How to handle an unhappy employee


5 min read

How to handle an unhappy employee

Nikki Thorpe

Nikki Thorpe

Jun 9, 2021


    How to handle an unhappy employee

    If your business follows the general pattern of the U.S. workforce, more than 17% of your employees are what researchers call “actively disengaged.” Actively disengaging is one step further than an employee who just does not care about their job. As Newsweek puts it, they’re actively trying to hurt your business. How can you handle unhappy or disgruntled employees and maintain a healthy work environment?

    As you can imagine, even one employee like this can damage your business. And if your business follows the general trend, if you have a company with 40 workers, at least seven are likely to be actively disengaged.

    According to Forbes, these types of employees can hurt your business by dragging down their co-workers. They hamper productivity and give customers or clients a bad impression.

    It’s important to deal with an unhappy employee before the situation starts to spiral. Here are a few ideas for getting an employee back on track.

    Look for the signs

    It’s actually easier to deal with a disgruntled worker if she comes to you to complain. But sometimes workers act out in other ways instead of directly discussing their dissatisfaction with a manager.

    There are some common signs of an unhappy employee. They include a drop-off in work quality and a lack of attention to appearance or hygiene. Some warning signs can easily slip by you as a busy boss. Therefore, make sure you look closely at an employee’s behavior. For example, does the employee rebel in small ways, like “forgetting to” sign up for a mandatory training session?

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    Stay professional

    You as a leader must remain calm and professional to avoid escalating the situation. Even if an employee is acting out their unhappiness. The employee’s gripes are usually not personal, so remember they are not attacking you personally.

    Address concerns If possible

    Any number of factors can fuel employee discontent. Some of them you can deal with it, some you can’t (more on that below). If you and the employee are able to talk calmly, you may discover solutions that surprise you both.

    For example, you might find that the employee’s downbeat attitude is actually a lack of confidence because she lacks the right skills to do her job and that you can improve the situation by offering more training.

    You might also discover that the employee’s unhappiness with your business doesn’t relate to what goes on at the workplace itself. Instead, he may be unhappy because his work-life balance is out of whack.

    Keep records

    While your goal is to work with the employee to find a solution, you should also prepare just in case you have to take stronger actions — or if the employee takes action against your business. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep careful records on everything that happens with the unhappy employee, including everything you’re doing to address the problems.

    Know when it’s time to let go

    No one likes to think about firing an employee. But if she remains actively disengaged despite your efforts, you may have no other choice. You should considering firing an employee if his behavior is getting worse instead of better, if her negativity takes a heavy toll on other employees, if there’s a pattern of complaints about her, or if she’s brazenly breaking rules.

    Make a larger happiness plan

    However you resolve things with your disgruntled employee, think about how you can head off situations like this in the future. Remember that while only about 17% of employees are actively disengaged, another 50% are classified as “not engaged,” according to the latest research. While these workers aren’t hostile or disruptive as actively disengaged workers are, they’re just doing the bare minimum to get by.

    How can you shift these workers toward greater engagement and enthusiasm for their jobs — and head off active disengagement? To get your ideas flowing, check out this game plan for increasing engagement from the Robert Half staffing company. Some highlights: Be more direct and transparent, get to know your employees as people and reward creativity.

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