overaction, as I can now admit – I read the review at the end of our busy season, I was stretched thin and tired, and this year my life has been primarily work focused so I read it as ‘you are a bad person who hurts people’. Which, of course, is not a way to react to work issues.

    2. Expelliarmus*

      I think OP is feeling so terrible because she genuinely tries to be a good manager, so to see something implying that she is not a good manager has her worried sick about what she is doing wrong. And on top of that, she stated in the letter that she was worried if any of her other reports secretly hate her too, so it sounds like she’s wondering “is everything I thought was true actually false?”. Which I imagine can mess you up.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Yes to this – I am the one to ensure our product meets quality standards, and the products are custom-made, so there is no easy way to standardize, which means I give a lot of ongoing feedback, and I thought I have a system that cooperative and focused on learning. The fact that someone experienced it as mean and intolerant made me question if my whole system is not working.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Ah there we have it! My son was recently made Quality Control Manager at work and I told him he’d need to learn how to give feedback in order not to make loads of enemies. It kind of figured that the boss would want him signing off on everything because he is totally meticulous and conscientious. However that level of perfectionism could well be hard to stomach for others, who could well resent him for pointing out all the flaws in their work.
          He worked in that role for two months before telling his boss he’d rather go back to designing.

  14. chewingle*

    As a fellow “mean” person, if I were to see that review, my immediate thought would be, “This person probably doesn’t handle any kind of criticism well.” Especially if it’s only one review. I know it’s not easy to do, but try to put it out of your mind.

    1. Teapot supervisor*

      Agreed. There’s certainly some people who I can imagine describing me as ‘mean’ (although I’d hope they’d go for a more generous ‘harsh but fair’!). Like Letter Writer mentions in the comments, I’m also in charge of overseeing product quality so giving feedback, and flagging mistakes, is a big part of the role.

      There are a few things I have learned over time which I think have made me less ‘mean’. For example, making sure I also give praise where something is done particularly well, watching my tone so something which was supposed to be a matter-of-fact statement doesn’t unintentionally come across as harsh criticism, and checking I’m not thinking in extremes (for example, going in with the mindset of ‘Fergus ALWAYS puts his teapots back in the wrong order. He NEVER gets it right. I need to talk to him to correct this’ leads to a much less productive conversation than ‘Fergus has put his teapots back in the wrong order three times in the last week. That’s becoming a pattern. I need to talk to him to find a solution to this.’ even though the gist of the conversation is essentially the same).

      But, even with all of this, I’ve still found some people are just very bad at taking criticism. In the nicest way possible, it usually tends to be those who used to be the ‘big fishes in the small ponds’ beforehand so aren’t used to being given criticism or are used to being told how wonderful they are, so they struggle to deal when somebody tells them there’s a mistake in their work. Obviously, I’m not in their head but I know I’ve certainly had moments where I’ve thought ‘Well, nobody else has ever said this about my work before so you must just be being picky’ before realising the person did, indeed, have a point.

  15. Mental Lentil*

    It’s also possible that this person left a review for the entirely wrong company. I have seen this in many places (Google, Amazon, etc.).

    People are not always smart when they’re angry.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      Ah, man. I don’t know what’s worse! That they left a review for the wrong company that made this person feel horrible or that they had an out-sized reaction to having received negative feedback. Either way, I feel bad that the OP has taken it so personally that they’re losing sleep :(

      1. Letter Writer*

        I am confident this is for the correct company – it is truly a niche industry so some of the references are very specific to how we do things. It is interesting that ‘taking it less personally’ is a common advice – but work is personal to me, after all, I spend most of the light hours at work. I guess I am still to learn how to ‘leave work at work’.

        1. Venus*

          I don’t think that you should necessarily take work less personally overall, but if 99% of it is going well then maybe only think about improving on the last bit a small part of the time. I can completely understand that if your employees all think that you are mean then it is a big problem, yet Alison often talks about the many problems with anonymous feedback, and you are experiencing it.

          I take my work personally and often think about it after hours, but I try to ensure that I’m thinking about problem solving or the good things rather than mulling the bad that I can’t change.

