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How to Win Back Unhappy Employees

Turn an unhappy, unproductive employee into a rockstar employee

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BY Pauline Mendoza - 06 Jul 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There’s no escaping it. No matter how successful your business is or how good you think you are as a team leader, you will still come across at least one unhappy employee. And, if not addressed, dissatisfied employees can adversely impact the company, leading to increased absenteeism, missed deadlines, a negative brand image, leaked confidential company information, and more.

Winning back unhappy employees will not be easy. But if handled properly, you may even turn an unproductive employee into a rockstar. Start by keeping in mind these two things:

Constant communication

Christine Abao, Vice President and Philippine Country Manager at Surefire Social says that it is difficult to measure happiness in the workplace because it varies from person to person. She finds that most companies rely on performance indicators to determine employee happiness—meaning underperforming employees could just be unhappy employees.

Though performance reviews definitely have their place in companies, Abao says this approach in dealing with unhappy employees is problematic. “The problem with this approach is [that] it’s reactive in nature. By the time you see the failing numbers, the employee is already in a state of discontent, or worse, desperation.”

She continues, “What we've learned through the years is that while numbers don't lie, determining employee happiness is always done better through constant communication.” In her company, she adds, they take the time to get to know the people they work with—and they listen.

Marcel Schwantes writes in this Inc. article that there is a new era of HR—getting rid of exit interviews and replacing them with “stay interviews.” He writes, “[U]nlike the exit interview, managers are getting fresh insight into improving the work environment or their own leadership skills to retain those valued employees—today—not after they have emotionally disconnected and stopped caring.”

The stay interview sends a positive message to employees that they are valued and that leaders are taking steps to improve the workplace by listening to what they have to say. Schwantes outlines in his article the five must-ask questions: “What do you like about your job?,” “Describe a good day of work you had recently,” “Do you feel your skills are being utilized to the fullest?,” “Do you feel you get properly recognized for doing good work?,” and “Do you feel like you are treated with respect?”

Employee engagement

Another thing that boosts motivation is a good employee engagement program. “We make sure that it is a priority project for HR. Simple initiatives we do like block screenings, free meals, employee of the month awards let people know that we recognize and appreciate them,” Abao shares.

She adds, “You get to see those small corners that numbers often do not show. More importantly, you get the chance to help people feel better at work.”

However, despite having all these employee engagement programs and regular communication, there are still cases where an employee's happiness no longer depends on the company. Abao says, “We have to accept that we cannot win back all unhappy employees. We can only try, and at the very least, listen to what they have to say.”