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3 tips to not be a disgruntled employee

Whether you are in the private or public sector, you probably at some point in your career have thought about doing it -- quitting a job and leaving your boss with a few well-chosen words. Although it can be very tempting to make a memorable departure -- remember JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater’s exit via an evacuation slide, holding a beer in his hand? – it's oftentimes wiser to address the issues directly and productively rather than letting emotions run amok.

While the Slater incident may strike a nerve with frustrated employees, it also serves as cautionary tales for failures in workforce communications, says Alexandra Levit, consultant and workforce expert. Here she offers advice on how to get the dialog going and how to avoid becoming a disgruntled employee – or having to deal with one.

1. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

If you have frustrations about your workplace, the first thing to do is to think about it from a rational perspective. Consider whether your issue is something that can be reasonably changed and ask yourself if you have ideas to bring to the table that could help solve the problem, Levit said.

“The worst thing you could possibly do is go to someone and just start complaining without any kind of solution whatsoever,” she said. “That’s not going to endear you to anyone. Ask whether it can reasonably be changed and whether you can come up with some logical ideas for at least implementing change on a small scale."

That small scale is important, she notes. Solutions involving big investments or hiring dozens of new employees aren't going to go over well. But if there are tweaks that can be made, approach your manager and ask for his or her guidance. Sometimes, it can be as easy as just the two of you working together on implementing something, Levit said, and other times changes could require more people and more involvement from the actual department where you work. However, your boss could be the first step in getting guidance on how to push your ideas further, she added. 

“Don’t be afraid to be proactive about conflict resolution,” Levit stressed. “If you got something that’s really bothering you, whether it’s an individual or a situation, approach it in a productive way.”

2. Be open to feedback.

When you approach your boss about a problem, don’t let your emotional turmoil overshadow any feedback you might be receiving.

“The reason your boss is your boss is hopefully because this person has leadership skills and can guide you to whether this is something that should be pursued and how to pursue it in a way that is diplomatic and politically correct, which is especially important in a government agency,” Levit said. “You don’t want to be stepping on any toes – it’s not going to look good.”

If you’re on the other side and as a manager have to deal with a disgruntled employee, communications is key. Be open and listen to your employee and really think about what he or she has to say. Are his or her frustrations valid? Is this the first time these issues have been brought to light?

Managers should also realize that a dustup could occasionally be a much better alternative to an employee who “simmers and simmers for months on end,” Levit said.

“I’m not saying it’s good for an employee to go ranting and raving about their company,” she said, “but at least you got something that you can really say is a huge problem and it needs to be fixed.’

3. Worst-case scenario? Do damage control.

After State Department official Kirit Amin in early October criticized his employer in an interview with Federal News Radio, it took two days and a denunciation from the American Foreign Service Association before he issued his mea culpa. In most cases, the window to do effective damage control is limited, especially if you have been quoted by the media or have taken to social media to vent. If social media have been your weapon of choice, the first thing to do when you begin feeling regret over what you have said is to remove the offending post or tweet you posted, Levit said.

“There’s a lot that should never be posted online, such as anything political or anything remotely defamatory in anyway” she said. “You have to think about what you type online because it’s public and it will get out and to the person who shouldn’t be reading it.”

Twitter, especially, can be “really, really dangerous, because it’s not a private forum in any stretch of the imagination,” Levit said.

“Complains about your work, your boss – it’s temping because you feel it’s a manner of self-expression; you’re letting off steam,” she said. But before you log on, “call your mom or your best friend, go out and have a drink and make sure no one is sitting there listening!’

If the offending post cannot be removed and shows up in online searches, Levit suggests pushing as much positive content so that the negative content gets dropped down in the search results.

“If you can’t make it go away and everyone has seen it, you have to go to the people who matter and say, ‘You know what? I did this and it was a mistake and I learned my lesson. I promise it will never happen again.’ Take responsibility for the fact that it was a bad choice,” she said.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Oct 21, 2011 at 12:19 PM


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Reader comments

Wed, Oct 26, 2011

Reply to the #0 tip - Do you really want to be one of those higher-up? I find life in the pit to be infinitely preferable! Some things are not worth any amount of money to do.

Wed, Oct 26, 2011

Not understanding what a "gruntled" employee is - much less a "disgruntled" one the simplest way to deal with it all is to be grateful you HAVE a job and think of all those who would trade places with you in a New York minute, so to speak--

Tue, Oct 25, 2011

Tip #0 - Sacrifice your all for the greater glory of those specially chosen to be higher (therefore BETTER) than you lowly scum-of-the-earth workers.

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 Randy

While I tend to agree with the bullet points of the article, DrJEA has some good points. In my organization, it is difficult, if not impossible to operate as the article suggests -- Be part of the solution: In times of salary freezes and superiors that protect their family and friends, any attempt to create a better workplace is met with extreme resistance. -- Open to Feedback: This would be great if there was constructive feedback, instead of "If you don't like it here you can just leave." Management that shoves this sort of attitude down is difficult to work with. -- Do damage control: In some organizations, this is a daily task, just to keep the remainder of the workforce at their jobs and working. Use of social networks isn't the answer, because anything you say on places like Twitter and Facebook will undoubtedly come back to haunt you later. -- What to do? To whatever extent possible, manage up. Try to create the best environment possible by putting forth a positive persona. If all else fails, punt.

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 DrJEA

Consider that when the economy was good, this would have been an article title, '3 Tips on how not to create disgruntled employees'. - As the economy has continued down the proverbial toilet, jobs that pay more than minimum wage have become a rare commodity, and the government has become the employer with the most jobs that pay more than minimum wage. As a result of the Great Depression 2 (called a recession to prevent hurting the feelings of and thereby generating a backlash of anger and ‘you’ll pay for that remark’ actions by the conservative, pro-big business, pro-ultra wealthy politicians who caused the current debacle); the take on articles about employment and how employees should act have become focused more on keep the boss happy or else you might lose your job to someone more willing to be assimilated. – The reality is, the message that is being pushed in this, and others like it, is that, no matter how illogical or absurd the actions by those in charge, employees need to toe the party line, or suffer the consequences. - Which is sad, because the issues involving how to create the best work environment, employee satisfaction and the like that were being looked at prior to this 2nd Great Depression, are still there, and still need to be addressed if the government does not want to face a great brain and talent drain when times get better. Or, in other words, articles currently emphasize why it is important for the employees to conform when the emphasis should be on how supervisors and management should curb their desires to operate from a, if you want to keep your job, love and support everything I say and do point of view.

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