The 8 Warning Signs of an Unhappy Employee

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Transcript of HR Podcast #28: The 8 Warning Signs of an Unhappy Employee

Listen to the audio (7 mins, 39 secs)

This article focuses on 8 clues that you want to pay attention to to be aware whether your employees are unhappy.

These are 8 workplace behaviors that signify that employees may be disengaged or just not motivated and what you can do about it. Being aware of changes in behavior or performance is key as a manager if you want to stay abreast of issues and have a highly functioning team.

Unhappy Employee

Some of the telltale signs include: 

  1. Submitting work late.
  2. Frequently complaining no matter how small an issue may be.
  3. Seeming to be overly sensitive when approached with a question or comment.
  4. Inappropriate use of office time or resources or spending a lot of time on non work-related websites or texting or talking on the phone.
  5. Often misses meetings or arrives late to meetings.
  6.  When at meetings they are not participating where they seem agitated or disengaged with the process.
  7. The employee may show signs of lack of productivity or the quality of their work decreases. Maybe they do not get work done in a timely fashion.
  8. Using an inordinate amount of sick or personal time.

Now it is easy to take the approach that employees who display some or all of these behaviors are not worth the investment or just maybe a bad apple but taking this approach can be a little shortsighted especially in situations where you’re dealing with a high performing employee who suddenly displays more negative behaviors.

This is where managing can be difficult because it’s your charge as a manager to not only determine what the issue may be but to take steps when it makes sense to help your employees work through the issue. Work with your employees to identify the root cause of their frustration or the root cause of the issue. It could just be that there has been an increase in workload with no relief in sight for them or maybe there’s an issue with workflow or another employee could be the root cause of a particular employee’s problem.

As much as we’d like to think that our employees are at the very minimum respecting us as managers it could be also that your management style is an issue.  In addition to an employee performance appraisal do some self assessment as part of this process. Are you a micro manager with employees who are quite capable of working well without someone looking over their shoulder? Or do your employees want some sense of direction or guidance from you so that they can perform the work that they need to do?

Both are opposite ends of the spectrum but for certain work styles when dealing with employees being a micro manager or not offering enough input could cause issues for your employees.

A big part of managing staff includes understanding how your approach impacts staff. Whether that approach encourages them to excel or leaves your employees feeling that they are being taken for granted or unappreciated.

Another thing to think about: Maybe your employees are having problems at home. And as much as we expect our staff to leave their problems at the front door when they come to work it’s not that black and white.

Not many small businesses have in-house employee assistance programs but if you do offer your employees health insurance for example. Encourage employees who are having issues outside of work to take advantage of the services provided through their health insurance.

Now it’s easy to get caught up in the meetings and the paper works that comes part and parcel with being a supervisor but don’t let that part of the job of being a manager deter you from your other responsibility which is supporting, encouraging, and motivating your staff.

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Dianne Shaddock

President and Founder at Easy Small Business HR
Get more tips on interviewing, hiring, managing and engaging your employees. Dianne Shaddock is the President of Easy Small Business HR, Employee Hiring and Managing Tips and the author of the eGuides, "How To Supervise:  What Your Boss Never Told You Before You Took the Job", A Step-By-Step Guide For New and Seasoned Managers and How To Find and Hire the Best Employees.


  1. Oladimeji Kazeem says

    The article is quite instructive and may be a turning point for some managers who lack emotional competence. Managerial position goes beyond work, work and work, the employees also matter a lot. A disgruntled employee is not likely to perform optimally, so ability of managers to empathise with employees really goes a long way in addressing issue of declination in employees performance and help managers to earn employee trust and loyalty.

    Thank you

    • Dianne says

      Thank you for your comment! It’s important that managers understand that employee management goes beyond telling people what to do. Most managers realize this. This article is not meant to chastise. The intent is to support and reinforce best management practices.

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