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Lead Your Team Managing

What's Making Your Employees Unhappy (and What You Can Do About It)

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jacoblund / Getty Images
  • Happy employees make for a more successful and thriving company, because employees are the ones who deal with the customers most of all.
  • The best way to appease employees is by providing them with a line of communication that allows everyone to feel heard and validated.
  • Some ways to engage unhappy employees are creating a culture of safety and acting quickly on useful feedback.

The motivation and passion of the team can make or break a company. But according to research from Teem, nearly half of employees report being unhappy or only somewhat happy at work. Another survey by EmployeeChannel supports this: Only 16% of employees said they felt "connected and engaged" by their employers.

"Unhappy or disengaged employees are a huge problem for businesses, not only in terms of corporate culture, [but] in costs as well," said Tore Haggren, senior vice president at Confirmit, a global customer experience solutions provider for customer experiencevoice of the employee, and market research. "They are less productive and have higher churn rates, which results in greater recruitment costs."

One of the biggest issues workers have with their employers is communication, specifically one-way communication. While it's great to establish rules and expectations for your employees, it's just as critical to be open to their ideas or concerns. [Read related article: 15 Cool Job Perks That Keep Employees Happy]

"There are, of course, many reasons that employees may be unhappy and thus disengaged, but something that often underpins many of these reasons is a sense of not being listened to," said Haggren. "Whether that's by their manager, executive teams or the HR function, many employees either don't get – or at least don't feel that they get – the chance to speak up and be heard."

If employees don't feel like they have a voice, they won't feel engaged, and their performance will likely fall short of your expectations.

Haggren said happiness and engagement go hand in hand.

"Most companies will focus more on whether employees are engaged (have emotional ties to the job) rather than happy (generally positive and with a sense of well-being)," he said. "But broadly, happiness leads to engagement."

If employers want their workers to be invested in each project, they must provide them with opportunities to do so. Assigning work that they are particularly interested in, or projects they feel can make a difference, will make them feel happier and, in turn, more engaged.

According to The Ladders, these are some ways to engage unhappy employees:

  • Make leaving OK. One of the best ways to manage unhappy employees is to let them know that you want what’s best for them, even if that means they need to leave and find employment elsewhere. Many people become resentful of companies because they feel stuck in their positions. However, by making it OK and easy for them to leave if need be. This means that you create an easy process that allows them to pursue other opportunities as they see fit.

  • Feedback and engagement. Another way to engage with unhappy employments is to encourage feedback. By regularly asking employees for feedback (especially in relation to engagement), you can always know how your employees are feeling, if they are feeling engaged, and what they feel should be done to fix any issues.

  • Act on feedback. When employees give you useful and actionable feedback, be sure to act on it as soon as possible. This will encourage your employees to always give honest feedback. When you fail to do so, this will discourage them from giving feedback and may cause them to suffer in silence. Over time, your work environment will become a negative environment for employees overall.

  • Create a culture of safety. Another thing you can do to engage unhappy employees is by creating a culture of safety. This means that employees do not feel scared or nervous about speaking up out of fear of the potential repercussions. Make every employee feel safe enough to speak up and like their concerns are valid.

  • Conduct surveys. Another way to engage unhappy employees is by taking surveys. Especially if they are allowed to be anonymous, conducting regular surveys can be a great way to gauge the overall moods and opinions of your employees and uncover areas that need improvement. On the other hand, an employer could also offer direct surveys as a way of addressing and tracking the overall progress and level of satisfaction of individual employees.

  • Hold one-on-one meetings. For those who are more comfortable with one-on-on interactions, you can offer to allow employees to schedule one-on-one meetings as needed. On the one hand, one-on-one meetings should be an option for employees to schedule on their own. On the other hand, a manager should schedule one-on-one meetings to check in with employees or as a method of addressing particular issues that may be affecting an individual employee, a group of employees, or the company at large.

The best way to please employees is to establish a means of communication that allows both parties a voice.

"Of course, being available in person to chat is great, but organizations also need to have processes and solutions in place to listen to all employees on a regular basis," said Haggren. "Companies who really want to engage their teams need to develop a much more agile approach to listening to employees."

Haggren recommended "developing a program that combines proactive, solicited surveys at key stages of the employee lifecycle, with unsolicited, reactive approaches." Examples include online comment boxes and social media sites like Glassdoor.

From there, you need to act on the feedback and establish a common ground with your employees. Hold a meeting to discuss comments, whether they were submitted anonymously or directly, and work to reach a consensus that makes everyone happy.

For more tips to improve communication between managers and employees, read this Business News Daily article.

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.