How to tell when employees are unhappy

man shock angry laptop

It often doesn't take a magnifying glass to spot a disgruntled employee. “It's pretty easy to tell when they are not engaged as well,” says Andrew Weisman, director of foodservices for Peekskill City School District in Peekskill, N.Y.

Operators say staff calling in sick, projecting negativity and not following directions all point to workers who are less than smitten with their jobs. But here are some more subtle clues that team members are not satisfied at work—and tips to work toward reconciliation.

Lagging productivity

bored girl kitchen

When staff members are unhappy, their productivity goes down, Weisman says. “If I see an employee who is spending 60 [minutes] on a job that should only take 20, it's usually because they don't like the job and are not happy to be doing it.”

Recognizing workers’ skills and assigning projects they are interested in can help rebound their output, he says. If it’s an issue unrelated to work content, he suggests sitting down with employees and allowing them to come up with their desired solutions. “I've noticed doing this, and even complimenting them on having a good solution, can cause them to become more engaged in the future and offer ideas and suggestions at will,” he says.

Constant bickering

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When there’s fighting within the team, it's likely that one or more employees aren’t happy, says Ann Cooper, director of foodservices at Boulder Valley School District in Boulder, Colo. 

“We bring them together and try to figure out why they are unhappy,” she says. “What is it that’s making it so they can’t get along with each other?”

Incommunicado employees

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An employee might be disengaged if they are not communicating well with management or team members, says Jennifer Reiser, director of foodservices at Quaker Valley School District in Leetsdale, Pa. “If you sense something is wrong, address it quickly, so that they can start to focus on their work and be happy,” she says. “If you have one bad apple, it can poison your whole staff.” 

Reiser says she frequently checks in with employees and makes a point to always start and end the conversation with something positive. “If employees feel valued, respected and feel like they can make a difference, they will be happy,” she says.

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