Warning signs an employee is unhappy

9 mins
Sellick  Partnership

By Sellick Partnership

Employee happiness is imperative for your business to thrive, which is why making sure your staff are as happy as they can be benefits everyone within the workplace (and often outside of it, too).

It’s about much more than making your team feel good about their role and responsibilities within the company, staff happiness can have a huge impact on productivity, loyalty and motivation which can result in more profit and better retention of talent.

This link between having an engaged and content workforce, and business success, is recognised across all industries. So, how can you identify signs that your employees are unhappy? Here, we will take a look at several key indicators that you can start to look out for:

A decline in productivity

Declining productivity can be difficult to measure; however, it’s not usually difficult to notice. If the quality or quantity of an employee’s work begins to drop, it is important to establish the reason why as quickly as possible.

If the cause of the issue is highlighted, you should evaluate the impact this has on the individual employee, as well as the wider office morale. This should be dealt with as a priority.

If the cause hasn’t been highlighted, speak to your staff – try to be understanding, empathetic and supportive. Regular appraisals, encouraging employees to take annual leave or involving them in company happenings, such as individual and department direction, can make a huge difference.

An increase in sickness

A noticeable increase in the number of sick days an employee has is a key indicator of their happiness levels. If a member of staff is satisfied at work, they are usually happy to attend. However, their dissatisfaction could cause them to take more days off.

It is important to be aware that an increase in sick days may also be an indicator of the individual’s mental health, employers should establish the cause quickly and offer help where possible.

Communicate with staff. Remind them of company benefits, if you have them, such as private healthcare which can often enable employees to access counselling services and faster GP appointments. Listen to their needs and desires and see what you can do to meet those, for example if an employee would benefit from a different working pattern you could consider implementing a level of company-wide flexibility.

Complaints from colleagues

If an employee’s attitude and unhappiness is not immediately obvious to you, it is likely their fellow employees will notice. Changes in working behaviour, particularly those that are negative, are usually not overlooked by co-workers. Be sure to reserve judgement while speaking to members of staff, and do your best to establish the cause of their mood.

Limited personal engagement

While this can be difficult for business owners to identify, employees closing themselves off can be a tell-tale sign of their levels of satisfaction. Many workplaces enjoy a tight-knit and connected culture, where members of the team are friendly and know each other well.

Therefore, it’s often noticeable when someone is distant and not their ‘usual self’. You could try and speak to members of the team, especially those that have a well-established relationship with the member of staff.

We know that this is not always possible but allowing polite chatting in communal areas or over desks and sharing a joke now and then can usually boost morale and are signs that things are going well amongst teams.

Failure to speak out

If your employees are not coming to you, or their immediate line manager, with any concerns they are having, o with any suggestions about the business, when they are usually an active player, they could be feeling hopeless and like they are unable to affect any kind of change. This feeling of powerlessness can often add to existing feelings of unhappiness.

To avoid this, encourage feedback, and ensure you make it known that the opinions of members of the team matter to you, and are important for the success of the business.

How to help an unhappy employee

If an employee has displayed some or all of the signs above, make it known that you have noticed by approaching them in a friendly and sensitive manner, and invite them to talk about their grievances. At this point, it is vital that you promote an environment where their unhappiness can be discussed, and you should give them the opportunity to speak by listening to their issues.

It may be that the employee has stored up this problem for months, so listen and take notes that you can refer back to when it is your time to speak. Here, it is the responsibility of the person in charge to make suggestions for the next steps.

You could demonstrate that you have listened to the employee by sending an email following the meeting, including the things you are going to action to help them in any way they may need it.

Promoting a workplace where employees feel they can openly discuss their issues and where they will be listened to without judgement, is crucial to staff satisfaction levels. Ultimately, it is essential to tell members of staff what you expect from them, while praising them when they do well, and spotting the signs of unhappiness early is vital to avoiding further problems down the line.

Unrelated to work

It’s worth remembering that staff unhappiness is often a temporary and unfortunate part of life that may not be anything to do with work. It could be a result of external factors such as family problems/worry, health issues (including mental health issues), a lack of sleep and poor nutrition, being just some of them.

Emphasising any helpful services that your company offers, or researching what you can invest in, can be a healthy and necessary reminder for staff.

Working from home and hybrid working

The pandemic left many people isolated at home, with some working models changing for the foreseeable. Adopting home and hybrid working models, although a positive for some, is not the case for all, therefore it’s important to put the effort in to include and support the wider team as much as possible.

Here are some things you can do to boost your employees, even if they’re not in the office:
  • Offer workplace setups

If you have taken the decision to get rid of what office space you had before the pandemic, you can try and look for co-working spaces or alternatives to home working. This can stop staff from being distracted at home, give them more space or the ability to access meeting rooms. This can also allow employees to have a differentiation between home and work.

  • Train managers to manage their teams effectively

This includes organising virtual one-to-one meetings with team members to go through any issues and also celebrate successes. Track progress using remote management tools such as Trello for the team, this enables everyone to be able to see what their co-workers are doing and provides structure to everyone.

Having regular meetings with people remotely will help managers to assess employee needs. It may be that a team leader decides that everyone will benefit from a virtual team meeting which doesn’t focus on work and gives everyone the opportunity to socialise instead and get to know co-workers. Alternatively, managers could encourage staff to take virtual lunch or tea breaks.

  • Continue to celebrate milestones

Whether it’s someone’s birthday or their work anniversary, celebrating these milestones can go a long way to employees feeling appreciated and cared for within the workplace. Host virtual birthday celebrations or send a message in the team group chat to recognise the day.

  • Encourage proper breaks and working times

Take into consideration that when staff are working from home, they may be skipping lunch breaks and/or working until 8pm when they should have ended their day at 5:30pm. Tell employees to take breaks and don’t disturb them during this time.

You could introduce a key to help everyone identify this so that if someone is taking some time out, they can clearly display it to the rest of the team. This could be something as simple as putting a ‘Do not disturb’ status on your instant messenger account.

The most important thing you can do is show your staff that you are there for them, you will make time and you can collaboratively come up with a solution. But don’t offer an unhappy employee false hope, if you are ultimately unable to help you can be honest.

This isn’t something that will happen overnight, so be patient and take your time handling the employee – always thinking about your management skills and placing yourself in their shoes when making decisions.

All of this will help you to create the best team you can!

Get in touch

Sellick Partnership has a wealth of experience in helping businesses to find talented candidates to join their team. We are happy to speak to you about your current or future recruitment needs, just contact us today.