There was a time in my career when my mouth easily out ran my brain. There was one single factor that underlies each transgression. I wasn’t happy. Whether it was the direction we were headed or some other factor outside my control, I disagreed and was sure to let management know. Yes, I was disgruntled, but I hadn’t lost my value to the organization.

Managers must find a way to refocus employees on constructive outcomes because firing everyone is rarely an option.

I’ve always felt that formal write-ups or performance improvement plans leave a bad taste with employees. While necessary in some cases, few managers believe these actions are good starting places. Yet, a disgruntled employee cannot be left to spread their bad attitude or destructive behavior throughout the organization. The longer you allow it to fester, the bigger the sore will grow.

I have one rule of thumb. Bad behavior that is detrimental to the organization or the team must be confronted in a professional and constructive manner. Well, you think, isn’t that obvious? Yes, it may be obvious, but that does not make it easy. All you need is a plan and the confidence to execute it.

Consider these points when dealing with a disgruntled employee.

  1. Is their behavior detrimental or do you simply disagree with how they handle themselves? There are people whose personality, or style, just are not to our liking. Our displeasure is not an excuse to treat them poorly or label them as disgruntled.
  2. Have you taken the time to clearly communicate their role, job description, expectations, and goals in the organization? As a manager, you are responsible to clearly communicate this information and how their contribution impacts organizational the organization. You should also take the time to listen to their thoughts and feelings regarding their role.
  3. Have you invited their initiative or input only to not act, acknowledge or appreciate their contribution? Most employees are capable of much more provided they are given the autonomy and resources to act. The quickest way to stop the flow of excellence is to ignore or neglect their contribution.
  4. Have you designed and executed your plan? This topic is all over the internet. If you are looking for some techniques, perform a simple web search. The problem does not reside with a lack of ideas. The manager who must take the time to address the issue and not be intimidated or fearful to act. Refrain from making it more complicated than it needs to be.
  5. Does your strategy include refocusing their efforts? Once you identify the source of their frustration, you should help them refocus their energies. If their focus is on an issue beyond their control, you must help them focus on another issue. If this is not possible, try refocusing their energy on another aspect of the same issue. Disgruntled employees need to focus on areas that they can impact and less on global problems they don’t control.

Finally, personal ignorance of the issues that feed the fires of disgruntlement is no excuse to avoid your responsibility to confront bad behavior. Statements like, “I need you to focus on your job” are tempting, but not helpful when you haven’t taken the time to identify and address the issues.

What have you found to be most helpful when refocusing a disgruntled employee? What do you find most helpful when you are feeling disgruntled?

Refocusing a Disgruntled Employee
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2 thoughts on “Refocusing a Disgruntled Employee

  • Steve,

    The key lies in identifying ‘why’ someone is disgruntled, I believe this is an essential first step. It may well be that the underlying issue cannot be resolved, and the affected party may just have to move on. However, as you might well guess, I am of the opinion that ineffective communication is at the root of most strained employer-employee relationships. And unfortunately, I place that burden on the leadership of the organization, not the team members.

    Are the company’s vision, standards and policies clearly communicated? Does the team truly understand not only ‘what’ is expected, but ‘why’ it is expected. Or is the leadership in the business of ‘expecting’ the team to know what is expected and innately understand the importance of those expectations – simply because its their job?

    Times are certainly changing, and companies today are beginning to widely recognize the critical importance of soft-skills in building a highly successful team, yet we both know the mythical ‘captain of the industry’ lives on, closed-door policy and all. These types usurp the staff of all ownership of the company’s mission, methods and direction – unless the team falls short, and then of course they are given full ownership.

    As Henry Ford once so so aptly said, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

    1. Well said! Some your points are easily forgotten, especially during difficult economic times.

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