How to Best Manage Unhappy Employees

Unhappy employees can destroy your brand reputation and company culture. Employee dissatisfaction can be contagious, whereas one unhappy employee can influence other employees to feel the same about the company, thereby causing the negative behavior of not just one employee but a whole lot of them.

It then results in an overall decrease in productivity and performance—potentially costing the business millions in lost revenue. Not to mention, the cost of losing an employee and having an open position that your recruitment firm needs to fill.

However, unhappy employees don’t resign immediately, which means managers and HR teams can still work together to prevent employee resignation by managing their wants and needs as professionals.

 

1. Assess the situation.

Employees won’t call your attention and tell you they’re unhappy. But, there are warning signs you can look out for to determine whether an employee or team member is disgruntled or dissatisfied.

Here are some warning signs to watch out for:

  • Lack of motivation, excitement, or passion about their job.
  • Constant tardiness or absence from work.
  • Taking long lunches outside the office.
  • Doesn’t participate in meetings or team activities outside work.
  • Talks about the projects or the company in a negative tone.
  • Does not engage in extracurricular activities hosted by the company.

 

2. Ask them why they’re unhappy and listen.

This may seem quite obvious, but not all employers or team leaders do this. When you notice that your employee is lagging in productivity and performance, schedule a one-on-one meeting and simply ask them about it. This will help you understand the reasons behind their disgruntlement.

Start by asking them about their work process, recent achievements, and the areas they’re struggling with. Get them to open up so that you can better understand the barriers and problems being encountered by the employee.

There are times when the cause of an employee’s happiness is not work-related, but as a leader, it’s crucial that you understand where they’re coming from and how you can help them.

Start talking to your employee about their day and let the conversation evolve. Listen to your employee and know what they have to say instead of telling them what to do.

 

3. Keep it private and confidential.

Some employees are hesitant about opening up to their managers for fear that their concerns will reach the higher-ups and that they might lose their jobs. They might also be afraid of being ostracized by their colleagues and that their co-workers might think they’re whining.

Choose a private, enclosed room to hold your one-on-one meeting to give the employee the perception of safety and security. Your employee may be more willing to voice the real reason for their unhappiness, and you can even resolve it behind closed doors.

 

4. Offer them game-changing solutions.

As their manager, you have the power and authorization to offer them solutions. For example, an unhappy employee tells you during your one-on-one meeting that they’re unhappy because they feel bombarded with too many tasks at one time.

You can help them set up a task management software or team them up with a colleague they enjoy working with to help them complete tasks and projects. Be sure to put systems in place that prevent your employees from falling through the cracks.

 

5. Pair them up with a mentor.

Many unhappy employees just feel lost or demotivated, but having somebody that your employee can talk and relate to will help ease their stress about work.

Find someone in the team that the disgruntled employee trusts and pair them up. The other employee can help inspire and influence them to perform better.

It may also motivate the unhappy employee when he or she sees another employee who’s happy and passionate about their job.

 

6. Help your employees improve their skills.

Employees become unhappy with their jobs when they start feeling that their careers are stagnating. Helping them improve their skills and becoming the best at what they do not only show the employee that you’re invested in their careers, but that you trust and believe in them as well.

Ask your employees what they want to achieve and map out their goals along with the organization’s. Create a clear career path for your employee and provide them opportunities for skill building such as sending them to leadership training seminars, workshops, and conferences.

 

7. Record everything.

Most organizations follow the principle that “if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen.” Take notes during your one-on-one session and document it immediately after. You can attach your handwritten notes to the document as additional proof about what transpired during the meeting.

Document the solutions you agreed upon as well, and have your employee affix their signature. Use metrics as possible to record the employee’s progress and development. Remember to keep all these documents confidential and private.

 

8. Realize that it takes time.

You can’t just reverse an employee’s dissatisfaction right after your one-on-one meeting. Realize that it may take some time for significant improvement in employee morale to be apparent—most likely more than one meeting to iron out the problem.

 

9. Prepare to let them go.

If your employee still fails to demonstrate improvement or interest at work after the solutions have already been implemented, then maybe it’s time to consider letting them go.

As long as you’ve tried everything within your power to help your unhappy employee, then it’s time to call it quits and move on. Letting an employee go is never an easy thing to do, so be sure that you have strong reasons to support your decision.

Have another meeting with your employee and ask them how they’re fairing with the solutions implemented. Let them know that if it’s not working out, then maybe they’ll be happier in another organization or industry.

 

It Takes Two to Tango

As a manager or HR professional, you should always watch out for unhappy employees. Knowing the early signs of employee dissatisfaction can help increase employee satisfaction and prevent employee resignation.

Remember, it takes two to tango. Unhappy employees don’t just become dissatisfied with their work due to their own doing. Realizing that there’s something you can do about it is often the first step to retaining employees and keeping them loyal to your organization.


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Ron Cullimore