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  • Writer's pictureRukiya Robinson

Disgruntled Employees were once Happy, Engaged and Active Contributors

Having a disgruntled employee happens every now and then. Companies can’t please everyone and that’s understood. Thank them for their service, shake hands and depart ways. 

But what if you have several disgruntled employees? What if you see a pattern in employees negative behaviors? Do you notice silos? Are employees resigning or looking for other opportunities outside of the department or organization? What if the team’s energy has shifted to noticeably working around the elephant in the room? What if it gets quiet when a certain leader or manager walks into the room? What if you notice silence in the atmosphere yet there’s a lot of activity on mobile devices? What if employees aren’t taking initiative as they once did? What if team meetings are the same old boring meetings that no one wants to attend? 

These are just a few examples yet behaviors to pay attention to. These behaviors are a result of an accumulation of specific events that result in dissatisfied, disengaged employees. This can occur for a multitude of reasons.  

Organizations have to remember that disgruntled employees were once happy, enthusiastic, full of energy, ideas, and zeal.  Remember, at one time they were great,  had an impressive resume with skills that added value to the team, a likable personality that gelled well with everyone and they possessed the drive you needed. You hired them and warmly welcomed them to your team. 

The good thing about having disgruntled employees is that organizations can learn from them. Organizations shouldn’t wait for an employee resignation and have an exit interview before they learn the “why” behind their dissatisfaction. 

If disgruntled employees are not addressed timely and with the intentions to create a positive experience for them and the team, one disgruntled employee can bleed onto other employees and turn their negative perceptions into shared negative perceptions.  

Disgruntled employees are fueled by discontent and dissatisfaction with their organizations, their jobs, their environment, the company culture, their team, the management, or the organization’s leadership. It can be any one of these things or a combination of many things. 

A few questions organizations can ask their leadership teams: 

  1. How are we leading our teams?

  2. How do we address conflict? Or do we ignore topics that feel uncomfortable?

  3. What kind of experience are we providing for our direct reportss and employees? 

  4. How effective is our connection with our employees?

  5. Do we listen to our employees to understand their point of view?

  6. Having an open-door policy is standard but what exactly does that mean for our organization? 

  7. How often do we do a pulse check of our leaders? The team? Do we wait until annual performance reviews? Or check-in regularly?

How can you get this once enthusiastic employee back? Do you let them go? Or do you learn the source of this discontent? What if it’s not a skill set issue? This could be a highly skilled, high producing leader, manager or individual contributor.

Here are a few ways to penetrate the wall of dissatisfaction and confront an unhappy employee:

  1. Affirm the good about the employee.  Remember, you hired them.

  2. Share something great that you appreciate and recognize about them

  3. Create a safe space for them to candidly share their experience

  4. Acknowledge with the employee the discontent exists and specific behaviors you have noticed

  5. Ask them why the change in behavior. Ask for specific events. 

  6. Ask them what they need

  7. Ask them how you can support them

Responses to these questions can give you an idea of where the employee is and what action needs to be taken.  You will learn if they need training or development, motivation if they are bored, and their reasons behind their frustrations. 

As a leader, your leadership ability will also be tested. The outcomes you create can be a reference point for your leadership influence, impact and efficacy. You may find that you could benefit from working with an executive leadership coach.

Final thoughts

Remember, disgruntled leaders and employees were once happy, engaged and active contributors to your team. If leaders are attentive to their teams, behaviors will be easily recognized. If leaders are proactive in engaging their employees, checking in on them, doing pulse checks, establishing healthy boundaries and making sure they have what they need to thrive, even if it’s an affirmation and positive reinforcement, these small deeds are like seeds.  

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