Identifying and Helping Disgruntled Employees

October 31, 2018

To be clear, Britney Spears’ mental health breakdown in 2007 was and remains no laughing matter. Her behavior had become increasingly erratic, culminating in the infamous head-shaving moment, though she continued a downward spiral for months afterward. It’s considered one of the biggest public meltdowns in pop culture history.

What can this teach us about disgruntled employees? First, that the signs of turmoil are there and shouldn’t be ignored before they escalate. And secondly, that a meltdown leaves a lasting impression – for the employee, the team, and for the company if the employee takes their grievances public. It’s crucial that disgruntled employees are recognized and helped. Here are some tips how.

Causes and Signs of Disgruntlement

While correcting a disgruntled employee seems like the top priority, it’s also important to take a holistic look at why your organization has an unhappy employee to begin with. There are pivots or policy changes you can institute that can either curb dissatisfaction before it starts or help struggling employees before they worsen. According to SHRM, some common causes of disgruntled employees are:

Need for Recognition

Employees who repeatedly go the extra mile or burn the midnight oil without recognition can begin to resent their superiors or fellow team members. If they begin to sense that favoritism is at play for promotions, or that their contributions are consistently ignored, their behavior can become negative, subversive, or passive aggressive.

Office Bullying

Employees who feel that they are being harassed or repeatedly treated disrespectfully will lash out. Bullying can come from supervisors or peers, but in either scenario, the employee being targeted will show the emotional effects through poor performance.

Personal or Health Issues

The lines between home life and work life can become blurred if an employee is dealing with extraneously stressful situations outside of the office. Issues with a significant other, family, or health can make employees distracted, negative and unproductive.

Lack of Opportunities

With seemingly no career path offered, employees begin to feel stagnated and work can feel pointless, mundane or repetitive. Employees who don’t feel challenged, or that they’re growing in the career, can lose interest in giving it their all.

There are myriad reasons that employees can become unhappy or disgruntled. It’s crucial that managers, peers and HR are aware of the signs disgruntled employees display in order to fix the problem. Some indicators to look for are poor performance, absenteeism, a poor attitude, and causing conflicts among their team. If the situation escalates, the employee can cause irreversible damage to your brand, take their complaints to social media, stop potential new hires, and negatively impact the team members around them.


How to Handle a Disgruntled Employee

Disgruntled doesn’t have to mean dismissed. There are several ways to attempt to turn dissatisfied employees into happy, motivated producers. It’s important to get a full, thorough understanding of the situation before you decide how to proceed – but it’s also important to act quickly before the negativity escalates or spreads. Document all efforts, communicate key information consistently and clearly (and privately!) to the employee, and try to maintain a positive environment free of rumors surrounding the situation. Some other actions you can take to help disgruntled employees are:

Providing Counseling

For interpersonal disputes, personal issues, or troubles with the organization at a larger scale, a counseling session could help. It’s important that the employee is listened to, taken seriously, and supported.

Providing Training

If an employee feels in over their head, or not confident in their abilities to do their job duties, they might start to slowly give up. It could also be a case of needing training on managing workloads or deadlines. Or possibly they feel they’ve maxed out their ability in their current role and need cross-training to stay engaged. Whatever the case, you’ll need to properly assess their specific circumstances and act accordingly.

Keeping It Positive

Negativity breeds negativity, and there’s no underestimating the power of a positive work environment. Team building activities, specific, individual recognition, high-energy leaders, workplace perks and motivation – these can all contribute to a happier workplace. And soliciting feedback to detect workplace bullies helps keep everyone feeling secure and content.

The work doesn’t stop there, though. Ensure you’re soliciting feedback and open, honest communication not just from the unhappy employee, but from the entire staff on an ongoing basis. To root out favoritism, harassment, and other negative workplace behaviors, the lines of communication have to be open.

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