Management Techniques For Turning an Unhappy Worker Into A Happy One

Management Techniques For Turning an Unhappy Worker Into A Happy One

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Unhappiness is a strong emotion. Left unchecked, it can swallow a person whole, affecting every single strand of their life.

Finding and dealing with the source of this unhappiness is key. For many people, the source of the problem is easily identified – work.

However, delve deeper into why an employee is super-cranky and over-sensitive at work is slightly harder. Putting the problem into words can be difficult. Sometimes it can be attributed to how they think their colleagues treat them, how management treats them. Customers and clients can be the source of unhappiness, or leading them to just generally feeling undervalued.

Quite often, people are bored, no longer challenged by the box that they feel they have been put in or fell into. Their attempts to change or climb out the ‘box’ are thwarted; turned down for a promotion yet again. The salt rubbed into the wound is that the person appointed to the position has been with the company five minutes, is nowhere near as qualified as them etc. etc. etc.

You can see the pattern emerging. Even though they try to get themselves out of the unhappy mess, circumstance seems to build against them.

As their manager, you are expected to understand workplace psychology and even though you may not have the immediate solutions to hand, you will be expected to work with the employee to make them happy again.

Joking aside, the behaviour of a cranky employee can also cause huge problems within the workplace in the longer term. As you realise that you have an unhappy employee, you know it is time to put all the information and knowledge gained from business management courses online to good use, and start to work with your employees.

Check out this 10-point guide to help you…

#1 One-to-ones

Business is booming, you are all run off your feet and as a result, important aspects of running a business can be pushed to the side as they slip down the ladder of priority. One-to-one supervision sessions are one of them.

However, this means that your employees are lacking the very forum that they need in order to talk through aspects of their work that is causing them a problem. Sometimes, they just need to moan, to let off steam that Sarah never washes her cup, James is always late and Peter never puts the bins out.

As a manager, you may not be expected to fix everything but, if the employee does want you to act, you will be expected to do so in a way that moves the problem on with a solution that fits most, if not all employees.


No pressure there then?!

#2 Coaching

Workplace psychology courses will talk about the need to coach colleagues. This is an ideal solution in many ways.

Spot an unhappy, cranky employee who has been this way for a few weeks and coaching could be the answer to discovering the cause, and solving the problem.

As a short term, task orientated process, coaching is when someone works alongside another colleague. This may be as a training type activity by which a colleague is coached with new skills or systems.

It is also a way of working with a less-than chirpy colleague to see what the problem is. Maybe they have a genuine gripe and that no one has been listening…

#3 Pay attention

Again, when things are busy and you have a deadline to meet, our focus shifts and, without realising it, you have become blind to some things that may be happening in the office or on the shop floor, etc.

If you do have a disgruntled employee, is there possibly something you are not aware of? Workplace bullying, for example, is sadly very common and is not always immediately obvious. Spend time observing – who is interacting with whom? What do these interactions look like?

#4 New projects, new challenges

From a workplace psychology point of view, you perhaps need to be ready for this as some people may say that ‘pull a strop and you get put on a bigger/better project’. However, there are times that the nature of the work the employee is doing is outside of their skill set, leading to frustration and boredom.

As a manager, you need to be constantly assessing what people are working on and how changes can be made to make things better. A cranky employee slogging away on a project for which they have no skills or ability to complete is hard work; for them and you.

#5 Training

There can all kinds of work and personal reasons too for why some people are cranky, distant and grumpy at work.

There is a saying ‘a change is as good as a rest’, so if there is no more holiday entitlement or you don’t feel that this is the answer, training events or attending a seminar can be the perfect pick-me-up and jump start that an employee needs.

This doesn’t mean wasting time and money sending them on a course that is of no value to them or you. Find a training event, conference or seminar that is of interest to them, as well as one that is valued by your business.

#6 Adding more £££

Who wouldn’t love a few thousand pounds more in their bank every month? It rarely solves the problem, which is why most workplace psychology courses will only suggest looking at a pay deal if there is a genuine under payment going on.

Frankly, a cranky employee on £20,000 a year stuck in a job they don’t like will still be cranky if you paid them £40,000 to do the same job. Not only is it unrealistic, but productivity could also drop even more. Why break a sweat when you are taking home such a big slice of the cake?


#7 Time off

Not necessarily the thing that will solve everything because the problem could still be staring them in the face on their return from two weeks in the Maldives. But we’ve all been there, working weeks on end and feeling that we are never out of the place.

A break can mean that a grumpy employee will have time to think about what the issues are and what needs to change. They could also be in a better position to advocate what it is they want or need upon their return.

#8 Home working

Commuting drains people. To get to their desk for 9am, they need to be up at 6am, kids on the doorstep of the local child-minder at 7.23am and at the bus stop for 7.43am…

You get the picture. Maybe they could work from home? It is a growing working pattern that many employees and businesses are benefitting from.

#9 Mentoring

Coaching, as discussed in #2 is a short term, task-orientated process whereby mentoring focuses on developmental issues and relationships. Mentoring is a longer-term process and one that many businesses routinely invest in.

It is a way of helping employees to feel valued and appreciated. Although it sounds great – and it can really work to help people progress – finding the right mentee-mentor match can be tough.

Just because you are their manager doesn’t mean you are their mentor too. You can offer regular supervision or work planning sessions, but being a mentor takes a fair bit of skill and time. There is a fine line between mentoring and counselling, so it’s important to ensure you know the boundaries for both your employee and for yourself too.

As an aside, both mentoring and coaching is only successful if the employee is willing to work through whatever the problem is. If not, then you need to jump to the following point…

#10 Moving on

People are valuable. The skills and abilities they have are what drive your business forward. Any business that stands still in a competitive market place risks being left behind and, worse still, being trampled on as your competitors lurch forward.

Losing people should be the last thing you want. However, there is a heavy dose of reality here for both the cranky employee and for you – they might not be happy because this is no longer the job for them; or the place to work.

Suggesting this is not something that you should a.) do lightly or b.) do at all. This really needs to come from the employee themselves, unless you have a super HR and legal department who can ensure that if you are sacking or making someone redundant it is for the right reasons and not because you are fed up of seeing their misery every day.

If the employee decides to move on, be gracious and help them to do so. A superb reference (but not too gushing, potential employers see through this) as well as making sure that they do not leave on a bad note.

If someone is showing signs of unhappiness at work, rather than letting it fester and build, take positive steps to resolve it.

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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