When Do Employees Become Unhappy?

How soon is too soon to be unhappy?

Dissatisfied Checked on SurveyWe have lots of research on our hands that show that dissatisfied employees lead to less productive employees, lower customer satisfaction, higher turnover, disengagement, lower morale, disintegrating company culture, and … well, you get the picture.

Knowing that opens a lot of questions. Such as, when and where does that start? No one wakes up one day and over their Triple Venti Half-sweet Non-fat Caramel Macchiato decides that starting today they will be unhappy at work.

Is it just the older workers? Is it these millennials? Is it the whole crew? They were all disloyal, every one of them! (doing my best Humphrey Bogart there).

Before we address that, let me give you a little perspective.

Promises Made

You may remember that feeling you had when you first graduated school. Around 1985 that was me – somewhat. Vaguely fresh out of college will that confidence that all the wonderful education I just got fully prepared me to conquer the world in whatever I chose to do.

I accepted a position as a management trainee with a furniture rental company. It was an 18-month program where I was to train in every phase of store operations. After the training, I would then become an assistant manager in one of the nationwide stores. That was the promise.

Promise Broken

Come 18 months later I am still where I started in credit and collections. I did not get exposure to every phase of the operations. I managed receivables and reduced past due accounts. I wasn’t stuck there because I wasn’t good at it – quite the opposite. I was stuck there because I was very good at it. I took the store from worst to first in the company in receivables with the lowest past due percentage.

But I didn’t sign on to be a collections person.

Be a Team Player

When I spoke with the general manager that they weren’t keeping their end of bargain, I was told I was there because they needed me there. Regardless of whatever promises were made, I would stay in collections as long as I was useful there and I needed to be a “team player” and go along. You ever notice how controlling people use that against you?

So, I became increasingly unhappy. My attitude changed. My performance sank. Receivables became to climb again to unsatisfactory levels.

I was given an ultimatum. I had 30 days to bring things back where they were. An impossible task but I tried. My heart wasn’t in it, however, and I fell short. I was fired.

I was 26.

Is 35 Too Early?

It’s one time I am not proud to be ahead of the curve. Very few become unhappy in the work in their mid-20s – unless they are generally unhappy anyway. Yeah, they exist.

According to a recent study cited in Bloomberg News, many start hating their jobs at age 35. That is about the age of the earliest Millennials. But it doesn’t stop there, It also includes Generation X and late Baby Boomers as well. The study showed that groups older than that also became increasingly unhappy in their work.

Was it because their job sucked? No, it was because their workplace sucked. One interviewee for the study reported that they felt “performance managed to death” and they were unappreciated and unloved.

One in Six Are Discontented

The survey showed that 1 in 6 in the 35 year old age range reported feelings of discontent, about half as many as those of  younger. Explanations varied but centered on lack of appreciation from their boss and a lack of friendly relationships at work. Older employees, usually in the 50 year range, said they felt they were being pushed aside for younger employees.

The problem, then, appears to be cross-generational and cross-cultural. If the problem isn’t Millennials and it isn’t an ethnic culture and it isn’t work ethic, where does the problem lie?

Ten Reasons People Hate Their Job

Author Liz Ryan writing in Forbes Magazine says the top 10 reasons hate their jobs are:

  1. They are not respected.
  2. Management fails to equip them properly for the job.
  3. There is a lack of consideration for their personal life.
  4. Their boss is a tyrant.
  5. They are tired of being lied to.
  6. It’s hard to believe their boss will do the right thing.
  7. Politics in the workplace make it unpleasant.
  8. They feel underpaid and overworked.
  9. Employees feel they are making no progress, both in their careers and projects.
  10. The employee must be constantly on alert because the wrong word or action sends them out the door.

When employees experience these feelings they become unhappy. And we already talked about where that leads.

Solving the Unhappy Employee

The critical question becomes what to do about it? They are unhappy and that downward spiral is ahead. How do I make them happy?

You don’t. Happiness is not your job.

You can, however, create an environment in which an employee can create their own happiness or at least enough satisfaction to become productive again.

