5 Signs employees are unhappy at work

A quick summary:

  • What makes staff unhappy at work?
  • Signs employees are unhappy at work
  • What to do when employees are unhappy
  • Final thoughts on employees being unhappy at work
  • Meet Heka!

Right now, there are millions of employees who are unhappy at work. Whether it’s a dislike for their job, manager or both, their attitude and behaviours are discreetly bringing down businesses left, right and centre.

That said, are they to blame? This is a case-by-case question. However, if you’re employees are unhappy at work, there are traits you must know about and resolutions you should try.

As a leader you must ask yourself, are you truly aware of the various signs of unhappy staff? Do you really know the implications of team members being unhappy at work?

As an employee wellbeing platform, and the reason hundreds of people enjoy their workplace benefits, we understand the signs perfectly well.

Below, we’re going to assess why tiredness and exhaustion may indicate unhappy staff; we’ll look at why complaints from co-workers must be heard and how a lack of participation or social interaction might be a sign.

Afterwards, we’ll turn our attention to what you should do when employees are unhappy at work, analysing how you can solve these problems.

An employee being unhappy at work
What makes employees unhappy at work?

What makes for unhappy staff?

Let’s get started by understanding what makes employees unhappy at work. Is it a role? A certain task? Is it a manager or a group of employees? Is it the pay or a lack of meaningful benefits?

These are all great questions and possibilities. The reality is that it can be a combination of these things. If happiness was so linear, there’d be fewer employees who are unhappy at work.

To give you a better chance of improving happiness and job satisfaction, we’ve done the research for you. Below, we’ve compiled a short list of what makes employees unhappy at work.

A lack of balance between work and life

Recent years have proven that employees become unhappy at work when they lack a healthy work-life balance.

Take the COVID-19 pandemic for example, as people moved their workspaces to their living room or kitchen counters, many found themselves working longer hours, unable to disconnect from their work.

According to one article published by The Independent, those working from home did nearly twice as much unpaid work while working from home than those who never worked from home in 2020.

The fact of the matter is that a lack of work-life balance isn’t healthy and can have detrimental impacts on our health and wellbeing, and can make us unhappy at work.

No opportunity to grow

Our next reason why employees become unhappy at work is due to a lack of growth opportunities. It’s no secret that we all want to progress and become the best version of ourselves, both in and outside the workplace.

When our careers lack the opportunity to grow and become more successful, we hit a wall of discontent. Our day-to-day duties become more of a toil, and we care less about the quality of our work — in a nutshell, this is what it looks like to be unhappy at work.

Businesses fall when they prioritise their own success over that of their people. If managers want to avoid employees becoming unhappy at work, they must start by understanding what they want to achieve.

All in all, companies can and should work with their team to succeed, because believe it or not, it is possible. Check out this article by LinkedIn for some creative ways to promote growth in the workplace.

Unsupported and poor workplace relationships

Our final reason for unhappy staff is unsupported and poor workplace relationships. In any organisation, leaders must encourage better communication, collaboration and socialisation amongst employees.

A lack of commitment from both employer and employee leads to poor quality relationships. And as we know, when people thrive together, as one, they produce greater results.

This last point is different in that it’s a reason for being unhappy at work that isn’t completely in the control of the employer.

Managers can only encourage healthier relationships. They can only put on social events and try to bring people together.

The decision is ultimately in the hands of the employee. Do they want to mix more with their colleagues? Are they interested in developing true friendships with their colleagues?

Let’s not forget that this is much easier when employers focus on employee relationship building. Without attention or care, it will definitely be much harder.

Now let’s look at those signs employees are unhappy at work!

A female employee smiling while sat at here laptop
Signs employees are unhappy at work

5 signs employees are unhappy at work

Below, we've compiled some of the most obvious signs of unhappy staff. From tiredness and exhaustion to a lack of participation in social events, grab a pen, paper and start assessing your workforce with the below points.

Tiredness and exhaustion

Our first sign of an employee who’s unhappy at work is tiredness and exhaustion. Of course, this doesn’t always mean they’re unhappy at work. After all, life can be busy, and in the always-on culture that we live in, tiredness and exhaustion are pretty common.

Many of us are prone to tiredness and exhaustion, and it signals a well-needed rest — that’s normal. However, some, especially in the workplace, feel constantly fatigued by work commitments!

Unlike other signs on this list that indicates unhappy staff, the line between general tiredness and exhaustion can be hard to distinguish. For this reason, simply asking employees about their sleeping habits is the best approach.

Some of these traits of an unhappy employee are easily associated with being unhappy at work, but some are not so clear. People are different, and we must respect that we mustn’t make assumptions entirely about others’ happiness.

If it’s obvious that a member of your team appears to be struggling with exhaustion, you’ll notice some key signs, which we’ve listed below.

Signs of tiredness and exhaustion in the workplace

  • Falling asleep accidentally
  • Difficulty with memorising and concentrating
  • Bad eating habits
  • Stressed easily

A toxic attitude towards work

In some cases, employees unhappy at work will make their feelings known through a toxic attitude towards their duties and colleagues. This can quickly deteriorate the performance and productivity of other employees, so it must be quashed as quickly as possible.

What’s more, some experts believe emotions are contagious, and that counts for both negative and positive emotions. Due to this, a toxic attitude can spread throughout teams and businesses, causing potential long-term damage, and creating staff who are unhappy at work.

Although these individuals can cause detrimental issues to the business, it doesn’t mean this toxicity isn’t irreversible. Great leaders will listen and take action to support unhappy employees, and other managers will push these employees to one side, allowing for further destruction.