  16. staceyizme*

    From a coaching perspective, it sounds like this outsized reaction might be hard to shift out of or shake off. Since it’s so intense relative to the data points that you’ve provided, you’ll need a plan to deal with it. Think about “divorcing” this reaction so that you can choose a response aligned with the approach that Alison recommends. When something feels threatening or scary, it can be very hard to convince your brain to focus on other work or other goals. So 1) acknowledge the reaction, 2) validate its purpose (which is to alert you to/ protect you from actual or potential danger/ harm/ loss and 3) consciously uncouple your thought patterns in the same way that you’d separate from a job, friendship or marriage that had run its course. You do that with respect for the other entity (your reaction was TRYING to help you, right?), gratitude for the wisdom of their perspective and a kind intention to “close the books” on the current status quo. This should free you up to move forward because it will bring your ability to choose more consciously online and you’ll have a plan in place for dealing with the lingering impact (acknowledge the urge to react, accept the perspective that urge is offering, consciously align with/ state your intention to go with your chosen response and move forward). Doing this iteratively will help you move through/ past this impact.

  17. NYWeasel*

    My company has a nice “reverse feedback” tool. Instead of just broadly asking for feedback, which can bring up the personality differences Alison refers to (ie stuff that your other team members might like), it’s a framework of 3-5 things that your team would like to see you do more/do less/do differently. The framework is great bc it helps focus the dialogue towards very clear actions instead of just complaints. When I went through it with my team, one example was that they wanted to see the project calendars sooner, so we were able to add a periodic meeting for me yo share the calendar out with them. This manager might find that sort of structure a more positive way to see how to be a better manager for her team.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I like this – I usually ask ‘what can I do to support you’ or something like that, but ‘do more/do less/do differently’ might result in more specific and varied response – I’ll try this!

  18. starsaphire*

    I’m struck by the use of the word “mean.” When I see that word, it’s usually from my friends who are parents: “I just got told I’m the meanest parent in the world, because bedtime.”

    It’s such a generic word, and if there were no examples – “My manager was harsh and thoughtless when I told her about my car accident” or “My manager was cruel and made fun of my scars” – then the word kind of makes the reviewer sound like a whiny child.

    A strict teacher can be described as mean. Mom is mean when she makes you finish your homework before playing video games. Maybe managers are mean because they make you stick to deadlines and not cut out after lunch on a sunny Friday? If that’s the case… then maybe being a mean manager isn’t a bad thing.

    Just a thought.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Agreed. It’s kind of a catch-all for a lot of behaviors, but without specific examples, it’s rather meaningless when you’re leaving feedback.

      And it doesn’t even mean the same thing in the UK.

      1. starsaphire*

        Oh, right, good point! It means cheap or stingy, right?

        Yeah, it’s really not a useful word in the context of a review.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        The fact that it means something different in different parts of the world is neither here nor there.
        The salient point being that it’s purely subjective and there’s nowhere to start rectifying this subjective opinion.

    2. Letter Writer*

      This might be hitting on why it threw me off so much – I am ok admitting that I am not perfect and I can work on giving more positive feedback for instance, but being branded as mean is just so all encompassing and un-actionable.

      1. Swishy Fins*

        Two things come to mind, based on my experience receiving reviews as a former university instructor:
        1. “Mean” is a subjective term that doesn’t actually say anything about the behaviors or actions that the reviewer took issue with (as others posted above). I’m now a people manager, and the #1 thing I’ve learned about giving feedback is to focus on behaviors and actions, not my subjective feelings.
        2. There may be a gender component here. I am a woman and the nastiest review I ever received was from a male student (I could tell who it was because I had struggled with this student throughout the semester.) I seem to remember the review calling me fat and ugly. Even if that were true (which it’s not), my looks were completely irrelevant to my work as a teacher. He just wanted to exact revenge in the only (immature) way he knew how. I often saw public reviews of other female instructors comment on whether they were nice or how they dressed. Male instructors were rarely reviewed in this way.
        All this is to say—always take anonymous reviews with a HUGE grain of salt. Because they’re anonymous, the reviewer is free to say whatever they want with no fear of retribution. Focus on your current employees and on doing right by them.

  19. Momma Bear*

    Sounds like the person was a poor fit. I’ve had jobs where I was told that even though I was trying to be friendly and a team player I was not perceived that way. I’ve had other jobs where I don’t feel like I changed my personality, but I am perceived entirely differently. I look at it as the first kind of job was a bad fit. Take the review in context and don’t let it hamper your management/relationships with the rest of your staff. One bad review does not a failure make.

  20. Sloan kittering*

    Look, it’s normal to be upset when you see a “mean” comment about yourself. I’m an author and there are goodreads reviews out there that would slay me if I let them move into my brain. But you’ve got to disconnect from this. Someone who didn’t let you know they were unhappy but then took to the internet to slam you anonymously isn’t reflecting on you, they’re reflecting on themselves. Everyone understands that. Can you write a glassdoor review that expresses a more positive view of your workplace, if that feels true to you?

