Many employees hint around that that they’re unhappy, but if you don't recognize those messages quickly, it may be too late to recoup losses or convince other employees to stay. To keep your business on the right track and growing smoothly, you need to recognize both the overt and the subtle signs of dissatisfaction so you can take action to address them.
Disengagement is a telltale sign of grievance with the job and it often shows up on many different levels. Some types of disengagement are subtle. Employees might start sitting by themselves at lunch or stop going to work related functions like trips or picnics. They might be less inclined to go for a drink with coworkers after work. You might notice them checking their email more often than usual. Employees who are losing interest in their jobs often start showing up late for work and meetings or even start missing work altogether. All of these behaviors are on the spectrum that employees move through as they disassociate with the company over a period of time.
A discontented employee is likely to show signs of fatigue and wear and tear from tasks that he used to perform fluidly, with ease and enthusiasm. If employees’ production drops noticeably or they stop paying attention to the quality of their work, chances are they’re unhappy about some aspect of the job. You’ll start seeing messy desks and disorganized work spaces when they develop a lack of commitment to the job. They’ll start watching the clock, taking longer breaks and using the restroom more frequently as if they can’t stand to be there and can’t wait to get out.
Cynicism is really just a few small steps below open hostility. Employees who come off sounding jaded, sarcastic or skeptical about the company and the management are almost certainly upset with the job. This kind of attitude can be a sign of deep frustration and resentment they can’t openly communicate. Cynical employees often show subtle signs of insubordination such as passive aggression in response to instructions and hesitation before carrying out assignments. Your employees might even be hoping that you notice and address the problem, prompting them to vent.
Complaints come in a variety of ways. You might hear rumors that certain employees are making regular complaints. You might get written feedback. Some employees might make complaints to you in a joking manner or even tell you directly. Complaints in any form should all be taken seriously and addressed. If they are taking the time to express their discontent by complaining, they are venting their dissatisfaction and creating a negative environment that’s only going to get worse. Follow-up on complaints to see if they’re legitimate or just the way certain employees express their overall discontent.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."