Handling with a disgruntled employee can be challenging. First of all, because it affects their productivity and satisfaction, secondly, because it could also affect the team’s dynamic. By understanding the underlying causes of employee dissatisfaction and implementing proven strategies, you can transform potentially disruptive situations into opportunities for growth and improvement.

This article is designed to equip HR professionals and managers with actionable insights on how to handle a disgruntled employee effectively through strategies and examples. Let’s get started!

Who Is Considered a Disgruntled Employee?

how to deal with a disgruntled employee

Let’s start with the disgruntled employees definition. An unhappy employee, also known as a disgruntled employee, is typically someone who is dissatisfied or unhappy with their job or workplace.

This discontent can stem from various sources, such as perceived unfair treatment, lack of recognition, inadequate compensation, or poor working conditions. 

You can identify an unhappy employee by having a sarcastic general attitude toward their role, workplace, managers, and tasks. An example is a person who rejects new tasks, does not participate in team-building activities, makes harsh jokes, and complains endlessly. Here’s a list of common traits:

  1. Negative Communication: Regularly expressing complaints or negative opinions about work.
  2. Lack of Motivation: Showing little interest in their tasks or goals.
  3. Frequent Absences: Taking more sick days or personal time off than usual.
  4. Conflict-Prone: Engaging in more arguments or conflicts with coworkers or managers.
  5. Isolation: Withdrawing from team activities and avoiding social interactions.
  6. Declining Performance: A noticeable drop in the quality and quantity of their work.
  7. Passive-Aggressive Behavior: Subtly resisting or undermining work processes.
  8. Stress and Burnout: Exhibiting signs of stress, fatigue, or emotional exhaustion.

By identifying these behaviors early, you can implement effective human resources strategies to address the root causes and support the sad employee in regaining their satisfaction and productivity.

In the following sections, we will delve into specific strategies on how to handle a disgruntled employee, focusing on effective communication, empathy, conflict resolution, feedback, and other essential skills.

Effective Strategies for Managing Disgruntled Employees

how to handle a disgruntled employee

Now that your disgruntled employee is identified, it’s time for action. The first thing you need to do is avoid confrontation. It’s imperative to understand that the reasons for the sad employee's attitude are very valid for them, even if you don’t agree.

To address mindfully and effectively this situation, here are some strategies to know how to handle a disgruntled employee.

1. Active Listening

When an employee feels heard and understood, it can significantly alleviate their frustration. Here’s how to practice active listening:

  • Pay Full Attention: Give the employee your undivided attention. Maintain eye contact and show that you are engaged in the conversation.
  • Avoid Interruptions: Let the employee speak without interruptions. This shows respect and allows them to fully express their concerns.
  • Reflect and Clarify: Repeat back what you’ve heard to ensure understanding. Ask clarifying questions if needed to get a complete picture of the issue.

2. Offering Support

Providing support can make a significant difference in how a disgruntled employee perceives their workplace. Here are ways to offer support:

  • Empathy: Show genuine empathy towards the employee’s situation. Understand their perspective and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Resources: Provide resources such as counseling services, training programs, or mentorship opportunities that can help the employee cope with their issues.
  • Regular Check-Ins: Schedule regular one-on-one meetings to monitor their progress and offer ongoing support.

3. Setting Clear Expectations

Clear expectations help the unhappy employee understand what is required of them and can reduce misunderstandings and frustration. Here’s how to set clear expectations:

  • Defined Goals: Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. This provides a clear roadmap for what is expected.
  • Communication: Ensure that expectations are communicated clearly and consistently. Use written documentation when necessary.
  • Feedback: Provide regular feedback on performance to reinforce expectations and guide improvements.

4. Conflict Resolution

Conflicts can escalate dissatisfaction if not handled properly. Effective conflict resolution techniques include:

  • Mediation: Act as a mediator to facilitate a constructive discussion between conflicting parties. Encourage them to express their views and work towards a mutually acceptable solution.
  • Policies and Procedures: Have clear policies and procedures in place for resolving conflicts. Ensure all employees are aware of these and know how to access them.
  • Training: Provide training on conflict resolution skills for both managers and employees to handle disputes effectively.

