11 Obvious Signs that your Employees are Unhappy

As a business owner, you are likely to have a lot on your plate – from attending meetings with partners and clients to making executive decisions to boost sales. And often, one of the most important assets of your organization – the employees – is of a secondary concern to you. So much that you may fail to notice when the level of their satisfaction with the job gradually drops.

Every entrepreneur is likely to feel a sense of achievement when they hire a new employee who is, of course, the right person for the job. But very few of them realize that with the end of the recruitment process begins the process of integration, training, talent nurturing and recognition. Only by being invested in your employees, you could expect them to remain motivated, stay productive and enjoy coming to work.

So what are the cues that you should look for, which usually indicate that your workers are unhappy? And what can you do to remedy the problem?

What are the indicators of an unhappy workforce?

1.    They do the bare minimum

If you notice that your employees are merely going through the motions at work, this is a sign that something is not quite right. Their lack of energy prompts them to do the minimum or even less, showing no interest in the outcome of any given task. The unhappy worker no longer believes that their input is of any importance. Due to a prevailing feeling of apathy, they don’t have a sense of purpose in their job anymore.

2.    Backstabbing and showing hostility

Talking behind colleagues’ backs is a “clandestine affair”, which you may not be aware of at first. However, the general vibe of hostility in the office, the overheard rumors and toxic hints are a sure signal of an ongoing gossip culture within the team. As a result, internal complaints eventually become on the rise. And whether someone drops a sarcastic comment or vents their frustration out loud, this usually indicates that an overall negative and unhappy work atmosphere reigns at the office.

3.    Clock-watching and smartphone fidgeting

It is not out of the ordinary to spot the growing excitement of your staff on a Friday afternoon when there is just an hour left before the work day ends. However, tracking the time every few minutes on a daily basis means that your employer simply dislikes being at work. The same goes for the constant fidgeting and the regular checking of their smartphone. “I wish I wasn’t here!” is what these nonverbal signals indicate.

4.    Alienation and disengagement

When employers stop engaging with one another and close themselves off, they slowly become alienated from their environment. This isolation from the work process may exhibit itself in some sort of daydreaming behavior, unnatural and prolonged periods of silence throughout the day, or even in an outright inattentiveness.

5.    Unwillingness to collaborate

Managers expect staff to show a certain level of willingness when it comes to completing a task, cooperating in a process of exchanging ideas, or sharing their opinion on a particular project. If you see that your employees lack alacrity and seem reluctant to collaborate, then, something is definitely wrong with their sense of belonging to the team.

6.    Visual signals and body language

Frowning faces, a depressing tone of voice, or frequent sighs are only some of the signs that can give you a clue about your employees’ disinterest in their work. You can also detect that a worker is bored by observing their body language. Just check if they stare a lot at a blank space, have their head supported by the palm with their eyes rolling back, or doze off at their desk on occasions.

7.    Non-attendance at social events and team building activities

Not being able to join a team building activity once in awhile is quite normal but if your employee avoids, at all costs, every social gathering that you organize for your staff, it usually means that they do not feel comfortable to be even associated with your company.

8.    Truancy from work

Pulling a sickie one too many times in the last month could be an indicator of habitual absenteeism, where the “guilty” worker would do anything to avoid coming to work. Recurrent tardiness is another sign to look for if you suspect that your employee is not satisfied with their job. And don’t be surprised if you see their resignation notice soon on your desk!

9.    Increase in customer complaints

Regular mistakes and half-done tasks inevitably trigger an increase in customer complaints and bad feedback. Your staff’s poor job performance is also a sign that your employees are not happy because they clearly do not take pride in what they do.

10. Lack of creativity and motivation

When creativity levels drop within your team, you can consider this as a sure signal that your employees are demotivated and, thus, unhappy. Only content and inspired people can generate new ideas, have a problem-solving approach at work and feel enthusiastic about exchanging opinions.

11. Team spirit in the dumps

Does a culture of “everyone for themselves” rule in the office? If teamwork is absent and activities, such as brainstorming sessions and work discussions, become somewhat a rarity, this also indicates that something is amiss. A happy workforce consists of individuals who interact, chat and help each other at work.

How to change negative attitudes in demotivated employees?

Understand the root of the problem

Not understanding why your employees are unhappy will most certainly hinder you on the path to remedying the situation. Let’s outline some of the factors that may affect your staff’s morale and motivation.

