How to Recognize and Handle a Disgruntled Employee

By SHRM India Content Team May 31, 2017
How to Recognize and Handle a Disgruntled Employee

In a dynamic market, where human resource attrition rates are high, it's a good practice to review workforce's 'sentiment' status towards the organization. Unhappy (disgruntled) employees are usually harmless but in some cases, can cause significant damage to the company's reputation or to its intellectual property.

Causes of Disgruntlement

Disgruntlement in employees can stem from multiple sources, some of the common ones are:

  • Disrespectful treatment or disregard – Consistent disrespectful behaviour of superiors (and in some cases subordinates), could lead to an employee fostering negative sentiments towards the work culture of the organization. He is likely to refuse working cohesively with the team. He might try to exert his superiority or knowledge on to others, leading to unrest amongst the team members and give rise to disruptive groupism.  

  • Need for recognition – Everyone works hard with frequent late nights, deadlines and presentations. Getting acknowledged for the tremendous hard work and commitment is a huge motivating factor in a workplace. Many a times, the success of the work done by one person is assigned to another (mostly superior). This breeds a sense of contempt and passive aggression in an employee. 

  • Culture of favouritism in granting promotion Unfair comparisons done by seniors and superfluous flattery by subordinates are a common occurrence in offices. However, these are harmless only up till a point where there are no monetary or statutory repercussions. Promotion granted to a seemingly 'undeserved' employee might lead to disgruntlement and resentment in his colleagues. 

  • Poor performance review While everyone believes he/she is working way too hard or is doing beyond possible capacity to deliver; only the managers or superiors can tell the level of focus, improvement and execution an employee has achieved. If not communicated well, a poor performance review can lead to gross resentment and anger in an employee. 

  • Office bullying by peers and seniors - Bullying not only disturbs the emotional status of the employee, but also negatively affects the employee's performance. If it goes unchecked, or becomes too much to handle, office bullying can be a serious cause of unhappiness in an employee. 

  • Sexual harassment The laws have become very stringent about dealing with sexual harassment at a workplace. However, many cases go unnoticed and uninformed. Only a 'safe' work environment can harness quality performance. It only takes one negative comment in this context by a disgruntled employee, on social media, to malign entire organisation's reputation.

  • Lack of financial or career growth opportunity – It's not just uncommon that employees feel victimized by lack of promotions or no career opportunities. Doing same kind of work can create fatigue in work. No learning experience, challenging opportunities and cross-functional roles add on to it. Many a times employees are simply a misfit for the jobs they hold.

  • Domestic & health issues – When employees spend maximum of their time working, it's easy to bring domestic issues to office. Persistent unresolved personal issues seep into the professional life and result in an unhappy employee at work. This can be addressed if the employee gets help outside(psychologist/friends) or from an in-house(official) professional counsellor. 

How to Recognise a Disgruntled Employee:

To be able to help disgruntled employees or reduce employee dissatisfaction, it is important to know how to identify such employees. Some of the common ways in which employees make their dissatisfaction known are: 

  • Poor performance – Easiest way to detect a disgruntled employee is to review his performance. Constant monitoring of output can avoid a lot of unpleasant incidences within an organization.
  • Absenteeism – Every company has a set number of leaves. But some employees tend to take more leaves than the others. Also, they regularly go out for breaks and are often unavailable on their desks. This depicts lack of interest of the employee towards his work.
  • Poor attitude at work – Quality of performance, conversations and attitudes can be used as parameters to gauge employee's mind-set. If he is disgruntled and unhappy with the organization or with his work, he would be spreading negativity passively. 
  • Inability to get along with the team – An employee might be miffed with the management for various reasons (no promotion, lack of appreciation, sexual harassment etc.). This disinterest in working with the team is a clear reflection of his disgruntlement.

How to Handle a Disgruntled or Unhappy Employee:  

The right approach to handling a disgruntled workforce is by turning dissatisfied, unhappy employees into productive assets of the organization. Some measures that a company can take to help the employee improve his/her performance are:

  1. Provide counselling – If the dissatisfaction is due to emotional distress, inability to cope with the responsibilities at work, harassment, or an unfriendly work culture, a good counselling session by either a senior or professional counsellor could make a huge difference towards improving the employee's attitude at work. It is important that the HR or senior manager give the employee complaint a fair hearing and support. If the situation is really grave (especially bullying, emotional distress) they should arrange for a counselling session with a professional. Organizations should ensure that an official report is submitted by the counsellor, the recommendations are followed, and that the report is kept as a record for further reference.

  2. Give options for specific skill training – If the disgruntlement is the cause of an inability to perform the assigned tasks or due to poor performance, discuss with the management about the training options that could be provided for the poor-performing employee. This will give an opportunity for the employee to scale up, and in turn will help reduce his dissatisfaction. Training results must be documented and made available to the employee as well. A sufficient timeframe must be assigned after every such initiative, to give him an opportunity to show the results.

  3. Follow up on the development – To ensure that the employee feels valued, continue to follow up if the employee even after the training is over. Check with him if he needs any further guidance  or support. Guide as if you expect the best not the worst from the employee.

  4. Provide opportunity for career progression – In top performing employees, lack of opportunity of a better role/position or pay can cause disgruntlement. Although it is not possible to promote or offer lucrative assignments to all the top performing employees at the same point of time, HR and line managers can ensure that these high performing employees are kept engaged in challenging assignments or are given cross functional exposure. The fact their skill-set is being added to and the organization is giving them an opportunity to learn, will help reduce their dissatisfaction considerably.

  5. Keep the atmosphere positive – Show that you are proud of the team and workplace. Indulge in motivational talks and in building team spirit. Create a positive work culture in the organization. Serious actions must be taken to negate any incidences of office bullying and making it a 'safe' place to work. Maybe keeping an anonymous feedback box in office will help in detecting bullies.

  6. Trust and communicate – No relationship can thrive in a distrustful environment. Management must focus on being fair and take efforts to dispel any misconception about favouritism at workplace. A culture of open communication and ideation must be encouraged. Any relevant information must be made accessible to all. KRAs and policies must be stated and clarified to each employee. Feedback from employees must be taken up positively.


When people spend over one-third of their lives in offices, its essential to ensure that they work in happy and productive environment. These days we hear news about office bullying, unfair practices, data theft, demise due to work pressure and high employee attrition rates. If we dive deep, all these stem from stress arising out of dissatisfaction. Common reasons for leaving the company persists to be the feeling of being unappreciated and undervalued. Maybe they are. Which is why exit interviews play an important role by providing valuable insights into the organization's operational structure.

When companies focus on building brands, it must also focus on building employee relationships. A happy workforce is necessary for creating inspiring leaders and for achieving stellar results.



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