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

Whenever I would see one of my happy employees looking like they've had better days, I would typically take a ‘low pressure’ approach to start. We all have those times when we are a bit over things. A quick check in with them on the fly to touch base…to let them know if it was a funk, then it's all good. But, if this particular mood continues for more than a month or so, let's have a chat just to make sure.  Most of the time that was that…the funk passed and life carried on.

Engaging with them here is a must, the acknowledgement alleviates anxiety . It’s tempting to justify their mood as “life” and it most likely is, but that doesn’t even matter. Looking out for one another means you recognize those shifts in how they are feeling. We all want to be seen for who we are, not just for the work we put forth. Don’t ignore that chance. Plus, if they are feeling down, having their leader pretend not to notice will definitely add fuel to their sad-fire.

Keeping a pulse on the team is vital. By offering a listening ear you take the relationship beyond a working one, you are invested in their well-being. When this is absent, once very happy and committed people will question whether they are valued at your company. Their loyalty gives way under the strain of uncertainty.

Plus, I guarantee they are more nervous about how they come across, whether their sadness is apparent, will you notice, and the like than you are in having the talk. It's kind of like the good kid who doesn't want to bother you with their problems. Don't wait for them...you go first here and take the difficulty of initiation off of their shoulders. You're the leader, they are waiting for you.

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

My former life of pet care 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 their opportunity. Eventually, there would come a time when the job frustrated them. As in all industries, we had our share of triggers: a relentless summer season, working Christmas/Thanksgiving or both, customer service (which can wear on the best of us), and the fact of caring for animals that can literally do incredible harm to one another or you if they chose.

When the funk sets in, it’s normal, completely OK. Engaging with that person provides a few things:

  • Breath of relief: You gave them permission to not have to hide their feelings and pretend to be all chummy and cheery.

  • Comfort: knowing it’s ‘normal’ makes it less scary. This realization coupled with your support can get them through this rough patch.

  • No ultimatum needed: talking it out allows them to work through it and not jump straight to the scarier question of if they should quit or continue.


The tipping point

So how long should anyone continue on in hopes the funk will pass? Here’s the key: If the bout of time lasts beyond not liking the job but actually no longer loving the work, then that is a different ballgame.

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