Three Ways to Help Employees Become Happy

Have a One-on-One Conversation.
It’s not a time for a reprimand or “counseling session” or even a coaching session. It’s time to ask questions and listen. Discover what is creating the discontent or unhappiness. Don’t argue the points or try to counter. Just ask probing questions and listen. If you are stuck with probing questions to ask, simply use something similar to “That’s interesting. Tell me more.”
Regular Check Ups
Set a reminder on your calendar to follow up with the employee every week for a few months. Simply check in and see how they are doing. What’s new and what’s changed.  The follow up is critical because it goes a step beyond the standard. Think about it. How many times have you had a meeting and nothing came out of it and nothing happened. It’s important you don’t let that happen here.
Catch Them in the Act
Intentionally try to catch them doing something good. Excellent work, a great attitude, over the top cooperation with a team. Anything they can do well that you can notice. Remember that one of the things that made many people unhappy with their jobs was a lack of appreciation.

What jobs did you have where you started off well and grew unhappy with it? How did you handle the change? What do you do with a unhappy employee now?

Share your thoughts here or email me at psimkins@BoldlyLead.com.

OH! If you email me you can also get a FREE copy of my e-book 15 Innovative Ways to Show Employees You Care Without Breaking the Bank. it provides some excellent proven methods for creating connections with your employees at minimal or no cost. If you want to start building engagement, you want this book to help establish those channels of caring.

Cuz I’m Happy!

You have mostly certainly heard it and perhaps seen it.  The song from the movie Despicable Me 2 called Happy.
The song from Pharrell Williams became enormously popular.  The video went viral on the Internet and there is actually a 24 hour music video web site called 24hoursofhappy.com.  Go there and watch at any time of day or night.  The site automatically detects your local time and cues up and plays a video of someone dancing and liHappyp syncing to the song.  Different person and different surroundings depending on the time of day.  It’s a neat little diversion.

What Makes Happy

When I ask people what they really want in life or in business, I hear a lot of the standard replies. “I’d like a better career”, “I’d like to make more money” (hear that one a lot), a better car, a better house, sometimes it’s even “if only I could find the person of my dreams”.
We have a tendency to assign our happiness out to other things and other people as if someone else or something else is responsible for our happiness.
Even when we know, or think we know, what we really need to be happy we let other things get in the way.  We live in a world of instant gratification and so we sometimes take what’s right in front of us instead of what we really want or need to find our happiness.
Zig Ziglar said it best,
[snaptweet]The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what we want most for what we want right now.[/snaptweet]

It’s Your Job

We have to take responsibility for our happiness.  We need to take the necessary actions to achieve that happiness.
[snaptweet]Happiness comes in your reaction to the circumstances, not the circumstances themselves.[/snaptweet]

Work towards the happiness that you truly desire.

  • Take Responsibility for Your Happiness – Don’t try to delegate your happiness out to someone or something else. You and you alone are the determinant for your happiness.
  • Set the Right Priorities to Move Towards Happiness – We let things of the day interfere but when we understand what our priorities are, then that helps us make the decisions to stay on target and moving in the right direction.  It creates focus.
  • Be Positive in Your Daily Outlook – Things happen every day that can be potentially negative.  The positive thinker tries to find the good or benefit in every situation.  It’s not sticking your head in the sand, it is simply refusing to anguish over what we don’t have and work with what we do have to create the best possible scenario.
  • Make Gratitude a Daily Practice – There is both research and anecdotal data suggesting again and again that a regular dose of gratitude leads to a happier life.  In the face of all that, we often fail to show gratitude for what we have, instead focusing on what we don’t have.  Each day, for thirty days, write down at least one thing for which you are grateful.  It must be a different thing each day.  That will build the habit of gratitude thinking.
  • Nurture Relationships – Happiness is built when we are in relationship with other people.  Not one of us on the earth is built to be a hermit!  We are made for relationships.  That does not necessarily mean romantic relationships, but valuable friendships and even acquaintances that build us up and care for us.
  • Be in the Moment – Focus on the now.  When we look back at what was or spend too much time hoping tomorrow is better, we fail to appreciate or fully leverage the moment we have right now.  Wherever you are, be there with your heart, mind, and soul.

So, what’s your action plan?  How are you going to move towards happiness?   Share your thoughts here.

Are You in a Zombie Workplace?

Okay, it’s a little dramatic but it also brings to light a growing trend in the business world today.
Crashing economies, cutbacks, layoffs, and uncertainty leads people to become less engaged in the workplace.
Last year, I wrote about a Forbes magazine article that quotes a Gallup survey stating that over 70% of U.S. workers are less engaged in the workplace.
If that doesn’t shock you, it should!  If you are a small business owner with employees, it should also scare you.

