Home > Leadership > How to Handle a Disgruntled Employee

How to Handle a Disgruntled Employee

By: Susan Melony


The Unhappy Worker Effect is Slowing Down Your Business

Modern businesses of all sizes face security risks in terms of cybersecurity and personal safety for employees and customers. Often, these security risks are actually internal. This can mean, for example, an employee who’s stealing trade secrets for their own gain.

It can also mean that employees or former employees create a safety risk to other people in your business.

Disgruntled employees can pose a risk, and how you handle things like termination can help your employees and your entire business stay safer.

Below are some of the things small business owners, in particular, should know about handling disgruntled employees.

Understanding What Causes Disgruntled Employees

There are a lot of factors that can lead to disgruntled employees. We often think about those employees who are fired, but there are other circumstances where an employee may be unhappy and perhaps so much so that it creates a security risk.

An unhappy employee may go under the radar as far as what they’re feeling, or in some cases, they can make it very known to everyone around them in the form of complaining or bad-mouthing.

Warning signs of an issue can include employees with a bad attitude or employees who are always late. Not cooperating or engaging with others, doing the bare minimum, and requesting more time off are also red flags, even if you haven’t fired the employee.

Some of the reasons an employee might be unhappy or described as disgruntled include:

  • They aren’t being recognized for their work and achievements, or at least they feel like they aren’t.
  • Workplace bullying is an issue for tens of millions of people, and it can be verbal or psychological. Often when employees deal with bullying at work, they can start to feel emotional distress and frustration toward their employer.
  • Employees may be upset if they feel like there is a lack of room for growth or development.
  • When employees feel overworked or don’t have a good work-life balance, it can lead to feelings of anger or frustration that can ultimately turn into something more.

Other issues include personal factors that might not have anything to do with work itself, as well as being the victim of sexual harassment and not feeling safe at work.

Some of the above are issues that you as an employer are responsible for, but others are out of your control.

When you believe the issue is something within your control as an employer, try to deal with it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Handling Issues

If an employee seems to be disgruntled and it’s not because of a firing, there are some things you can do.

First, as was touched on above, whatever the issue might be, if you can identify there’s a problem, start taking steps to address it head-on as soon as you can. By waiting, you might think the problem’s going to pass. Ultimately, that’s probably not the case.

What’s instead going to happen is the issue will fester and likely grow bigger.

You might not look forward to a needed conversation with an employee when it has the potential to be unpleasant, but that’s part of being a leader and an employer.

Not only can the individual who’s feeling angry get worse or deeper in their emotions, but it can spread to other employees and create a toxic or hostile workplace.

When you talk to an employee, always remain professional. Don’t let your temper become elevated, even if theirs does.

Don’t handle a disgruntled employee in front of other people either. This is going to exacerbate the situation. If an already-upset employee feels ganged up on or embarrassed, it can fuel the fire.

When you’re talking to the employee, try to stay compassionate and empathetic, and look at this as a time to improve the workplace environment for everyone and your corporate culture.

You don’t need to decide what actions to take right away. In your initial meeting, just listen and gather information.

Keep Records

Not just when dealing with upset employees, but in general, you should keep records of all conversations and formal interactions you have with employees. Then, you have a paper trail that shows you took action and the particular steps you took in trying to fix the situation.

If you ultimately do have to terminate the employee, you’ll have more protection against claims of negligence or discrimination.

Take Steps for a More Supportive Workplace

When you’re an active listener and you truly hear what your employee is saying and why they’re upset, rather than jumping in and immediately trying to offer solutions, it can help you come up with a more strategic plan.

The situation might be such that the issue is genuinely with the employee and there’s nothing you can do.

In other situations, you might find steps you can take to create a more supportive workplace, whether that’s offering more flexibility in how employees work, more opportunities for career development and advancement, or better employee training.

What About a Hostile Termination?

If you have to fire an employee and it’s going to be a potentially hostile situation, that’s different than working with an employee who’s showing signs of being disgruntled.

You should have a neutral manager or perhaps even a third-party consultant do the termination. It should be a straightforward situation without emotion.

Depending on how you feel about the situation, you may need a security guard nearby.

During a hostile termination, you should emphasize the employee’s benefits as part of their severance. You might also want to consider allowing them to resign versus being fired.

When you do fire a disgruntled employee, cut all ties. Don’t have any reason for them to come back to the workplace.

You also want to handle the situation delicately and don’t attempt to take drastic actions like taking out restraining orders unless it’s really called for. Keep track of any adverse interactions with formal documentation.

Overall, no matter the situation, when you’re a business owner, you may deal with unhappy employees. Avoid escalating the situation in how you handle yourself—remain calm and professional no matter what.

Published: October 7, 2021

Trending Articles

Stay up to date with