    1. staceyizme*

      Your idea about finding a pathway forward that includes an embodied action is GREAT! Whether it’s “write a review” or “I’ll own the decision NOT to write a review” or something else, it could be really helpful.

  21. Esmeralda*

    I received a teaching evaluation 23 years ago that started, “Esmeralda is really scary. I’m afraid to go to class. She yells and doesn’t teach us anything and nobody can get an A” — it went on from there. From details later in the comment, I figured out it who it was (student with a serious mental illness I had walked over to the counseling center, met with frequently to help with assignments, gave many extensions to…).

    And I still remember the exact wording…

  22. twocents*

    I have never looked at Glassdoor. After seeing this post and the posts under it, I decided to look up my company, which is one of the biggest employers in my city. Glassdoor has ~100 reviews, less than 1%, and the reviews range from nonsensical (pro and con on one review was the benefits package) to so vague they’re useless (both positive and negative reviews were in this bucket) to kind of stupid (eliminate conference rooms and replace with bathrooms).

    I’m really not sure I’d place much, if any, stock in the small portion of people who would bother with a Glassdoor review. I sure as heck wouldn’t put so much faith in a single review that I’d quit my job over it. Deep breaths, LW. This is not worth the emotional energy.

  23. Free Meerkats*

    If the letter writer is catastrophizing one bad review this badly, I wonder how their management was in reality. I’ve worked for a catastrophizer and I’m married to one; the simplest thing goes wrong and they instantly enter either Must. Fix. Everything. NOW!!!! mode or spiral into shut down.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I do want to ‘fix everything now’ – this is a good point. Which generally works well for this job, as this is what I am expected to do generally – problem solve. But I can see how this is might not be the best response to different situation. I think the hardest part is that this is the only review out there – so anyone looking up the company would have this presented to them. And I can’t fix it.

      1. El l*

        I certainly understand the frustration.

        Just remember the old saying, “The Medium is the Message.” In this case, it’s on Glassdoor, and like most social media, messages tend to go a certain way.
        First: Nihilistic, emotional, negative messages get more play than positive or thoughtful ones. That’s also true for Facebook, Twitter, et al by the way.
        Second: Glassdoor is also vulnerable to what we’d call in stats, “selection bias”, in that people are far more likely to leave a complaining review than a positive one.
        Third: It’s anonymous.

        I have to remind myself of these sorts of things whenever I see negative things on any social media. Hard to do, I admit.

      2. Ooh La La*

        You sound like a very thoughtful manager, and this is a tough situation! But I think all you can do is try to let it go. You’ve taken the feedback for what it’s worth, and you can’t change this person’s opinion. From their wording, it sounds like they may have had unrealistic expectations of the role/industry, and management in general. If you take any correction as an attack, then no, you will not like your manager! But the word “mean” sounds so immature to use in a work context, it really makes think this person just wasn’t ready for a professional job. The review is much less a reflection on you than it is the past employee revealing themselves.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes! criticism always reveals more about the one criticising than the one they criticise.
          (I’ve basically quit criticising since I realised that!)

    2. Brent*

      Yes. Honestly the tone of the letter is off-putting. Quitting over a single review, really?

      I had bosses who were prone to histrionics and tend overdramatic and they indeed were “mean” in the sense that they couldn’t control their emotions and got snarky -which is never constructive- when stressed.

  24. El l*

    People have said well particulars about her situation, but I’ll focus on one other thought: The old cliche, ‘The Medium is the Message.” So LW, keep in mind a couple other truths about social media like Glassdoor:

    1. Negative, nihilistic and emotional messages are privileged. Thoughtful pros/cons/it’s complicated are not. Social media messages are therefore often highly inaccurate.
    2. People are more likely to complain on a review site like Glassdoor than elsewhere in life. If you were deliriously happy working there, would you have the emotional impetus to go write about it? No, you wouldn’t write about it. But if you’re unhappy, Glassdoor is where you go to vent your frustrations.
    3. You may not even be sure precisely who left the review. For all you know, it was a troll trying to get a rise out of people. Because anonymity. Even if it was a real person you’ve managed and it was directed at you, everything could be about one “bad” moment you were involved in rather than your whole worth as a manager (see (1) above).

  25. basically gods*

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I always approach reviews, especially on Glassdoor, with the perspective that it’s probably going to be somewhat skewed to the negative. This is where the content of the reviews comes into play!
    If multiple reviews say “this place treats families horribly and their sick leave policy is atrocious”, that’s one thing. But from this letter, it seems like half the review is horribly out of touch with what the position required; if I saw someone complaining that their software development job required a lot of sitting at a desk, I would be inclined to dismiss the rest of the review as being written by someone who is completely out of touch.

