Every good employer wants to create a workplace where employees feel content and satisfied. In reality, you can’t please everyone all the time — but you may be able to identify unhappy employees and take steps to fix the situation before you lose good employees. By taking a proactive approach to spotting and mitigating unhappiness, you may improve satisfaction, thereby lowering your turnover rate and possibly increasing productivity.

7 Signs Your Employees Are Unhappy

How can you spot unhappy employees in the workplace? Sometimes, the issue arises suddenly. Usually an employee will gradually become unhappy over time because of different experiences within the workplace. You may begin to notice subtle changes, though these changes may not at first clue you into the fact that the employee is unhappy. Below are some signs that an employee may be unhappy. 

  1. Declining work performance: The employee is missing deadlines, turning in fewer assignments, or being less productive in general. 
  2. Disinterest in attending company events: The employee is declining internal invitations, missing company parties, or skipping scheduled meetings. 
  3. Distancing from peers: The employee is talking and interacting with their colleagues less often, and is even avoiding social functions. 
  4. Bad moods or behavioral changes: The employee seems sad, disgruntled, and frustrated most of the time, even when things in the company seem to be going well. They may also have conflict with their fellow colleagues.
  5. Coming in late or leaving early: They are spending less time in the office, and thus less time on their work assignments. 
  6. Disagreements with management or unusual friction: Perhaps the employee challenges the authority of their supervisors or does not complete tasks asked of them. 
  7. Gossiping about peers or managers: If the employee is gossiping, they most likely have an issue with whomever they’re talking about — but avoid confronting it directly.

Ways to Address the Problem

What makes employees unhappy? The answer is not always the same, but there’s only one way to find out in each case. If you have spotted signs of unhappiness, the first course of action should be to talk to the employee face to face. In some cases, the unhappiness may actually stem from personal issues at home and have nothing to do with the workplace. In many cases, however, the employee is upset about a work situation. If that is the case, it’s your job to listen and understand the issue, why it’s making the employee upset, and what can be done to address it

Here are some ways to address employee unhappiness: 

Open Up Communication Lines

During the initial conversation about discontent, the employee may clam up due to nervousness or other emotions. It is important to let the employee know that they can come to you to discuss anything that they may be upset with in the future. Opening up the communication lines in this way — for all of the employees — may help to address unhappiness before it gets a foothold.

Really Listen and Respond To Employee Concerns

Hearing employees out is only half the battle — really listening and taking action based on those concerns is what will actually help to mitigate unhappiness. While it may not be possible or sensible to make big changes based on everything that employees complain about, just taking the time to listen and explain why certain things must stay the way they are can help employees to feel more content.

Admit Mistakes and Move Forward

Sometimes employees are unhappy because of the actions of a manager or employer. If this is the case, simply admitting the mistake or acknowledging the situation and working to move forward may assuage the issue. Actions may need to be taken to prevent the same incident from occurring in the future, but admitting the mistake can go a long way toward making an employee feel valued.

Maintaining Contentment

After you have spotted and worked to mitigate unhappiness, the work is not done. It is important to use the information learned in order to improve the way that employees feel about the company and to prevent future discontent. Complimenting employee performance and checking in with employees to make sure that they feel valued may also help to prevent future stirrings of unhappiness.

Motivate the Employee 

How do you motivate an unhappy employee? The steps outlined above can help greatly in addressing the issue of employee unhappiness, but you need to keep working. Your goal should be to motivate that employee not just to rise above unhappiness, but also to stay motivated and productive. Strategies include acknowledging and rewarding accomplishments, creating a positive work environment, encouraging the employee to accomplish their goals, and providing guidance and support along the way.