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7 Signs Your Employees Are Unhappy and What to Do About It Are your workers "reaching for the minimum"? Clock-watching? Fidgeting? Those are all clues.

Edited by Dan Bova


As an entrepreneur, you have a lot of responsibilities. You have to come up with new ideas, lay the foundation for the business, make executive decisions and set an example as the leader of the organization (not to mention attend to your regular responsibilities, like sales and marketing).

Related: Unhappy Workers Cost the U.S. Up to $550 Billion a Year (Infographic)

So you may not think of keeping your employees happy as a core concern. However, that happiness is actually critical to the survival of your business, and you need to recognize when employees are exhibiting signs of dissatisfaction.

Happy employees are productive employees.

Employee happiness is about more than just making your people feel good. When workers are more satisfied, they're more productive, which means you'll be able to do more as an organization. On top of that, satisfied workers are less likely to leave your organization, which means retention will increase and you'll spend less time recruiting and training new candidates to replace them.

Beyond the obvious

If an employee openly complains about being unhappy, there's no ambiguity to hash out; you know what he or she is feeling because you've been told. But, unfortunately, things aren't always this clear. Instead, you'll need to watch out for the following more subtle signs that your employees are unhappy:

1. Reaching for only the minimum

If you want to succeed as a business, you need to exceed expectations -- not just meet them -- and your employees should strive for that mentality as well. If you notice them starting to meet only the bare minimum goals, that could be a sign that they no longer care about their work. If they're genuinely struggling, they even may fall behind these "minimum" goals, at which point you can intervene with different options.

But meeting exactly the minimum is a sign of disinterest, and maybe even apathy.

2. Clock-watching

No matter how cool your job is, almost everyone gets excited for lunch breaks and quitting time at the end of the day. That's not a problem, nor is it a sign of employee unhappiness. Instead, the sign of unhappiness to watch for here is "clock-watching," or obsessing over the time in a bid to get done with work as soon as possible.

When employees start counting down the minutes at 3 p.m., that's a sign they're unhappy with their work.

Related Book: No B.S. Ruthless Management of People and Profits by Dan S. Kennedy

3. Limited personal engagement

As an entrepreneur, you'll likely feel somewhat isolated, but if your workers start closing themselves off, that's a sign that something is wrong. Ideally, your team will be tight-knit and connected with one another on an almost personal level. That isn't always possible, but light chatter and humor are signs that things are running smoothly.

If your office is eerily quiet, or if you never see your workers talking to one another, they could signal dissatisfaction.

4. A lack of new ideas or feedback

Engaged, happy employees are passionate about their work, and they go out of their way to make their work even better. They freely come up with new ideas for their own roles, and sometimes for the entire organization, and they aren't afraid to take or receive feedback. If you don't hear anything from your workers along these lines, it could be a sign of disengagement and unhappiness.

5. Secrecy or lack of transparency

One of the best ways to build trust in a team is to showcase transparency and not keep secrets; do this as a leader, and your employees will likely follow suit. If you notice your employees talking behind your back, or refusing to tell you about problems they're facing, however, that could mean that they are unsatisfied in their work environment.

6. Reluctance to cooperate

When you ask an employee to do something, you expect that person to do it. He or she may question or request clarification, but that feedback should come from a place of genuine desire to help. If you notice an employee consistently unhappy or unwilling to contribute, consider that a clear sign of unhappiness.

7. Visual cues

Visual cues are some of the hardest to pick up on, but they're important to note, as many workers intentionally disguise their unhappiness to avoid conflict. Visual cues vary based on the individual but can often clue you into a person's internal monologue. Do you notice your workers sighing, or showing signs of stress like fidgeting?

Do they smile less often? Is their posture frequently closed off? These could all be indications of unhappiness -- but they aren't the only ones, so look closely for behavioral changes.

Related: Unhappy Employees Are Costing You: 4 Lessons From Denmark

When your workers are happy, they'll work harder for you, and stay committed to you longer. They won't be happy 100 percent of the time, but if you can learn to recognize these signs of dissatisfaction and unrest, you'll be able to nip the problem in the bud and restore your employees' satisfaction in no time.

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