Breaking Glass

News broke this week that New Zealand company Zuru, a company let’s be honest most of us had probably never heard of, has won a court case against Glassdoor. 

But what do you know, Zuru is a toy manufacturing business with a billion dollar turnover owned by three New Zealand siblings who are now worth an estimated NZ$3bn. Their business operates in 30 locations worldwide employing around 5000 people. It’s an impressive local success story.

For those readers who might not know what Glassdoor is, it’s an American website where current and former employees can post anonymous reviews of their employers.  It’s nothing new, it’s been operational since 2008.     

So what is the spat about?  According to media reports, Zuru have been the victims of six scathing reviews on Glassdoor which Zuru say are fake. They want to track down the authors and sue them for defamation in New Zealand where these reviewers apparently worked.  You can read the Guardian article and the court judgement here.

Now the obvious question is why a huge global business with apparently limitless resources might want to sue up to six former employees in little old New Zealand for comments arguably few people would have ever seen?  Apparently the reviews have now been removed so nothing to see here.

There are lots of things to unpack here and lots of questions about why Zuru might be taking this approach and I don’t want to speculate on what the answers might be.  However, there is the obvious issue of employment brand.  To quote the Guardian article:

The company argued that it “has had to spend money, time, and resources in combatting the negative publicity, negative perception, and harm to (Zuru’s] reputation that the reviews have caused.”

If you’ve ever been on Glassdoor, it’s not unusual for former employees of companies to suggest their workplaces and cultures are not what they could be.  But usually those comments are balanced out by the positive ones.  Like any online reviews, you do your research and weigh up your options before making a decision. 

By taking such an unusually strong approach to dealing with Glassdoor reviews, the resulting publicity may well do more damage to their brand than a few bad reviews. It even made the 6 o’clock news here with a union weighing into the debate.  That’s never good for business.

And here is the thing I don’t understand.  No matter how great your company culture, leadership, investment in people, great perks etc. you will never please everyone and not everyone will have a great experience in your business or want to play on your basketball court.  It would be almost impossible in my view to have a fantastic culture in all 30 locations of a global business. Most business and HR leaders accept that reality.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out and whether Zuru follow through with their intended action, assuming Glassdoor are able to give them the information they want that will identify those who posted the reviews. The repercussions could be massive and go well beyond the employment landscape here.

Me? I’m off to delete my TripAdvisor reviews.

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