How to Identify and Manage a Disgruntled Employee

Mar 25, 2024

Unfortunately incidents of disgruntled empoyees and workplace violence are nothing new. Take, for example, a laid-off employee who opened fire inside a factory, killing five of his coworkers. It isn’t the first time it has happened. Sadly, it’s highly unlikely it will be the last time.  

It’s a common misconception among managers and business owners to assume that an employee becomes disgruntled only in the extreme situations that make headlines.  

The best way for your business to avoid dealing with a disgruntled employee-turned-workplace-violence situation is for your business to be proactive. By recognizing the early signs of a disgruntled employee, you will be able to quickly and efficiently respond and mitigate additional issues. 

Employee Happiness

A happy employee makes a thriving organization. To put these words into perspective, a study by the Social Market Foundation revealed that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy workers. Years of research have demonstrated that happiness positively affects every business and educational aspect, with a boost in sales of 37%, an increase in productivity of 31%, and sharper task accuracy of 19%. 

So, what does it mean to be happy at work? In his book, The Truth About Employee Engagement, Patrick Lencioni talks about three elements: the importance of who you are and that people know your name; the significance of the work you perform; the progression of your performance that contributes to company’s success. 

Signs of a Disgruntled Employee

On the other side of the spectrum resides an unhappy employee. Being able to identify the early signs of a disgruntled employee will help you avoid escalated situations and a potential liability to the company. Consider some of the following signs that may indicate you’re dealing with a disgruntled worker:

  • Lack of motivation and involvement 
  • Excessive breaks, apparent tardiness 
  • Negative attitude 
  • An overt pursuit of other work, or unreasonable complaining about the job 
  • Negative feedback from teammates 
  • Strained workplace relationships, verbal abuse 
  • Comments about acts of violence; remarks about issues in personal life or financial issues 

Some of these may also be the signs of many serious issues. 

The Next Steps

Identifying that you have a disgruntled employee at your business is only half of the battle. It’s essential to address the situation accordingly. There are several tactics that will help you handle a disgruntled employee at your business: 

  • Act quicklyAs a business owner or manager, it is your responsibility to identify and address any issues at your business ASAP. If the behavior warrants termination, you also need to terminate immediately. Have everything organized so that the employee has no reasons to return to the office.  
  • Approach the situation with empathyWhen approaching a disgruntled employee, do so to understand the motive and what caused the distress.  
  • Be sternDo not tolerate violent behavior. Discuss all aspects of the situation and clearly communicate any repercussions if the behavior continues. 
  • Document the behaviorKeep official documentation of the demeanor, conversation, and disciplinary actions. If there is another issue with this employee going forward, it is important that you have documented proof for previous incidents. 
  • Keep it confidentialDiscuss the situation with other members of management and those directly involved.  

However, despite your best efforts, a situation may not always be mitigated. In this scenario, you need to develop an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) for your business. Within your EAP, you should have workplace violence training to make sure that all employees have accurate information on how to handle a violent situation. 

By emphasizing clear communication and honesty, you can consistently strengthen the employee experience.