Research suggests that happy employees are 12% more productive, with unhappy employees being 10% less productive. Disgruntled employees can have a serious impact on your profits, and the ultimate success of your business. Further, the mood of a disgruntled employee can have ripple effects through your business affecting customer service and even other employees.

It then becomes increasingly important for businesses to identify these disgruntled employees early on, and learn how to effectively manage them. It helps to have an understanding of signs signaling this unhappiness so that you can pinpoint problems, and get to the root before they become more serious.

By approaching the process correctly you may be able to turn that disgruntled employee into a star performer. You also improve your odds of retaining that employee. Better employee retention in itself has some serious benefits for your business.

Should employees become seriously unhappy or even toxic, it may be better to just let them go. This is a consideration if you consider that one toxic employee can cost you more money than a superstar employee makes.

So, what then are the warning signs of a disgruntled employee? More importantly, how do you manage these dissatisfied employees?

#1 An Employee Lacks Motivation; They Do The Bare Minimum

A lack of motivation can be due to a variety of reasons, from conflicts at home and work, feeling undervalued, to an employee just generally lacking passion. Often this lack of motivation will contribute towards employees doing only the bare minimum. They’re there for the paycheck and cannot wait to leave at the end of the day.

Such is their unhappiness that you’ll find their bags packed well before it’s time to leave. And when the clock signals it’s time, they are already out the front door. You may be able to re-install their spark by giving them a task or responsibility that extends beyond their job role.

#2 An Employee is Missing in Action; They’re Regularly Late

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Everyone has days when they’re late for work. Employees may be stuck in traffic. Perhaps on some days employees may even take a longer lunch break than usual. 5 minutes here and there shouldn’t be of concern. But, if this happens repeatedly over a period of time, it may signal that the employee is engaging in time theft, and be indicative of deeper dissatisfaction with their job. Check in with this employee to politely discuss your concerns. Clarify what your expectations are.

#3 An Employee Isn’t Participating

Working for a company requires that an employee not only performs their job but also that they interact with other employees. A job shouldn’t just be about the work. In fact, I’m sure you can recall a time when you spoke to a friend or a complete stranger who told you how much they love their job because of the people. People are often reasons why people enjoy work and remain with a business for an extended period of time. These people become your family.

If an employee doesn’t want to participate in team building exercises, attend staff parties, socialize with colleagues, and generally doesn’t have many friends at work, then this may be a signal of unhappiness. Admittedly, that may be who they are and they may totally satisfied, but it’s always good to double check.

#4 A Lack Of Collaboration

Participation and collaboration are linked. If a person doesn’t feel connected to those around them and doesn’t want to participate, chances are that they will be less inclined to collaborate.

A lack of collaboration may translate into avoidance of completing specific tasks for other team members. It may also be that there is bullying occurring within the organization, impacting collaboration.

In my personal experience, having worked for a start-up, the issue is that there’s also a lack of understanding about how other departments operate. By not appreciating what they do and not valuing their work, how can you expect collaboration?

A classic case is the sales and technical team comparison. The sales people are there to sell and it’s what they do. But often they might oversell. They sell solutions that place immense strain on the technical and development teams. This causes unhappiness for the developers and it’s not hard to see why they become annoyed and avoid collaboration.

#5 Consistent Negativity in the Workplace
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It’s natural to moan. As humans, it’s a way of releasing frustrations because keeping all those feelings bottled up inside can be detrimental. But persistent moaning and complaining about their jobs to other employees and people is a sure sign of unhappiness. Often this negativity may be due to other issues. Regardless, it can have ripple effects on the company affecting the attitudes of other employees. And you don’t want that!

While identifying these individuals isn’t easy, possible signals may be that they’re secretive at work, always whispering, always gossiping and suddenly doing something else when you approach.

Also, be vigilant of what other team members are saying. If there is a consistent pattern of complaint about one employee, chances are that employee is disgruntled.

#6 A Change of Attitude Following a Promotion of Someone Else

Picture this. An employee (let’s call them X) has been with a business for five years. They have performed well. They’ve done their job. They’re always on time. And then…a younger, inexperienced candidate gets the job or that promotion that X wanted. This signals a shift in behavior from X, who now shows signs of demotivation. Their performance drops, they’re late on assignments, and they are just generally irritable. They have now become an aggrieved employee.

I’ve used an extreme case example – although I’m sure it does happen), but as an employee, it’s important to consider why there’s a sudden change of attitude. Often , it’s tied to a major recent event. As an employer, you need to be wary of this.

Tying This Together

All these are warning signs. While any employee can exhibit this behavior at some point, it should be a red flag if the behavior repeats over time. Once you start to see a repetitive pattern perhaps it’s time you managed these behaviors?

Managing Disgruntled Employees

Managing dissatisfied employees is a test of your. You’re dealing with people and you will need to approach the employee from an objective point of view. Don’t jump to conclusions. With that said here are 7 tips to help you manage those disgruntled employees.

Address the Problem Immediately

The longer you leave it, the unhappier the employee becomes. Such unhappiness has the potential to negatively affect other employees, ultimately undermining your business culture. It’s imperative then to address the problem immediately.

Approach it From an Unbiased Point of View

You need to go in with a clear mind. While you may have identified that they’re unhappy, can you truly identify why this is so? It could be work related. It could be due to a private matter. It could be due to something else entirely. So, while you may feel inclined to speculate, hear their side of the story first. Establish a dialogue.

Establish a Dialogue

Set up a time to meet and chat to the employee to find out what’s wrong. Let them know you’ve noticed something isn’t right. Approach the discussion with empathy. Show you care. Doing this will create an environment more conducive to honesty.

Remain Calm

If while talking to them they get upset, remain calm and speak gently. If it gets worse, tell them to remain professional. And if this doesn’t help, remove yourself from the situation to give them space. Every individual is different. People handle emotions in different ways.

Another example is if you see an angry employee approaching your office. Be the first to talk. Tell the employee you recognize he seems upset and that you’d like to talk. It’s important to defuse the bomb before it explodes. This is one of many principles advocated by Dr. Robert Bacal for dealing with angry or hostile employees.

Create a Safe Environment

Do not confront disgruntled employees in front of others. This may alienate the employee and compound the problem even further. Keeping it private creates a safe environment for the employee to share his issues. Schedule a one-on-one meeting for this purpose.

Understand it’s a Process

Employees often become unhappy over time. These problems generally aren’t created overnight – unless there is a major event that recently happened (refer to point 6 of warning signs). And just as it took time for that unhappiness to fester and grow, so to will it take time to address the problem.

Record Everything

Record everything to prevent a law-suite. This means meetings, documents, and outcomes. The reality is that while you want every dialogue to be civil (and I’d like to think most of them are), sometimes discussions turn ugly. It’s imperative to have that safety net to show that you followed due process.

Final Thoughts

Employees may be unhappy for a variety of reasons. It’s important for an employer to be able to identify this early on, by being cognizant of warning signs. Each employee is different, and the warning signs will be indicative of different issues. What’s important is that you take the time to manage these disgruntled employees once you’ve identified them. You may find that you can salvage the relationship and be able to create a star performer out of them.