Management Matters

How to Manage a Discontented Worker?

Date Posted: 11/25/2014

Spot and Deal with a Disgruntled Employee

Unhappy and resentful staff are a fact of life in most organizations.  The reasons for this may be many-sided and not always reparable. While supersession and career stagnation are common causes, employee expectation by management may also sometimes be the cause. However, the need to remove this in the office is indeed pressing as it results in negatively affecting departmental functioning, productivity loss, wasted manpower cost while it encourages others to act similarly.  It can even dissuade potential recruits from joining the company and damage  the company’s image through spreading of false/negative information, bad customer service and hurtful rumoring. Some disgruntled staff have even resorted to theft of money, equipment and classified information. Therefore, the need to recognize and address this problem is paramount and in the best interest of the organization.

In larger organizations, timely attention is given to resentment of blue collar employees’ at the mass level for obvious reasons of unionized power, while the issues of small individual pockets of discontentment within office staff are usually brushed under the carpet, or ignored altogether. This difference between the larger group problem and that of an individual employee or a small group of employees is just a matter of proportion, and equally harmful.

The disgruntled employee is someone who is not always obvious and easy to spot because he lives in the hope of redress or is still not quite ready to compromise his job till he finds another. Therefore, in many cases he may ‘hide’ his discontent in the presence of authority, and reveals himself only before people who pose no threat.

Some obvious signs that give the disgruntled employee away are given below:

Negative body language
The employee tries to communicate his protest against what he/she sees as unfair treatment by displaying a timid defiance suggesting suppressed anger or emotional hurt.

Lack of motivation
If the concerned employee had once expressed a sincere concern for the job and the company but has since shown a complete negative turn around, it’s the company’s call. The person is sending out an alert that something is wrong. When an employee becomes lackadaisical and no longer gives their best, it’s an obvious sign of discontent.

Barest minimum output
The concerned employee will intentionally drop his productivity (sometimes selectively) to make his unhappiness known. This may first take the form of reporting to work late and leaving early. Even while at work, he won’t really show any enthusiasm. It is time to respond to this by talking to the person to see if he has any grievances and then by seeking out the root cause and finding a solution to correct the situation if possible.

Weak excuses
Before turning openly hostile, unhappy employees can also be spotted by them justifying their reduced productivity with various weak excuses for their poor performance.

Frequent absence
Unhappy employees increasingly resort to taking sick leave often to show their resentment.  Frequent sick leave taken by an employee needs to be investigated to make sure there is no underlying dissatisfaction which is the cause.

Non-cooperation and argumentative
Unless there is a history of defiance, the unhappy employees will act difficult and not cooperate on any issue. Confronting such an attitude is necessary to expose the issues and take up redress as soon as possible.

Cynical and critical
Unless this is a normal personality trait, the company should take notice when an otherwise happy, productive employee changes character. It is time to intervene by pointing out the change in attitude and asking the person what the problem is in a non-threatening or blaming way.

Grapevine feedback
Assistance and feedback from neutral colleagues can be taken to confirm any apparent problems that a colleague may be having about issues so they can be dealt with suitably.

It is true that in many cases the supervisor is accused of having failed in fair treatment; relationship building; nurturing mutual trust; developing every subordinate impartially; taking responsibility for failures; communicating objectively and clearly; lacking integrity towards subordinates and failing to inspire and motivate. True or not, these must be appreciated as reasons and be part of the repairing process.

Having identified the unhappy employee, the organization should not allow the emotional wound to turn cancerous as time will only amplify such grievances further.  Allowing the aggrieved employee to let off steam and handling the situation with empathy and a professional approach will help the employee to accept suggestions and will hopefully pacify the situation.  Confidentiality through a closed-door meeting is important as a public setting may embarrass the person and inhibit the delicate procedure of handling emotional issues.

When all is said and done, research suggests that once the damage is done, an employee is unable to immediately revert to his original productivity. Therefore, a change of department or function may ultimately enable the employee to become productive and a team player again. But if this does not work, total severance may be the only way forward. After all, in the end it is the company which must never lose face and always prevail at all costs.

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