Most employees want to enjoy job satisfaction and like to have a sense of accomplishment in their work. When this doesn’t happen, you may start to see the signs of an unhappy employee.

Employee dissatisfaction occurs for various reasons, so it's up to managers to identify any problems and motivate their teams. There are a range of factors that can cause people to want to leave their roles. In our recent PageGroup survey, we found that one in four people got ‘itchy feet’ as they felt their contribution wasn’t valued.

Rising living costs are also affecting people’s happiness, with three in four employees worried about personal finances and 38% finding that they are left with little to no disposable income each month. So if worries about their salary are combined with several other issues in the role, this can quickly lead to uninspired employees. Remaining aware of how staff are feeling will help you to try and maintain happy teams.

These are seven signs that may indicate your employee is unhappy:

1. Decline in productivity

When the quality of someone’s work is impacted, this is one of the first signs of an unhappy employee. A drop in productivity will soon be noticed and may impact individual, departmental or companywide objectives. When the quality or quantity of an employee’s work starts to decline, it’s important to uncover the reason as soon as possible. Once the cause of the issue is identified, prioritise the development of a solution to avoid damage to employee morale and business results.

2. Increased absence

A noticeable increase in sick days, without any evidence or communication that there are ongoing health issues, is a big red flag. Of course, this kind of behaviour can also be a sign of psychological distress, so it’s important to talk to people sensitively and find out why they’re unhappy. Determine whether an employee has recently begun to take sick days or they have had recurring absences since starting with the company. Whether this person’s unhappiness stems from work-related causes or they have something going on in their personal lives, you should treat the issue carefully and work together to see how you can support them.

3. Changes in attitude

A change in attitude from an employee who was previously pleasant and hard-working is an indication that something is wrong. If they’re suddenly more demotivated, work with them directly to understand why. If they are aiming their negativity towards certain colleagues, chances are their dissatisfaction is down to a personal issue with other employees or managers. Speak to the other involved party if necessary, as this issue may start to affect their happiness and performance too.

4. Complaints from others

If an employee’s behaviour doesn’t signal to you that there’s a problem, other employees will often flag the issue. Changes in working behaviour, especially negative ones, will soon become apparent to colleagues. In these situations, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. When employees complain about each other, it’s not always obvious who’s at fault. Instead, reserve judgement and facilitate productive conversations, encouraging people to communicate calmly and helping to find resolutions.

5. Suddenly working longer hours

When people’s workloads increase, it’s vital to ensure they have the support they need. 22% of people said they have looked for new roles because of deteriorating working conditions, with 18% citing too many working hours.

Don’t give people unrealistic expectations, such as taking on additional responsibilities to cover absent staff members or not addressing shortfalls in teams. Of course, there are times when everyone may have to step up to support the business, but when an employee is consistently overworking themselves, they can become overwhelmed and burn out.

6. They’re actively looking for work.

Whether an employee is posting more on LinkedIn, has been found to be browsing job sites or is actively interviewing for other roles, this is a sure sign that they may not be around for much longer.

In order to prevent this situation, you need to communicate with your employees. Be clear about what you expect from people, praise them when they do well, encourage them to come to you with any problems and give them the tools and support they need to perform their role. 

One in three of our survey respondents said they noticed a lot of roles being advertised in their sector, so it’s crucial to resolve issues before they look elsewhere. 30% of people said that a clear progression path is important to them, so it often isn’t difficult to help people feel more assured in their role.

7. Problematic behaviour

Another of the most common signs of an unhappy employee is when they start engaging in activity that goes against ethics or company codes. This could include compromising confidential company information, behaving in a way that impacts customers, not working their agreed hours or even stealing. Of course, when this happens it may be an instant breach of contract that necessitates dismissal. However, it can be worth speaking to this person to find out why they are behaving in this way and, if damage hasn’t been done, supporting them to turn things around.

How to help an unhappy employee

If you spot any of these signs of an unhappy employee, schedule in time to talk to dissatisfied employees and practise active listening. The employee may have stored this problem inside for a while and will probably benefit from getting it out of their system. Encourage honesty and hear them out without interruption or defensiveness. Take notes to refer back to when it's your turn to talk. 

Try not to offer the unhappy employee false hope. If you cannot honour their requests, be honest and tell them, with good reasons for turning them down. Otherwise, do all you can to help them feel happier.

What’s next?

Check out the rest of our employer advice here and download our talent retention eBook to read more about how to keep your star performers. 

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