Signs of toxic attitudes at work

  • Employees gossip with one another
  • Disrespect amongst employees is very blatant.
  • Low attention and concentration when others are speaking
  • Arguments erupt at short notice and for little reason

Complaints from co-workers and customers

Closely following a toxic attitude, employees who are vocal with complaints at work towards co-workers and customers are a cause for concern. This is especially worrying when these complaints are aimed at customers, who, with the power of social media, can cause havoc to brand reputation.

When it’s aimed at other co-workers, staff turnover, general team morale, and job satisfaction sink; not only for the complainer but those around them too.

As we previously mentioned above, negativity can be contagious. If certain employees are unhappy at work and vocal about it, they are likely to put others in a similar mood and mindset.

Complaints of any matter and from any stakeholder should be dealt with effectively. Compile statements and conduct discussions to get to the root of the problem — don’t make assumptions.

It’s wrong to assume that employee conflicts or disagreements are coming from a place of being unhappy at work, but it cannot be ruled out. Instead, start by speaking with relevant individuals to find out if there’s any other reason for complaints, arguments or disagreements.

As for customers, ask for reviews and their thoughts on the service or product they received. Below, we’ve listed some of the ways you can assess complaints and disagreements among staff and customers.

Signs to look out for when it comes to complaints

  • Passive-aggressive tone in how they talk
  • Discriminatory comments and attitude in conversation
  • Customers regularly raise concerns with particular employees
  • The attitude amongst other employees becomes toxic

Recommended read: 4 ways to build strong working relationships

Two employees enjoying a conversation on their lunch break
Lack of participation in social activities

Lack of participation in social activities outside of work 

A lack of participation in social activities outside of work isn’t all too uncommon. In some cases, people either have other commitments or just don’t feel like it. However, if sociable employees gradually start becoming less and less involved in activities, it may be a sign of being unhappy at work.

This may be a way to exhibit their unhappiness and a way to be heard. These team members are unlikely to leave, but leaders should see this lack of participation in social activities as an early warning sign and an opportunity to intervene.

With some of these signs of employees who are unhappy at work, it’s about resolving issues before they become damaging. This is one in particular that leaders should carefully assess.

It isn’t just a lack of participation that can be the problem, but also the lack of opportunity to participate, i.e how often does your company put on social events? Remember, creating employees who aren’t unhappy at work is a joint effort. The social wellbeing of your team is crucial to the success of your business.

Work together with employees, and if need be, make it known that you are willing and ready to support your team, should they feel unhappy at work. It’s conversations around job satisfaction and general happiness that just don’t happen enough in the workplace.

How to spot a lack of participation amongst your team

  • Declining invitations without consideration
  • Unhappy with any and all social activities
  • Gradually attending fewer events
  • Leaving early or arriving late

Productivity and performance dip substantially

Last but not least, one of the major red flags of unhappy staff is a dip in productivity and performance. When people become unhappy at work, the first symptom is diminishing interest in work-related duties and quality of work.

Believe it or not, more than half of UK workers reportedly class themselves as being unhappy at work, according to Personal Group. This highlights just how consequential job satisfaction can be to business; and how necessary it is to maintain productivity and performance.

This said, a substantial dip, almost instantaneously, can be a big sign of unhappy employees. Yes, people can gradually grow unhappy at work, but an instant shift in attitude should ring alarm bells for leaders.

Things like annual reviews just aren’t enough to increase and sustain productivity and performance. Leaders must take a proactive approach to increasing productivity and performance; one that focuses on motivating employees and treating them well.

When employees are empowered, instead of bullied into increasing their output, the chance of them becoming unhappy at work is much less likely. What processes have you put in place to create productive and successful — yet, happy — employees?

Some signs of lacking productivity and performance

  • Employees are suffering from poor time management
  • Staff experiencing increased stress levels in a tense environment
  • Constantly missing deadlines
  • An almost instant disconnect from work duties

What to do when employees are unhappy

Now let’s discuss your next move. You have all the answers, you’ve asked all the questions and assessed all the signs, but what do you do with this data? We strongly recommend carrying out wellbeing meetings on a regular basis.

Additionally, you might want to try some kind of health and wellbeing survey for employees. It’s things like this that can really help you get to the root of a problem, especially around personal topics like mental health and wellbeing.

We’ve all been in a position where speaking up makes us feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. These initiatives aim to soothe that issue. Ideally, leaders should aim to refocus their company culture to a more supportive, honest and open workplace — this can help tremendously when dealing with team members who are unhappy at work.

Leaders must recognise that employees are unhappy at work due to a number of things. As we said above, improvements must be made at a cultural level. New initiatives are okay, but shifting the style of leadership, the culture of an organisation, and the wellbeing of people must be the first move.

Employees enjoying a coffee together at work
Final thoughts on employees who are unhappy at work

Final Thoughts on employees being unhappy at work

There you have it, reasons why employees become unhappy at work, plus five red flags you should look out for in the workplace as a leader. Whilst these all have negative implications on customers, other employees, and the business as a whole, you should approach these with compassion and empathy.

After all, unhappy staff may be suffering from issues outside of work, some of which might be causing a lot of stress, anxiety, and even depression in their lives. Poor management will see these signs as reasons to fire employees, and that’s definitely not what we recommend.

Tackling these problems in an effective manner will see much better results. Helping people to go from being unhappy at work to improving job satisfaction can make all the difference. From lower levels of burnout, happier team members, and a boost in productivity, performance, and team morale.

How Heka helps eliminate any chance of being unhappy at work

Heka is an employee wellbeing platform built on personalisation. Over time, our platform learns how users like to support their personal health and wellbeing. And with more than 3,000 unique wellbeing experiences, there’s something for anyone and everyone in your organisation.

If you’d like to find out more about Heka and how our wellbeing platform can boost your employees’ mental and physical wellbeing, book a demo with our team.

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