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The tell-tale signs of an unhappy employee

A fully engaged team is more productive. So how do you know if they are fully engaged? And what do you do if they aren’t?

You don’t need to conduct an organisational climate survey to check the overall satisfaction of your employees. Managers can easily carry out periodic checks on staff morale by adopting a few good habits. It can be as simple as buying them lunch or a coffee and asking them how things are going; or it could be something a little more structured like one-on-one meetings or huddles with the team.

During these ‘check-ins’, look out for red flags and be ready to take action. You can quickly nip problems in the bud or get someone back on the rails before they affect morale elsewhere. A manager is a leader whose own behaviour can inspire or dampen enthusiasm. People expect a manager to respond to such warning signs quickly and professionally.

Here are some of the red flags that staff may present to indicate unhappiness with their job, the company, the boss or their fellow workers.

Everyone is entitled to call in sick from time to time, but out of character time away from work, may be a sign that an employee is seeking greener pastures. Or it may mean that the employee’s dissatisfaction is causing stress-related ailments.

Comes in late, takes longer breaks. But always leaves on time.

Decline in performance
Missing deadlines? Letting the team down? An unhappy employee has difficulty concentrating on tasks, therefore compromising productivity.

Withdrawal from others
An unhappy staff member may hole himself up in his own little world. If you see someone no longer mingling with others like they used to, it may be a warning sign that something is wrong.

Unusual impatience or irritability
Raised voices? When the smallest thing ticks off an employee, it may indicate lack of sleep, problems at home or frustrations with the job.

The best leaders notice these warning signs and spend time with the staff member and find out what the problem is. Coach your managers to regularly check-in with their direct reports. It is not something that new young managers always feel comfortable with. The team member must always feel that his immediate supervisor is sincere and willing to help. The strength of the relationship between boss and worker is critical to having them fully engaged and staying on board.

Keeping up morale
While monetary rewards are always appreciated, at the end of the day, employees stay because they feel good about and appreciated for what they are doing. Anthony Tjan, CEO of venture capital firm Cue Ball, says that the secret to employee loyalty and retention is to give employees “meaningful roles.”

Tjan states, “It is a basic condition of human behaviour and psychology that many business leaders often forget: people are driven as much or more by intrinsic meaning as they are by extrinsic rewards.”

Managers must learn to give considered and honest feedback. Open communication allows employees to air their sentiments without fear of being judged. If they know that management listens to them, takes their thoughts onboard and provides a response and/or action, employees feel respected and can be more inclined to stay.

Saying “thank you” for good work is just as important. Recognising employee contribution helps boost morale and makes them feel that they are making significant input to the company. Letters and cards of congratulation are so important to some people that they are treasured for years. Make a point of discovering what your employees like to receive for a job well done.

Job security is of significant importance to workers. Employees like to know that they have a future in their job. One of my TEC members tells me that his team were visibly relieved when he told them that the financial crisis was over and the company was trading well again.

Development and training to improve skills helps keep people engaged. Another of my TEC members invited some of his key staff to attend a TEC speaker session on time management and was surprised at the enthusiasm of the feedback he received.

Happy and engaged employees create productive companies. With attention, encouragement and open communication, you will find that your staff will stay put and help the business grow.

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Graham Jenkins

Graham Jenkins

Graham Jenkins coaches and mentors chief and senior executives as a Chair with The Executive Connection (TEC). Graham is hosting a lunch for business owners and managers on Tuesday 10 May 2011 in Sydney. Guests will have the opportunity to network with other like-minded executives and directly experience the benefits members receive from a TEC group meeting. Places are limited, so please email Ruth Power to reserve your place.

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