Six best practices for managing unhappy employees

By Jeremy York, HR Field Representative, Synergy |

No one ever said that managing employees was an easy job. While most managers enjoy leading and developing their staff’s skills, dealing with unhappy employees can be challenging. At times it can be consuming, awkward, uncomfortable or confrontational. Unhappy employees can take up a manager’s time — time that could be spent encouraging top performers to keep up the good work. These are all reasons why many times unhappy employees and their behaviors are never addressed.

Encouraging dissatisfied employees to continue their behavior by not directly addressing it negatively impacts your business and can create a negative work environment. It can have an impact on others’ work, upset customers by offering subpar service, result in unsatisfactory job performance because they just don’t care and take advantage of company resources.

Recently, I read an article on titled, “Six Best Practices for Managing Unhappy Employees” ( that summed up how to deal with these employees in six simple steps. According to the author, unhappy employees can be made into star performers, if a manager handles the situation by applying the steps summarized below:

  • Assess the situation thoroughly. Don’t jump to conclusions, but really attempt to understand the “why” behind the situation. Use this opportunity to demonstrate that you care.
  • Don’t wait. The best time to address unhappy behavior is immediately. The longer you wait, the longer the situation can fester.
  • Privacy is key. Meet with the unhappy employee one-on-one, not in front of others. In case there is a sensitive situation driving the behavior, you want to be respectful of the employee.
  • Cool is the best temperament. Don’t allow yourself to get upset even if the employee is defensive. Speak gently and allow time for the employee to calm down if he or she is upset. Focus on the situation and not the emotion.
  • It takes time. Change isn’t always immediate, especially when it comes to human behavior. Keep in mind that the issue may not be resolved in one sitting and that you may have to meet with the employee a few more times to reach resolution.
  • Keep records. Document, document, document. Be sure to document your conversations and meeting outcomes. This helps keep everyone on track and also can be useful in legal situations. If the behavior doesn’t change, you may have to institute disciplinary action (performance improvement plan/written warning). In these instances, you definitely need to keep solid records.

Following these steps can help managers address discontented employees and their behaviors, allowing them to spend more time with employees who are successful at performing their jobs and adding positivity to the work environment.

JeremyYork Jeremy York, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is a Human Resources Field Representative for Synergy PEO Services.  With over 15 years experience, he provides strategic and generalist HR support to local nonprofit organization leaders and their staffs. Jeremy has a bachelor’s degree from Purdue University in Organizational Leadership and Supervision and a master’s degree from Indiana Wesleyan University in Management. He is the current director of certification for the Indiana State Council of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and serves on the IndySHRM board of directors as the past president.

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