Your Business is in Danger

Engaged TeamAs a business owner, you are especially vulnerable to the consequences of dis-engaged employees.  Teams grow divisive; managers treat employees badly; employees treat each other and customers badly; office theft goes up; productivity goes down drastically.
These people come and they go, they do the 9 to 5, they grow through the motions and do the minimum work to get by, and are not fully engaged.
Everyone loses.
LEADERS are to blame.
Everything Rises and Falls on Leadership -John Maxwell

Six Rules of Engagement

If you are a leader in your environment, here’s some things you can do to fix that and help prevent the zombification of yourself or your employees.
  • KNOW YOUR SELF – Too many times, people don’t realize THEY are the problem.  You have probably worked for a leader who blames lazy employees, ethnic, racial, or generational cultures, bad economies, and a myriad of other reasons for why things aren’t going well.  If you are a leader and your people aren’t following, YOU are the problem.  Fix it.
  • GROW YOUR SELF – This is how you fix it.  You can’t change them, you cannot change things like the economy or anything else beyond your control.  What you can do is change YOU.  Learn to become more optimistic, learn to develop the characteristics that you are seeking in employees.  When I was a manager, I used to brag about how I made a point of hiring people better and smarter than me.  That was so wrong.  I couldn’t possibly do it.  You attract what you are, not what you wish.  If YOU grow, you’ll find yourself getting the kind of people you desire.
  • KNOW YOUR PEOPLE– Connect with them.  It’s through relationships that people build trust, respect, and more like they are a part of things when they feel connected with you.  When you can answer the three questions everyone asks in virtually ANY kind of relationship, then you can connect and influence them and they will become engaged.  The three questions you must answer are:
    • Do you CARE for ME?
    • Can you HELP ME?
    • Can I TRUST YOU?
  • FOCUS ON THE STRENGTHS – Yours and the people you work with.  Focus on how you can best use the strengths they have to compensate for your weaknesses and help accomplish the company’s goals.  That’s what a TEAM is all about.
  • REWARD THE BEHAVIORS YOU WANT – Not a lot of people do this.  They spend more time rewarding they don’t like, but you want to spend time rewarding the behaviors you desire.  Empower people, trust people, encourage people to accomplish the things you want them to do.
  • TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION – when necessary; which is not the same as impulsive action.  Don’t react impulsively, take the time to think about the appropriate response and then take the action now.  People will respect you more for taking considered, decisive  immediate action than if you hem and haw or you are impulsive.

What are some ways you have seen organizations engage their employees?

Rejoice – Enjoying What We Have

We All Ride a Roller Coaster

I try to be transparent with what I share here.  The more you can see me, warts and all, then the more likely you are to realize that success in business and life is attainable; that we all have flaws, shortcomings, and challenges we face.  Steve Jobs, despite his incredible vision and gift for marketing, had big character flaws.  Same with Bill Gates, and many others.  Ray and Maurice McDonald didn’t have the vision to make their restaurant a household name; it took Ray Kroc to do that.  We ALL have hurdles to face and have up times and down times.

I share that because recently I have been having a down time.  For a variety of reasons, things have not gone well in different parts of my life and I have gotten down on myself and doubts began to creep in.  When that happens for me, I go back and look for things that remind me to re-focus and think positive.

Warning:  The rest of this post will have a decidedly spiritual bent to it.  I apologize if it offends you; I do not apologize for who I am and what I believe.

REJOICEI ran across this:  I have a card I received at a men’s group meeting years ago that I keep around. It is shaped like a stop sign and, in fact, on one side looks like a stop sign.  On the other it carries this verse from the Bible, specifically from Philippians 4:4-7:

“Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS (emphasis mine)!  I say again, REJOICE!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Changes in Attitude

For me, of course, it is a reminder of where I have put my faith and my life.  It is also a reminder that no matter what else I have things I can take great joy in throughout my life daily.

Let’s expand it beyond and see what we can find for everyone.  When we have an ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE, we are better able to keep things in perspective.  When we rejoice in the things we have that cannot be taken away, that the world cannot touch, then we provide a solid base for how we regard everything else that happens in our life.  Once we have that perspective and are thinking in gratitude, therefore thinking positively, then we are better equipped to handle the crisis and not only survive but come out ahead.  Zig Ziglar often said

“The more you express gratitude for what you have the more you will have to express gratitude for.”

gratitude - thank youAdopting the principle of rejoicing yields big returns; perhaps not always in the way we expect.  Certainly, we all wish we had more money, more resources, more opportunities, more clients, more of whatever is on our mind right now.  Yet when we rejoice in what we do have, we see that not only do we have a full cup but that it actually overflows.  On the other hand, when we focus on what we don’t have we can lose what we do have.   I remember years ago watching a comedy sketch where a man asks another man who is holding a cup of coffee for the time.  The second man turns his wrist to look at his watch and pours out his cup of coffee.  Like the man, we lose focus on what’s in our hand to look at something else.