The lack of recognition and the feeling of being underappreciated more often than not transform the diligent and conscientious employee into a disgruntled and frustrated team member. Stagnant remuneration, the lack of room for advancement and development, as well as a Big Brother type of micromanagement will certainly make your workers consider other job opportunities.

A high turnover at your company may also be due to an established culture of nepotism and favoritism, combined with obvious accountability problems and regular blame games. Furthermore, job dissatisfaction is often triggered by poor communication within departments, as well as by the company being a dead end for new ideas.

So, what are the ways to manage an unhappy workforce?

1.    Personal touch

Nowadays, digital channels of communication are a norm at the workplace. But if you, as a manager, do not reach out to your team members face to face, it is likely that you will lose touch with them. This can lead to a range of discrepancies between staff’s expectations and your vision on their performance and level of motivation. Regular one-to-one meetings with your staff are always a good way to keep your finger on the pulse.

2.    Recognition

You may be taking your star employees for granted by assigning them with extra tasks, for which they never get recognized and rewarded. A simple “thank you” can go a long way when it comes to motivating your team to excel at their job performance and stay positive. Regular feedback, even when constructive, will also make your staff feel valued and appreciated.

3.    Address poor leadership

Micromanagement is a failure of leadership. You may be personally guilty of this. Or is it your executive managers who demoralize and demotivate the rest of the team with their persistent controlling behavior? Either way, one thing is for sure! If you invest more trust in your employees, you will notice an increased sense of commitment from them in return.

4.    Improve work/life balance

An overworked workforce is an unhappy workforce. Organizing meetings after work hours is a poor practice that your team will not thank you for. Your employees have a personal life that you should respect by not making them stay overtime on a regular basis. You can also show them that you care by introducing an extra tea break during the working day.

5.    Development opportunities

A huge motivator at work is the opportunity for employees to acquire new skills and grow. Take an honest interest in your staff’s development and provide them with the chance to progress through involving them regularly in various training programs.

6.    Eliminate favoritism

There is nothing more demotivating, if not offensive, for a hard-working employee to experience an outright favoritism at work. The feeling of exclusion it creates among the less favoured is demoralizing. It affects the team as a whole, as well as its productivity. Spreading your attention around more indiscriminately is the answer to a happier team.

7.    Innovation

Believe it or not but constantly breaking down equipment, computers that freeze and doors that squeak just show how much you value your staff, as well as their time and efforts. Invest in upgrading and maintaining the office essentials if you want your employees to feel comfortable, content and motivated.

8.    Refine communication

Misunderstandings at work, due to poor communication, lead not only to stress and frustration among the employees but may have an adverse effect on an entire project in the form of a lost revenue or a customer complaint. On another level, good communication also translates into more honesty between you and your staff. Vague promises, evasive statements and superficial ambiguity are all elements of poor communication between you and your employees.

9.    Perks and bonuses

So, there is the ping-pong table and the coffee machine, which makes a resemblance of a caffeinated drink, right? However, you will have a much happier workforce if you introduce a dynamic reward system that is based on achievement and offer benefits, which have a real and not necessarily tangible value.

10.  Keep your staff posted

It is proven that employees feel more engaged and satisfied with their job if their manager communicates company information with them on a regular basis. Staff also likes to be in-the-know about how their workplace makes a positive impact on the wider community. The direction of the company and its long-term objectives are always of great interest to the motivated employee.

11. Implement elements of horizontal management

The main characteristic of a flat organizational structure is that it renders more freedom and a greater autonomy to the employees. Hence, it is likely that they will feel more satisfied with their job if they enjoy more independence, participate in the decision-making process in specific projects and are trusted with more responsibilities.

In addition, cross-functional teams in a horizontally managed company increase cooperation and efficiency. They empower employees by actively soliciting their input. And a worker with a voice is a happy worker.



Disgruntled employees can cost your business. Your unhappy workforce could be responsible for the increase in customer complaints, dwindling productivity, or for injuries to your business caused by negligence. Furthermore, a diminished company loyalty, a damaged brand reputation and a high employee turnover may also happen due to your dissatisfied staff, which will cost you in the long run.

Your employees are your asset, so look after them! They are an important resource for your company. Help them grow and motivate them, so they excel and drive your business to success.

Recognise their contribution and they will feel proud and happy to be part of your team.


Lisbeth Larose is a business writer for Join Fantastic – a UK company that offers cleaning, handyman, and gardening franchise opportunities. She aims to help future and present entrepreneurs find the right way to success. Her fields of expertise include business, franchising, coaching, human resources and more. You can find Lisbeth on Twitter and Fantastic on Facebook and Twitter.