5. Recognition and Rewards

Recognizing and rewarding employees can improve morale and reduce feelings of being undervalued. Here’s how to implement effective recognition and rewards:

  • Regular Recognition: Acknowledge employees’ efforts and achievements regularly, both privately and publicly.
  • Tailored Rewards: Offer rewards that are meaningful to the employee, whether it’s a bonus, extra time off, or a simple thank-you note.
  • Career Development: Provide opportunities for career growth and development as a form of reward and recognition.

Advantages of Addressing a Disgruntled Employee for Your Business

Besides clearing the environment of negativity and uncomfortability, dealing with disgruntled employees correctly has many advantages for the organization. They require patience, understanding, and empathy, but they are perfectly achievable.

  • Greater Job Satisfaction: When employees feel their concerns are heard and addressed, they are more likely to be satisfied with their job.
  • Positive Work Environment: A focus on addressing issues creates a more positive and supportive workplace atmosphere.
  • Increased Employee Engagement: Engaged employees are more committed and willing to go the extra mile for the organization.
  • Higher Efficiency: Satisfied employees tend to work more efficiently and with greater focus.
  • Better Performance: Addressing dissatisfaction can lead to a noticeable improvement in the quality of work and overall performance.
  • Reduced Absenteeism: Happy employees are less likely to take unnecessary sick days, leading to more consistent productivity.
  • Stronger Team Dynamics: A positive approach to handling disgruntled employees fosters better relationships and teamwork.
  • Attraction and Retention: Companies known for addressing employee concerns attract top talent and retain their best employees.

How can mediation help resolve conflicts with disgruntled employees?

Mediation is a structured process where a neutral third party, known as the mediator, and with a lot of patience, facilitates communication between conflicting parties to help them reach a mutually acceptable solution.

In the context of handling disgruntled employees, the manager, HR professional, or team leader acts as the mediator between the employee and the organization. But what are they supposed to do to mediate?

The first step is communicating assertively.

  • The mediator provides a neutral setting where both parties can express their views without fear of judgment or retribution. This encourages honest and open dialogue.
  • Mediators are trained in active listening techniques, ensuring that each party feels heard and understood. This can significantly reduce feelings of frustration and misunderstanding.
  • The mediator helps clarify the underlying issues and concerns by asking probing questions and summarizing key points.

The next step is finding mutual solutions.

  • The mediator helps identify common goals and interests, which can form the basis for a mutually beneficial solution.
  • During mediation, the mediator encourages brainstorming and the generation of multiple options for resolving the conflict. 
  • The mediator assists the parties in evaluating the feasibility and fairness of potential solutions.
  • Once a solution is reached, the mediator helps formalize the agreement, ensuring both parties are committed to the resolution.

As you can see, training your team in effective conflict resolution, mediation techniques, active listening, patience, and leadership skills is incredibly important. To support your team, you can trust Meditopia for Work professionals to offer webinars and workshops on these matters.

dealing with disgruntled employees

Key Takeaways

  • Identifying the signs of a disgruntled employee early is crucial for implementing effective HR strategies and supporting the employee.
  • Active listening and offering support are essential techniques for addressing employee dissatisfaction and improving their workplace experience.
  • Clearly defined goals, regular feedback, and effective conflict resolution techniques help prevent misunderstandings and resolve disputes.
  • Regular recognition and tailored rewards, along with career development opportunities, enhance employee morale and motivation.

5 HR Strategies for Handling a Disgruntled Employee in 2024: FAQ

how to deal with a disgruntled employee

When should I involve HR in handling a disgruntled employee?

Involve HR when a disgruntled employee's behavior affects team dynamics, productivity, or when initial management efforts fail to resolve the issue. You can also involve them when there’s no possible conflict resolution or agreement.

What are common signs of a disgruntled employee?

Common signs include frequent complaints, declining performance, absenteeism, negative communication, and withdrawal from team activities. A sarcastic attitude, lack of proactivity, and refusing to complete the tasks are also common signs.

How should I approach a disgruntled employee?

Approach a disgruntled employee with empathy, active listening, and without confrontation, ensuring they feel heard and understood. The goal is to understand their point of view, rather than forcing them to change.

What steps can I take to prevent employee dissatisfaction?

Prevent employee dissatisfaction by setting clear expectations, offering regular feedback, providing support and resources, and recognizing and rewarding efforts when possible.

How important is listening when dealing with a disgruntled employee?

Listening is crucial when dealing with a disgruntled employee as it helps understand their concerns, shows respect, and facilitates effective conflict resolution.