Don't Ignore the Sad Employee...Dig In and Have the Talk

Whenever I would see one of my happy employees looking like they have had better days or were not quite themselves, I would typically give them some space, just enough. If after some time I still saw them in this state, I would always make sure to check in with them. Engaging with them here is a must. As a leader who cares about her employees, I want to know purely out of concern. Plus, if they are feeling down, having their manager not give a damn will definitely add fuel to their sad-fire. Something that you could easily put to rest by showing proper (yes, proper) concern. 

Short on Time? Watch my 3 minute video on the importance of being in tune with your employees moods and its affect on everyone's performance!

Conversation cultivates understanding

Conversation will enlighten you to their perspective, provide understanding of their current experiences and insight on how you can help. Keeping a pulse on how each individual on the team is feeling and sensing when they are unhappy (work related or not) is vital to reassuring them you are by their side through the ups and the downs. Work related or not, you are offering something very special: a listening ear, care and concern, someone to talk to. Talking with this person takes the relationship beyond a working one, you are invested in their well-being in all regards. Without conversations like these, very happy and committed people will question whether they are valued at your company. They will not feel the reciprocity of support from you when they need it themselves. Don’t be oblivious to those who provide for you, especially the ones who are usually strong, recognizing this will show that they are truly seen by you.

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Plus, this conversation is for your own benefit! We don’t want to slip into becoming annoyed by the sight of this person, and that will happen if we allow them to carry on in a prolonged funk. They will begin to affect everyone around them, it is your responsibility to filter and remedy that.

I don’t like my job vs. I don’t love my work: The difference is quite mighty.

My former life of running a doggie daycare, boarding, grooming salon and veterinary hospital always prompted an envious response, almost everyone wants to have an impact on our pets for a living. And it absolutely is one of the best places to spend your days. Not surprisingly, everyone we employed would be incredibly excited at this opportunity. But eventually, once the puppies and rainbows had danced from their heads, the time would come when the job would become frustrating. As in all industries, we had our own triggers: a particularly busy season, working Christmas/Thanksgiving or both, customer service (which can wear on the best of us), numbers not being right, ideas gone bust, flatlines, or just personal strife with work. These frustrating times may last a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. 

The chances of working anywhere for a given amount of time and not having these days come around is just not possible. And it is OK. Completely OK. As a boss, I reassured them that they were all good in my eyes by reminding them: if you wrote out your dream job description you would still hate it sometimes. Because those times do come, it is part of life. Giving them the perspective that this is normal provides a few things:

~ Breath of relief: they can express their feelings without fear of repercussions, no pretending needed. Be open and ready to hear what they have to say. 

~ Comfort through acceptance: accepting their feelings as normal makes it a less scary situation. Coupled with providing support can get them through and back to an engaged state.

~ Slows down their need for an ultimatum: talking it out allows them to work through it and not yet ask the scarier question of if they need to quit. A re-righting of the ship if you will.

~ A Reference Point, which is very, very important: learning the difference between when it is a funk and when it is beyond saving. We all have different thresholds of what is worth pushing through. Pushing through and experiencing a shift back to being ‘in like’ with your job provides data for the future. If it is becoming a more difficult shift to make, that may be your cue to take a closer look at your situation. (For me, if I was resenting my job on Sundays, my day off, my own time and I was being plagued by negative thoughts of my work? That was it, time to act.)

How do you help them recognize the difference: the tipping point

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So how long should anyone continue not liking their job, being unhappy, hoping for the phase to pass? Because continuing down this road too long will cause anyone to slip into becoming ‘that’ employee. The sad sack. Grumpy Gus. Debbie Downer. And the bitter spiral continues since no one can pull them out of this except themselves. It will take a toll on your team. Here’s the key: If the bout of time lasts beyond not liking the job but actually no longer loving the work your team is committed to doing, then that is a different ballgame.

Don’t count the days…make the days count.
— Muhammad Ali

Having the awareness and the courage to engage your employees when you see them struggling will always serve you well. Address them openly rather than sliding it under the rug allowing it to fester. This will show honor to yourself, to those around you, and to the work that is being done. If their level of engagement has slipped into disgruntled it is only a short amount of time before it affects everyone. Putting this on the table is scary at first, but you will feel much better once addressed. Everyone on the team is very aware of what is happening. Seeing you engage a team member with a process of allowance, acceptance, conversation, and accountability will show everyone that being human is supported, but not to the point that it is detrimental to everyone else who is showing up 100%.

Our emotions are signals to take action. It is up to us to listen.