  26. Denver Gutierrez*

    I am not a manager and have no desire to ever be one. But reviews are often colored by people’s own emotions and perceptions of their experience instead of being objective. Some people just can’t handle any type of criticism, being told what to do, told they are wrong about anything, or that they made a mistake. Some people have to be handled with kid gloves and anything less than coddling and constant praise with a smile is interpreted as “mean” or “cold”, etc.

    Reviews are a chance for you to grow personally, so when you get a bad one, by all means have a serious thought session about what may have gone wrong or what you could have done differently, etc. But don’t beat yourself up so much by one bad review! It sounds like overall your feedback has been good but you can’t please everyone all the time. Some personalities just don’t mesh, some people are negative in general and never have nice things to say about anyone. If you start to obsess over it so much you are having trouble functioning, it will affect your performance at work and ability to manage, and that in turn may lead to more bad reviews. Learn what you can from this one, shake it off, and keep working to be the best manager you can be, including improvement if necessary.

  27. IdkSomethingVeryClever*

    I don’t think you should give much weight to a single person’s reaction. But I do think you need to reflect on your own reaction. If your response to negative feedback or “failure” is to want to quit and never manage again, it’s does make me curious on how you react to other people’s failure. Are you reactionary or dramatic in a way that makes them feel worse even if you don’t mean to be? Do you dwell on things long? Just a thought! It could be way off! This could very well be a one-off, bad fit situation with the former employee since there does not appear to be a pattern of this sort of feedback.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Hm, I don’t think I am dramatic but it is true that mistakes can be costly and create stressful situations for me, as I am the one to run interference with clients in those cases, who are – understandably – frustrated in those situations. As an introvert, I tend to react to that by probably being quieter than usual with the team (reserving the energy!), but I wonder now if it comes off as being intentionally cold to them. This is something for me to observe!

      1. Julia*

        That might explain the “mean” comment – if someone makes a mistake and then feels that you are freezing them out for it, rather than collaborating and supporting them.

  28. guest*

    I have a manager that I would describe as ‘mean’ who I’m almost certain would describe himself in much the same way as the letter writer here.
    What’s going on it’s that when a work related issue happens, my manager is patient and level headed and we move forward together with mistakes. BUT! In our day to day interactions he makes fun of me, makes mean jokes, and if I ever tell him about a challenge he’ll ask me around 10 minutes later if I’ve fixed it yet in a joking tone. This drives me up the wall and destroys my self esteem and I’m actively looking for other work.
    So it’s worth taking a look at not just how you actually handle mistakes, but how you interact with people in general.

    1. Letter Writer*

      It is hard for me to imagine this dynamic, so I don’t think that the case. Alison did note something that ran true to me – being direct and matter-of-fact – which I guess can be misread by some people.

      1. retired*

        I worked in a state program long ago as the first woman manager. I was criticized for not socializing before I got direct with someone in a conversation. I am very direct and matter of fact. I decided it was a sexist thing…it was OK for men to communicate like that, but women are supposed to be “nice.”

  29. John Smith*

    “Please come in and try the worst burger ever made according to [name of TripAdvisor reviewer here]”. Can that be adopted to a job posting?

    That you have accepted some of the criticisms indicates you acknowledge cons as well as pros, and are not one of these bullshitters who thinks they are god’s gift to jobseekers. I love reading job adverts for call centres that state “no two days are the same” when in fact they are exactly the same as they involve you reading the same script over and over again day in day out.

    People have intelligence and most will be able to work out a disenfranchised/revenge review from a genuine one. Just be honest, true and have integrity. Those who can’t distinguish aren’t worth worrying over. Best wishes.

  30. WritingIsHard*

    I have a 3 step process for feedback that strikes a nerve or rubs me the wrong way:

    1) Vent about it. Be angry, annoyed or upset about it but don’t perseverate.
    2) Consider if there is some truth or valuable insight to the feedback. Don’t pull a “Well I guess I’m just bad and wrong about everything!” though, because that’s not productive.
    3) Think about actionable steps to fix the problem, make a change, improve, etc. You can also end up at the conclusion that the feedback is wrong or wasn’t in good faith. That’s totally fair! You just want to make sure that it’s not based on a purely emotional response.

    This process was formed in the crucible of daily local news, in which the public can be downright vicious about something as small as a typo!

  31. Scott D*

    When I see reviews that are ALL positive, my first thought is that they are fake or all written by one person to pump up their business or company.

    NO person, store, business, or company is going to get positive reviews from everyone. Even if your teapots are impeccably made, one person is going to get one that broke in the mail and write a bad review about it. That’s just how it is.

