Maxwell Stephens

5 Signs Your Employees Are Unhappy (and how to fix it)

Am i in the right job

Unhappy employees are bad for business as they are typically less effective in their roles. They can also cause disruption and negativity among colleagues. They also may decide to leave when perhaps before unhappiness set in, they were valuable employees. Furthermore, from an altruistic perspective, surely a good company and a good boss would not want their employees to be unhappy. When things get really bad, unhappy employees may even be negative about the organisation to suppliers, clients, and various other stakeholders. Therefore it is really important to spot the signs, and then find a way to fix it.


Starting with the signs


The way unhappiness is demonstrated at work is not hugely different to how it can be observed outside of work.

  1. Being late often, or finding ways to leave early. A high level of absenteeism. Perhaps absenteeism caused by a stress based illness such as anxiety or depression.
  2. It becomes obvious the employee is looking for work elsewhere. Perhaps you catch them on job boards, they are taking calls in corners, or are taking extra-long lunches on days they have arrived dressed in their best suit.
  3. Their work output is suffering and/or they are making mistakes.
  4. They do not engage with colleagues and seem somewhat distant whilst at work.
  5. They are outwardly negative about work in general, the organisation itself and perhaps their colleagues.

How to fix it


It goes without saying that you can’t fix anything if you have not identified that employees are unhappy. Furthermore, there will unfortunately be scenarios where your interventions will not make an unhappy employee happy again (if they ever were in the first place). However, if you believe you have issues with employee unhappiness that are fairly isolated, a great first step is to have an open discussion with the employee to try and understand any issues or concerns they may have. It may be for example that they have troubles at home and simply need some extra support within the workplace, or some flexibility with working hours. Or maybe they feel undervalued and micro managed. In this case the line manager could consider empowering the employee with a project or piece of work to deliver. Without engaging the employee to try and understand the issues driving their unhappiness, you will not be able to intervene to try and make improvements. In the event that whole teams or the whole organisation seem unhappy, employee surveys and focus groups are useful to establish input for a baseline. From there, interventions can be made and change measured over time.


In Summary


Most organisations understand the importance of employee happiness – both from a selfish and altruistic perspective. However, as is the same outside of work, unhappiness is often a complex state that may not be easily explained or indeed easily fixed. The aim is to put in place measures so that employees do not become unhappy in the first place. However, in the event one or more employees is not satisfied, it is important to get to the route of the problem to establish methods to improve the current situation, and to prevent it from effecting others.


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