Leading a team isn’t easy. And no matter how skillful you are at it, there will be times when you have to face the challenge of dealing with an unhappy employee. If you handle it well, you can turn a disgruntled poor performer into a star. If not, you may lose the employee due to job dissatisfaction or worse, face legal action.
A 2015 study of close to 1,400 employees showed that people who are happy at work are 22 percent more likely to be productive. As noted by workplace productivity expert Cholena Orr, “People who are productive are likely to be happier at work, and people who are happier tend to be more productive at work.”
Signs of Unhappiness
Look for these signs that an employee is unhappy or dissatisfied at work:
- They focus on the wrong things. Unhappy employees report higher instances of procrastination. They have 16 percent greater difficulty focusing on important work and are 17 percent more likely to attend unnecessary and unproductive meetings.
- They come in late or work excessive hours. It may seem surprising, but unhappy employees are 13 percent more likely to work more than 50 hours a week. This doesn’t necessarily result in better outcomes; in many cases, it is detrimental to performance. Productive employees work reasonable hours and are 10 percent more likely to have a healthy work/life balance. Disgruntled workers also may tend to avoid responsibility through absenteeism or tardiness.
- They complain about a lack of management direction. Unhappy employees are 31 percent more apt to complain about having no direction. They may avoid contact with management and thus miss out on opportunities to gain the clarity they need to provide them with direction.
- They have a messy workspace. There is a 17 percent greater likelihood that an unhappy team member will have a messy desk, an overflowing inbox or files tossed all over the place. These employees are 14 percent more likely to spend up to two hours a day looking for information that they’ve misplaced.
Here are some tips to help identify the cause of employee unhappiness and move toward a solution:
- Assess the situation thoroughly. Take time to find out what’s really going on. If the issue stems from something within your company, gather as much information as possible before deciding how to act. If it’s an external lifestyle factor, don’t ignore it. Use this as an opportunity to show a person that you – and the company – care.
- Don’t put it off. The longer you wait to address an issue, the more time it has to fester. And, depending on the specifics, you may need to discuss it with the rest of your staff as well. Nip any rumors in the bud and let people know the situation is being handled, without disclosing any information that may be confidential.
- Keep cool. Keep your head on straight and your temper under control when handling an unhappy employee. If they begin to get upset, speak gently and allow them time to calm down. Step away momentarily if necessary; they may need time to process before they can resume a professional conversation.
- Discuss strategy. Outline key performance indicators clearly in a one-on-one discussion. Don’t leave it up to email or group communications.