5 Signs Your Employees Are Unhappy (and how to fix them)

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by viperk's , last updated on

attract-millennials.jpgIt’s no secret that employee happiness has taken a dip in recent years, thanks to the disappearing work-life balance, but there are ways to remedy the situation.

According to a recent YouGov poll, people in their late twenties and early thirties are more unhappy with their work-life balance than any other age group, with almost half saying that there is sometimes an expectation from their employer that they work outside normal hours.

The work-life balance conundrum is leading to increased employee burnout and costing employers billions of dollars each year一$500 to $600 billion, according to Gallup. Before you can implement strategies to help boost employee happiness, you must first recognize the signs of unhappy employees.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of listening in on SHRM’s latest webinar “5 Signs of Unhappy Employees.” On the webinar, BambooHR’s Brenton Williamson and Officevibe’s Jacob Shriar provided lots of great advice and actionable solutions for fostering employee happiness.

Before we dive into solutions, let’s first identify the five signs of an unhappy employee:

  1. Open aggression
  2. Passive aggression
  3. Social aggression
  4. Disengagement
  5. Health issues

During the webinar, Brenton and Jacob did a wonderful job of explaining how these five issues can affect more than just productivity. These issues can also affect management’s reputation when not handled appropriately. If you are noticing any of these five signs of employee unhappiness, I encourage you to continue reading this blog because I’m going to go through each sign and offer solutions. You will leave this article feeling ready to turn those unhappy employees into happy (and productive) employees. And it won’t be as hard as you think.


How to spot it: These employees don’t hide their unhappiness very well. On the bright side, as Williamson mentioned, “It’s not fun to deal with, but it’s easy to spot.” Signs include loud arguments, complaints without solutions and stonewalling requests from team members.

How to solve it: When handling open aggression in the workplace, it’s important to ensure the issues are addressed with every person involved, otherwise you run the risk of being labeled a “poor manager”. One helpful tip that Williamson shared during the webinar is to model the emotional maturity you want to see in other employees. Lastly, make sure there is an action plan in place to strengthen the relationships between employees.


How to spot it: Signs of passive aggressive employees include avoiding responsibility for tasks, missed deadlines, the withholding of important information, avoiding face-to-face confrontation with email or notes and complaints about office policies and procedures.

How to solve it: At the root, passive aggression is a sign of disengagement, said Officevibe’s Shriar. One of the most productive ways of dealing with passive aggressive employees is to show that you’re willing to listen to feedback. Typically, employees that show signs of passive aggressiveness have a difficult time communicating their feelings. If you show them you care and are a role model for open and honest communication, chances are you’ll be on the fast track to fixing your employee’s unhappiness.


How to spot it: Social aggression can be harder to spot because it is often done amongst employees. For example, signs of social aggression include private “gossip” chat groups, complaints to peers rather than managers and comments behind the back. As you can see, it can be hard to spot these issues because they’re often done covertly.

How to solve it: With social aggression, prevention is going to be more effective than turning your office into a police state, Williamson said. To avoid employees complaining to each other, it’s best to be as transparent as possible. Another effective strategy is to work diligently at building solid relationships that are more like friendships with your employees. Show them that you care on an emotional level, too.


How to spot it: In 2015, only 32% of U.S. workers were engaged, according to Gallup. This sign is one of the easier ones to spot, as disengaged employees don’t participate in team settings, they don’t give feedback or ask questions and they often go with the flow and don’t offer up new ideas.

How to solve it: Solving disengagement is one of the biggest issues in the human resource world. I believe disengagement is a result of the changing tides of how different generations work. Millennials care more about a company being a cultural fit as opposed to climbing the corporate ladder. According to a 2014 Collegefeed survey, 80% of millennials look for people and culture fit, followed by career potential. Shriar said that one small change that can make a big impact with millennials (and all employees, really) is offering flexible work hours and work-from-home possibilities.  


How to spot it: It can be difficult to pick up on signs of health issues because often employees keep personal problems to themselves. If your employees look frazzled and you know they’re under a lot of pressure, that could be a sign that it’s time to pull back. One way to tell if employees are having health issues is if they’re taking more sick days and showing increased irritability.

How to solve it: As Shriar expressed several times during this webinar, the work-life balance is one of the biggest issues facing employers today. Solving this problem really starts with leading by example. Encourage your employees to take breaks. Encourage your employees to take vacation days. And lead by example. The easiest (and most effective) way to ensure your employees stay less stressed is by allowing for flexible work scheduling. This is becoming more of the norm, and we agree, it’s a cheap (and free) effective way to make employees happy.

At viperks, smiling employees is our business. Offering perks and rewards through our exclusive employee-only online discount shopping platform is just another easy way to turn your unhappy employees into engaged employees.

Share your employee experiences in the comments below or start a conversation with us on Facebook and Twitter at @getviperks.

Topics: Employee Happiness

blog author

Eric Golubitsky

Eric brings 18+ years of entrepreneurial experience. Eric founded S.M.I.L.E. Inc. in 1998, which was a Consumer Electronic Pro Top 100 home automation provider and was recognized as the #1 fastest growing company in NE Ohio by CWRU Weatherhead School of Management in 2003. As an Ernst & Young "Entrepreneur of the Year" finalist in 2005, Eric's accomplishments have been recognized multiple times including the Consumer Electronics Association's national "Mark of Excellence Award." Eric is also a 5 year member of EO (Entrepreneurs Organization).