Consider This

What would your life be like if, for say at least a week, when someone asks you how you are you respond with “I am rejoicing!”  Don’t reflect on what people will think about you, center on what it will do for you.  Certainly it would be hard to say that continually and be negative.

I am going to try that for the next two weeks.  I invite you to try it with me and let me know how it goes.

Action Plan:

  • Begin a gratitude journal.  Get a notepad or journal or use an online one like Penzu.  Every day for at least a month, write down at least one thing you are grateful for.  Each day you have to enter something you have not previously added; in other words, each day is unique.  Look at the list often.
  • Respond to any greeting of “how are you” with “I am rejoicing!” for at least a week.  If someone asks you why, use the gratitude reason of the day or some other response if you wish.

I welcome your thoughts here about the ideas shared in today’s post!

work and more work

Work and Motivation

“It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is miserable.” –Benjamin Franklin

It’s a sometimes popular thing to complain about how much work we have to do.  Or the type of work we have to do.  Or even the fact we have to do work

at all.  “Man, I got so much work to do, I don’t know when I’ll ever finish!”  “Wow, I’ll sure be glad when the work is done!”  We have the wrong attitude about work and it can be hazardous to our employment outlook and our mental health.

Made to Work

The truth is that we were designed for work.  Our bodies, our minds, everything about us is designed to toil and sometimes sweat.  Some work with their hands, some with their heads, some with both.  However we work, we were created for it.  Work benefits us as much as we provide benefit through the work we do.

And the type of work doesn’t matter.  Someone who labors at farming or construction or janitorial services provides obvious benefits to their people or organizations they serve.  So does someone who manages those functions, or even consults with leaders to help them get better results.  The key is to recognize that someone is benefiting from the work you do.  I am reminded of a TED Talk from Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs and an Eagle Scout) a few years ago.  In it, he talked about some of the dirtiest jobs he shadowed and participated in.  The common thread he saw was that the people doing that work were almost always happy.  They went about their job whistling and went home tired but content.  (view about 10 minutes in).

Work Benefits Us

Work provides benefits beyond the paycheck.  Beyond what we earn, work benefits us by

  • Providing a sense of purpose and self-worth
  • An avenue for creative expression of ourselves
  • Focus on others
  • Development of social skills and contacts
  • Development of new skills
  • Opportunity to direct our giftedness to the benefit of others


I realize that not all those benefits are provided to everyone in every job; but that’s more a factor of the job chosen than the job itself.  Or perhaps even more to the point, it’s a factor of choosing NOT to find the benefits rather than the benefits not existing.

But overall, the function of where we spend at least 40 hours of our 168 hours in a week (roughly 25%), should and potentially can provide benefits that extend past the printed slip of paper (or direct deposit) we receive regularly.

It helps make us what we are and shapes our identity.

Work Crisis


The challenge we face in a time of high unemployment is that for many it takes this potential fulfillment away.  We have young adults fresh out of college with all the ambition and even arrogance that comes with being a college graduate who quickly lose heart when they find that the perfect job is not sitting on the other side of dais waiting for them.  We have people 50 and over who lose jobs because of cutbacks who are deemed unemployable because of age discrimination.  All have something of value to give, yet do not have a place to share that.

The result is that frustration builds, malaise sets in, and even the most powerful speech by Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar can make an impact.

Forget the Economy.  The only saving grace for it is that we have to get people back to making a contribution, whether they are 25, 55, or 75.  When we are making a contribution, our self-esteem rises, our confidence surges.  When we are confident, we are more likely to spend.  Consumer spending boosts the economy.  A rising economy benefits everyone.

Did we just solve our problem?

P.S.  If you are one of those jobless in the economy, don’t let yourself sink into the abyss of self-pity and discouragement.  Take at least some of your time each week as you search for employment volunteering in your community.  The social relationships developed and the opportunity to express yourself will keep your spirits up for campaign, while providing a sense of contribution to your community.  I know, it can seem like you are wasting time you should be spending looking for a job, but in the long run it will give your a better outlook and more positive attitude so you can make a better impact in that interview.  And it shows you are a person who gets things done and doesn’t just sit around idle.