Business scenario: 6 signs of employee dissatisfaction you should address now

July 10, 2018

Everyone wants employees who love their jobs, engage with customers, and contribute to a business’ success. Yet many don’t fit that profile. In fact, nearly 50 percent of employees say that they’re dissatisfied, according to a recent Conference Board survey.

When employees are unhappy, they disconnect from their jobs. They begin underperforming—and undercutting the great customer experience that independent establishments depend on.

For small business owners, it’s important to regularly scan the workplace for discontent. Here are six signs that something is amiss and needs fixing immediately.

1. It’s quieter than normal.

At first glance, it may seem like there’s less chatting and fooling around. People are more focused on the tasks at hand. So why worry?

Beneath the surface, workplace conflict may be taking a toll on both employees and the business. Ask the staff why they’re interacting less. Listen carefully to alternate views, but steer people away from angry accusations.

Instead, try to frame interpersonal problems as process problems: How can we change the daily routines to prevent this from happening? How can we communicate better so small problems don’t escalate?

By getting people to work on finding solutions, business owners can steer the team back on track.

2. The gossip mill churns.

Instead of no talking, the opposite phenomenon can also occur, as people huddle in private chats. Their talk may be innocent, of course. But it may also point to deep-seated unhappiness.

Toxic workplaces are marked by negativity, tearing down others, and destructive gossip. For business owners, toxicity can be a reflection of their own weak leadership. While painful to confront, it’s a problem that can be corrected by cultivating a supportive workplace.

In supportive workplaces, employees are valued and acknowledged. People form a close-knit group who enjoy the tasks, the mission, and each other. A few simple actions can make a difference.

Recognize people’s efforts. Praise them publicly and often. Be transparent about the business’ challenges and successes, and encourage others to collaborate and treat each other respectfully. As a bonus, business owners might take the team on outings or retreats—a great way to celebrate and bond, even on a shoestring budget.

3. People stroll in late (if at all).

One telltale sign that people are checking out is when they regularly show up late or call in sick. Not only does this dampen productivity, but it also puts an extra burden on the people who are there—lowering job satisfaction for everyone.

Employers need to deal with excessive tardiness and absence. Talk with people and find out what’s going on. Do they have transportation problems? Are their shift times unmanageable? Do they need more predictability in when and where they work?

Consider using software such as Time Clock by Homebase, which quickly creates schedules and sends them via text or email to staff. Employees are able to swap shifts with teammates, request time off, and update their availabilities instantly. Letting people gain some control can go a long way toward boosting morale.

If problems persist, most HR pros recommend progressive discipline. The process might start with a verbal warning, proceed to a written warning, then a suspension, and finally termination, with each step thoroughly documented in writing to avoid legal exposure.

4. A star employee burns out.

When applied to the workplace, the 80/20 rule says that 80 percent of output comes from 20 percent of employees. The best employees, then, are critical for success. When a reliable performer begins lagging on the job, business owners must act. It could be a signal that all is not well.

Meet with the employee and try to find out what’s wrong. In many cases, people feel stuck in their jobs, unable to advance. The 2017 Conference Board survey on workplace satisfaction found that only 25 percent of respondents were happy with their employers’ promotion policies, and 31 percent with job training.

While another position might not be available, consider other avenues of advancement. Entrust valuable team members to make some business decisions on their own. Train them to handle the work schedules, purchasing, and bookkeeping. Developing new skills and experiences can benefit everyone, even you.

5. No one exerts much effort.

You know you have a problem when employees don’t speak up or offer ideas. They resist putting in any extra effort. They’re indifferent to the customers. The business simply won’t survive without a radical shift in attitudes.

While the problem is huge, the solution can be surprisingly simple: recognition. In a study conducted by the O.C. Tanner Institute and documented in Appreciate: Celebrating People, Inspiring Greatness, employees ages 25-35 were asked what their boss or company could do to motivate great work. Standing out among all the answers was “recognize me,” cited by 41 percent of respondents.

Small business owners need to show that they see and appreciate efforts. Give employees paths to more responsibility, learning, and even pay. Consider inexpensive perks to make daily life more enjoyable. And make acknowledging and celebrating a job well done part of the culture.

6. Turnover has spiked.

People don’t leave companies. They leave bosses. It’s a common saying that’s very often true.

Whether the expressed reason is lack of recognition, inflexible scheduling policies, less-than-competitive pay, toxic coworkers, suboptimal working conditions, or blocked career paths, all roads lead back to the boss.

When turnover rises, it’s time to act fast. Sit down with employees before they depart and ask what triggered their job search. Employers should address specific concerns unearthed in exit interviews, while also keeping an eye on the bigger picture: creating a great working environment.

Nothing attracts and keeps employees like a positive workplace. Millennials, in particular, who make up a third of all workers, enjoy having control over their schedules, receiving meaningful training opportunities, and feeling like valuable contributors on a team.

In the busyness of running a business, it’s easy to lose touch with how employees are doing. But when people sour on their jobs, the business can go down with them. Learn to spot the signs of unhappiness—and build a positive workplace that prospers.

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