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Managing Unhappy Employees

Updated on September 2, 2011

Many people are unhappy with their current employment. Unhappiness in the workplace can happen for a variety of reasons. When employees are unhappy at work, the effects can be seen throughout the workplace. The negative energy can quickly spread throughout the company, making every day in the office a struggle, for the employees and their managers. Managing a team of unhappy employees is also a difficult task. The first step in improving workplace satisfaction is determining the root cause of unhappiness.

Some of the most common complaints from employees are related to their boss or management. People might claim, “My boss is a jerk” or “My boss doesn’t know what he is doing” or “Management here is so bad”. These claims are very general in nature. You should ask, “What about your boss makes him a jerk?” and “What specifically is management doing wrong?”. There are obviously issues that the employee believes could be handled better. Employee involvement is beneficial both to the employees and to the company. Allow your employees to voice their ideas and opinions. Being a part of the decision-making process is an excellent way to boost employee morale.


People also often have complaints about their co-workers. One woman states, “My teammates don’t pull the same workload that I do. Some people don’t understand the job no matter how much training they get. Others know how to do the job but don’t do it well because they just don’t care”. The real issue here is not that they have to do more work than their teammates. The issue is that they don’t see enough reward and/or recognition for the work that they do. Why should an employee strive to do better when they don’t get rewarded or recognized anymore than those that are slacking off? Methods of recognition could include posting weekly stats, prizes for hard work, and verbal compliments. Methods of reward can include shift bids, promotions, commissions, and pay raises.


Inequality is another big cause of employee unhappiness. Perhaps the employee feels that men are making more than women in the company. Maybe the employee feels like they can’t get a promotion because of their race. It could be that the employee cannot get the same benefits for their same-sex partner that their co-workers get for their spouses. Maybe the manager has hired several of his friends in at pay rate much higher than the other employees. While many times it goes unnoticed, inequality is quite common in the workplace. Any issues of inequality should be investigated and handled promptly by human resources to prevent lack of employee motivation.


Unsafe or unethical work conditions are other complaints among workers. One service technician states, “We used to have a goal of 6 jobs per day. Overnight that changed to 12-14 jobs per day. The amount of jobs we had to run in a day doubled in the middle of summer when it was 100 degrees outside. We worked ourselves to death out in the heat and were given so many jobs that it was impossible to ever take a lunch. Then, if we got stuck late trying to finish our jobs, our bosses would remove our overtime from our timecards”. Unsafe and unethical work conditions not only lead to low employee morale, but can also lead to lawsuits. It is of the upmost importance to follow all safety procedures and to treat all employees in an ethical manner.


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