In a recent conversation with a friend, he told me about some of his employees that were unhappy and had no problem expressing that unhappiness to him on a regular basis. As we talked about this, it struck us that if someone is truly unhappy in their job, and expresses that unhappiness frequently over time, they should think about leaving or retiring. Not only does that unhappiness affect them, it affects those around them and often will show up in their job performance. This type of unhappiness goes deeper than feeling disgruntled about a decision or two...this is unhappiness that pervades one's outlook on the organization and seems to be a part of their thought patterns and discussions over a period of time.
So what can leaders and managers do to identify unhappiness...and what can be done for those who truly are unhappy? Here are a few thoughts:
- listen for comments that tend to be negative over an extended period of time. Organizations need people who question decisions made from time to time...organizations do not need people who are consistently critical of most decisions made.
- question your assumptions about someones seemingly unhappiness. Perhaps you are just catching them on a bad day or two, or you have just have been in the line of their fire recently. Ask them what they mean and to clarify their understanding of the situation.
- sometimes unhappiness comes from situations outside of the workplace. Offer to listen, provide resources through the employee assistance program, and give them time to get through the external situation.
- ask the person if they are happy or not. They will probably be taken back by the question, so give them time to figure out their answer...you may even want to give them to the next day to come back with an answer. Just be sure to follow up.
- ask their co-workers whether or not they believe this individual is unhappy. If several people observe this pattern of behavior, perhaps others can intervene and ask what is going on.
- engage this person in a job performance review. Often unhappiness comes from uncertainty, and a good performance review can reduce that stress. Be sure to include their outward unhappiness as a part of that review.
- do not be afraid to confront the situation. Unhappiness breeds more unhappiness, and the work of the organization begins to suffer. Be very clear what it is that you are observing, the changes you expect to happen, and the consequences if changes do not occur.
- do not let people wear their unhappiness as badge of honor. Often the unhappy person sees the role of curmudgeon as their right and responsibility to the organization. Last time I looked, there was no job description on the organizational chart that has an official place for crabby and unhappy people.
- do all you can to help them change their disposition. The organization needs people who are happy and satisfied in their work...your role as leaders and manager is to help that become a reality for all employees.
Finally, if one chooses to remain unhappy, it is up to the leaders and manager to help that person move on to other roles in other organizations. No one can make someone else happy, so if someone chooses to remain in this state, they need to leave the organization and find a place where they can either a) be happy in their calling or b) share their unhappiness with another organization (and preferably a competitor).