4 Tips for Dealing With a Disgruntled Employee
A disgruntled employee can be a minor annoyance (someone you wish would just quit)...or much much worse.
There are a variety of personalities in the workplace – from the happy and hardworking team members to those upset, annoying, late and unproductive saboteurs.
For the sake of your business (and your sanity) it's important that you learn how to deal with a disgruntled employee quickly and effectively.
Joel Folkman had this to say in a Forbes.com article "The Power Of The Disgruntled Employee":
"A company's most pernicious risk is it's own dissatisfied and displeased employees" Joe Folkman
"People frequently underestimate the power of the 'pissed off'" Joe Folkman
An unhappy and disgruntled employee will act out in a number of ways.
One disgruntled employee may become very vocal, willing to burst into your office and yell and curse while another may take the path of being passive-aggressive, refusing to admit that something is wrong but are determined not to be productive. And other employees will internalize their feelings and become depressed and less productive.
When you are the manager, it is essential that you learn how to recognize these signs and how to deal with them because, for example, suggesting that someone “calm down” when they are yelling will not work.
Just as there are various personality types at the office, there are several reasons that they get upset in the first place. Understanding some of those reasons is a step in the right direction to handling upset employees.
Some employees view themselves as better than their teammates, so when they see management giving preferential treatment to someone else, they may get upset. Whether it is real or just perceived, the inequality they've identified leads to lower self-confidence and lower confidence in the manager handing out the treatment.
For some, it is a matter of being ill-suited for the task they’ve been assigned. If that's the case, they may start out pleasant enough...but before long they'll turn into just another disgruntled employee. For instance, calling upon an introvert to go out and make sales calls can lead to frustration. They will probably still do the job but sulk over being asked to step so far out of their comfort zone.
Then there are those team members who are just annoying. Maybe they have frustrating habits, talk in a condescending way to others or hand down wrong information. Maybe they tend to "power trip". There are also those who deliberately try and sabotage other co-workers (bullying)
These patterns and actions can make the receiver of those actions feel picked on and angry ...and in turn become another disgruntled employee.
Finally, some of your employees may be going through a rough patch in their personal lives. They may be dealing with a divorce, difficult children or an ill child or parent. Any of these situations can increase their stress load and be may revealed through anger, especially if they don’t feel supported by their manager.
When you are a leader in your organization, you need to be aware of shifts in your team’s attitudes and behavior. If Sue appears to be sulking during meetings or is curt with her answers to questions when she is usually a friendly and talkative person, then it might mean something is amiss.
Most often the changes will be subtle, but as time goes by and nothing has been resolved, the hostility may become more noticeable. It is good to keep your thumb on the pulse of what is happening with each one of your employees.
When it is time to address issues you’ve noticed, there are a few tips for dealing with upset or disgruntled employees:
1. Seek first to understand
It is easy to rush in with an ultimatum for the employee to change their attitude.
But, as already discussed, there are numerous reasons they could be angry and many may not have been properly instructed on productive ways to deal with their anger and negative emotions.
This is not to say you condone bad behavior, but it is to suggest you reach out with compassion and let them know you’ve noticed something seems wrong. You can gently address the actions you’ve seen and ask them if anything is wrong or if they’d like to talk about what may be bothering them.
The goal is to start the dialogue without putting the employee on the defensive because of an accusatory tone.
2. Be specific about what the disgruntled employee is doing
Definitions matter. If you look at Dave and ask what is wrong and why does he have such a “lousy attitude,” he may not know what you are talking about since “lousy attitude" could mean something entirely different to him.
Be clear and use specific examples to get the discussion going. For instance, you could say something like, “I noticed a negative undertone in your comments during meetings recently. Like this morning, you said…”
The more specific, the easier it will be for your employee to understand what they have done.
3. Go directly to the source
It's important that you remain professional, have a strategy and a plan of action. Don’t talk to everyone in your company except the person who is angry about what is wrong. While it might seem innocent, from the perspective of the employee, it is hurtful.
Go straight to the source and have a conversation with them.
4. More is caught than taught
In every company, as a manager you are always under the scrutiny of your employees. It’s a good idea to model the attitudes and actions you would like to see. If you yell during meetings, speak harshly to employees, or sulk when you are upset, your team will pick this up quickly and decide it’s OK to follow suit.
Take a moment to observe yourself and be honest about your reactions. You’ll see what your employees see. It’s up to you to make those changes.
Most people just don’t know how to handle their emotions, particularly the negative ones. At some point every manager will have to face an angry or disgruntled employee. Utilize some of these approaches and you’ll see the positive impact on your team.
To learn more, check out Beverly D. Flaxington’s book Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior.
- The 6 Secrets to Creating Strong Teams in Business - January 3, 2019
- 5 Steps to Carve Out a Niche for Your Business in a Crowded Marketplace - July 16, 2018
- Identify What Is Holding Your Business Back - June 23, 2018
- 4 Tips for Dealing With a Disgruntled Employee - December 30, 2017
Check Out Bev Flaxington’s latest books:
Make the Shift: The Proven Five-Step Plan for Corporate Teams
Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior
"Seek to understand so that you meet others in their space, not insist they join you in yours."
"Obstacles are merely opportunities in disguise – learn to focus on those you can control and influence."
"Your self-talk is your best friend, or your worst enemy. You choose."
"Ideas need specific steps in order to become reality. Be specific and granular and make progress a little at a time."
"Your greatest strengths can be your biggest areas for improvement in different situations. Know yourself so you can leverage where appropriate, delegate when necessary and outsource for success!"