    As others have said, take all the reviews in context and in total. If a lot of them mention a specific problem or complaint then there’s most likely some legitimacy to it. If not, I would simply ignore the few bad reviews or, if given the option, respond with a simple “I’m sorry we didn’t meet your standards. What can we do to make it right?” Even if the original poster doesn’t reply that still shows others reading the review that you do care and want to learn and grow.

  32. RagingADHD*

    Most people can’t hide it when they hate someone. If they all hated you, it wouldn’t be a secret.

    As a general rule of thumb, anytime you look at people who seem to get along with you just fine and are plagued with worry that they secretly hate you, it’s time to do a self-check for other symptoms of anxiety or depression.

    There are some insincere back-stabbers out there, but there are a lot more people who are quietly suffering with a brain that’s telling them lies.

  33. MsChanandlerBong*

    It’s hard not to take these things personally, but it’s worth it to learn how. I once had someone leave a review of me–by name–on Google Maps of all places. The way he wrote it, I was one of Satan’s minions out to destroy him. What really happened is that he applied for a freelance position and then when we invited him for an interview, he used a different name and email address in our scheduling software than he had in his application. I didn’t want to do the interview unprepared (I wanted to review his application again right before the call), so I canceled the interview and asked him to reschedule with the name he used on his application so I would know who I was expecting. You would think I asked him to work for free for six months. He complained about me to my boss and then left the aforementioned review. It is hilarious now, but I was really mad at the time.

  34. Management is hard*

    Realistically, a way to tell that you’re NOT a good manager is if literally no one can complain about you. Sad but true. I have had people work for me who thought I was the worst because I held them accountable. It doesn’t matter how fair you are or accommodating you are Or how much you try to fit people‘s roles to their skill set or whatever, some people probably won’t be the right fit. If everyone loves you, there is likely an underlying resentment from your truly high performers that you aren’t holding your lower performers accountable. I’ve been there as the resentful coworker and the manager.

    Reviews are hard. People telling you they have a problem with what you work so hard at are hard. Not everyone will like you. That’s seriously one of the hardest things about management. But I totally get how demoralizing and personal it seems.

  35. ToodlesTeaTops*

    OP – I mean this in a kindly way: you may want to take a step back in this situation and figure out what you are reacting to. Losing sleep, feeling anxious, and having a hard time giving feedback (i.e. doing your job) are all things that were affected by this. I totally encourage you to do some self reflecting, or even get a therapist. I started seeing a therapist because I was getting overly anxious at work and it’s been a huge help!

    Seeing your responses, I don’t think the criticism is warranted from that person. It doesn’t look like a “You” issue. It sounds like you care a lot. Sadly, not everyone will like you. I’m a very chill and happy person and I had a coworker that hated me and got more nasty towards me simply because I was having a good day. Some people want to flounder in their bitterness and fling their crud right at you. Learning to not take it personally will help you when you face these situations. Even when people mean it in a very personal way.

  36. agnes*

    What a great response. I am going to send a link to today’s column to our management team!

  37. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    The combination of complaining about weekend work (which you say is an industry norm and communicated upfront) and “management is mean” makes me believe this is an immature person, unfamiliar with workplace norms, perhaps young and in their first job?

  38. Salty Bisexual*

    As someone who made a lot of mistakes in her first real management job and got a very negative review that I KNOW was about me, OP has my sympathy. Getting blindsided by anonymous reviews like that is never a fun experience, especially since you have no idea who it is and can’t really have a conversation with whoever left the review. But, like Alison said, some people will just never like working for you, and one negative review isn’t the end of the world. If there was a pattern of negative reviews that all had similar feedback, that might be an indicator that there’s something going on here. But as it is, I wouldn’t be too worried about it.

  39. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I had a nasty review from a student once who said I could sting like a lemon. He’d been very slow to understand what he was supposed to be doing and expected me to walk him through every single click on the computer.
    It stung me back very hard, I wasn’t used to being criticised since I had always had excellent reviews. In retrospect I think the boss could have kept that review to himself, especially since I had a reputation for being the most patient of teachers.

  40. Selena*

    1 data point isn’t a pattern. Maybe the review was onto something, maybe it wasn’t.

    If i am working from the idea that the reviewer was right and not just a jerk who wanted to vent than what might be happening (and i’ve seen this pattern in several jobs) is that you are veeeery tolerant of mistakes made by high-potential employees, but rarely compliment the high-standard work of average employees.
    It’s frustrating to work your ass off while your manager is fawning over the team-idiot just because that dude has been backpacking in asia for a few months (‘excuuuuse me for not having rich parents’)

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