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Learn to spot an unhappy employee and how to handle it

You work hard to hire the right team. You network, check references and focus on asking the right questions during an interview. If you have done everything right, then chances are the person will work out.

For now….

But what happens a couple of years (or months) down the road, when things start not working out?

Good employees are easy to spot; they work hard and they look for ways to show their supervisors that they work hard. But how do you spot a once good employee who is now an unhappy employee and has grown complacent and (even) lazy?

As a manager, you need to learn how to spot the signs of a dissatisfied employee. It is not only to try and reduce the cost of losing that employee but because one bad apple can destroy the morale and (therefore) the productivity of all the other apples.

So here are 6 ways to spot a dissatisfied employee (and what to do about it):

Complaining about pay

At some point in time, all employees begin to wonder if they are being paid a fair salary / wage. Some might actually discuss the issue amongst themselves – never a good idea, but it does happen. If your employee believes that she is underpaid, there is a right way to address the issue. Constantly announcing how the pay rates are not fair to anyone who will listen is not the way to do that. It is divisive and can quickly spiral out of control if other employees “jump onto the bandwagon”.

If you observe problem: Usually there are two places that employees learn about pay – online and from co-workers. (NOTE: if the source was a co-worker, know that workers discussing their pay and the pay of their cohorts are protected from disciplinary action by the National Labor Relations Act).  Either way, you will need to sit down and have a conversation with your employee. If she perceives a discrepancy based on something she read online, you need to provide the different variable that impacted her pay rate (some examples could include experience levels, geographic differences, or quotas / commissions, if applicable).

Arriving late, leaving early, taking longer breaks, calling in sick more often

Life happens.  Employees get sick, they get into accidents, they miss the bus, their car won’t start or they need time off.  But what is not acceptable is when it happens all the time and/or there is no prior approval for the time off. When you have an employee who suddenly starts arriving late, leaving early, disappears during a portion of the day or calls in sick more than usual, then that requires attention.

If you observe a problem: Have a face-to-face discussion to identify the cause. If it’s happening across a department or the entire company, consider conducting an anonymous survey to uncover the root causes. Once you understand the “why”, you can take the steps necessary to fix it.

Constant Negativity

Work teams do disagree at some point. Honestly, that is how some of the best decisions are made, and how some the greatest innovations happen. But if your business meetings and brainstorming sessions have become miserable because a team member only focuses on flaws and is constantly negative, you have a problem that needs to be addressed. Disagreement is healthy. Negativity is not.  The rule of thumb for any work team is to offer a solution for every problem that is pointed out. It is normal to spot the flaws in a plan, but good employees offer up ways to fix the flaws.

If you observe a problem: You will have to have a (tough) conversation with the person. During this conversation, it is important that you be specific about the type of behavior you are observing, its impact on others, and what you need to change.  Vague statements like “your attitude in the meeting was not good” won’t work. It is not helpful, and will put the employee on the defensive. Now that being said, once you have gotten through discussing the specific behaviors, you will probably need to let the employee rant – a little. It will help them feel like their point of view is being hear – and it is.  Then guide the conversation back to the plan of action you need to implement.

Having a mantra of “that’s not my job”

If you have one employee who has siloed himself off and is not pitching in because “that’s not my job”, you need to take note. Good employees pitch in, learn new skills and do their part to make things work.

If you observe a problem: In all honesty, you probably do not have a problem employee but a problematic culture.  In a company – as in a sports team – everyone’s job is the same….to reach a goal.  A professional football team has a goal of making it to the Super Bowl, so that is everyone’s job on the team…to help the team make it to Super Bowl.  Within a company, the goal could be to hit a particular revenue amount, enter a new market, etc. Everyone’s job is to help reach that goal. Therefore, if an employee is being asked to contribute in a way that is different than their day-to-day duties, their job remains the same. His duties have just changed.  That is the understanding you need to emphasize and the shift you need to make culturally.

Lack of respect

When an employee does not show respect to his co-workers, the work environment spins into one of two directions – debilitating or hostile.  Neither is good. Yelling, harsh language, degrading comments and even passive aggressiveness have no place at work.

If you observe a problem: You must act immediately. Have a one-on-one conversation with the person at fault, describe the unwanted behavior and outline the consequences if that behavior continues or is aimed at another employee.

No sense of responsibility

Good employees want to do a good job. They want positive results. They do not shirk responsibility, and they are usually good problem solvers. Engaged employees work towards the end-goal – and do not allow themselves to get sidelined or distracted. They focus on the issue at hand and work until they have completed it to everyone’s satisfaction.

If you observe a problem: Sit down with the employee and develop an improvement plan — making sure to include detailed goals and a timeline for completion. If the employee does not meet the standards set, then disciplinary action, up to warnings and including termination, needs to be considered.

Snelling works with thousand employers across the country who deal with situations like this all the time.  We understand that sometimes employees can become disgruntled and their actions can disrupt team harmony, productivity and the general mood of the workplace. We are here to help, whether you need to find a replacement or bring in a highly-qualified temporary worker to help bridge the gap.  Contact one of our local offices today, and let us help you get back on track.

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