Unhappy Employees Should Not be Taken For Granted

| 9 min read
Unhappy employees should not be taken for granted

Disgruntled employees are ticking time bombs

As an employer, the capacity of unhappy employees to hurt your organisation should never be taken for granted or handled with levity. The reason is simple. Disgruntled employees are unhappy, unproductive, lack motivation, less likely to channel their energy towards achieving the goals of the organisation, and risk spreading negativity to their coworkers.

According to Galup, “87% of the employees all over the world lack motivation and are unhappy at their jobs.” For Nigeria, the figure rose to 88%(period), which leaves only 12% of the employees being engaged, happy and satisfied with their jobs.

The unhappiness of this majority of employees stems from a number of factors. Findings by Accenture revealed that 46% of employees were unhappy because they believe they were underpaid. Another 34% were not happy with the lack of opportunity to advance their career while 31% said long and inflexible hours was the main reason for leaving their current job.

Job Satisfaction Model
Figure showing the factors that motivate employees as well as those that kill inspiration | Image course: wikispaces.psu.edu

 According to another study conducted by Blackhawk Engagement Solutions, there is a wide gap between the expectations of employees and what employers offer.

Happiness study

The study, as seen above, also shows that employee rewards and recognition may not be aligned with what actually makes employees happy and more productive.

In its survey, Blackhawk Engagement Solutions revealed that 67% of employees affirmed that their jobs were important for overall happiness.

This leaves us with a clear problem; majority of employees are not happy and when they are not happy, they might or might not do the following:

They only do what they are paid to do

Unhappy employees usually do not stretch themselves. They often feel so discouraged that they hardly ever try to challenge themselves to break or set new records of sales or results. They mostly do not complete projects ahead of time. Most of them look busy but end up getting very little or nothing done.

They are always in a hurry to complain

When your employees are unhappy, they complain about virtually everything. For instance, they complain about why the Accounts Department always requests for a detailed report at the end of each working day. They complain about how they have to work late to complete their tasks. They complain about the length of the strategy meetings at work. They complain about how slow their laptops are. They might even complain about why the office is on the 15th floor and not the ground floor. In essence, they see the bad side in anything and never hesitate to tell others about it.

They are prone to mistakes

Disgruntled employees often make minor or major mistakes. Since they do not concentrate on their tasks and apply themselves fully, they tend to get very sloppy at what they do. Many times, they make mistakes because they don’t care about these mistakes or the implication of their mistakes. In some cases, they deliberately make these mistakes as a way of purposely hurting the organisation and its reputation.

They spread sour stories

Employees can either be the best brand ambassadors for your brand, or its worst undoing. When employees are not happy, their discontent hardly ever drifts far away. Their frustrations are always primed for release in the form of sob stories that most likely paint your organisation in bad light. They tell tales of how badly they are treated, how their efforts are not rewarded, how selfish your organisation is, how they would not hesitate to leave the moment they get another offer; even with a salary cut. While most stories might be exaggerated, such information about your company could end up denting its image.

They isolate themselves from teamwork

Unhappy employees are not good at teamwork. They are just not interested in working with coworkers whose job satisfaction levels are healthier than theirs. They bury themselves under their individual experiences. When there is a problem at work and others are sharing ideas on how to overcome the challenge, they would rather play the spectator. They don’t make any move to get involved in solving organisation problems.

They are quick to anger

This should not come as a surprise. Unhappiness and anger and usually not so far apart. Therefore, when employees are unhappy, they become hostile and volatile. They are usually not civil in their interaction with others or in their decisions. They vent their frustrations on the closest target within their radar. They treat their coworkers badly and rarely  show any remorse.

They don’t share exciting moments

In addition to not having close friends at work, unhappy employees would not engage in team bonding events voluntarily. In extreme cases, they find a reason to avoid such events by all means. When your organisation lands a big deal or client or achieves a certain objective, they are not excited about such feats.

Scarcity of new ideas

Happy employees are usually excited about their jobs and they constantly strive to increase their performance. When your employees are engaged, they come up with fresh ideas for specific tasks and projects that have been assigned to them. They are also eager to receive feedback. However, when your workers become unhappy, they don’t have any ideas to drive the company forward and when they do, they keep these ideas to themselves.

They are happier when the office closes for the day

When your employees become unhappy, their motivation takes a massive decline. They cannot find the inspiration to do the things that you have hired them to do. For them, leaving the office is far more exciting than their arrival there. They derive little or no satisfaction from resuming work and have no enthusiasm towards putting their best into getting results. For them, the excitement is lost. The irony of this is that while they may be excited over weekend outings with the family, they fail to replicate this spiritedness at work.

Factors that are tied to job satisfaction for employees
Figure showing factors that are tied to job satisfaction for employees | Image source: wikispaces.psu.edu

They quit but stay

An employee resigning and leaving your organisation is not the only way to quit the job. In some situations, the employee quits psychologically. Such employees remain within your organisation despite the grudges they hold against your company. However, their performance takes an epic dip as they no longer strive to work in line with targets set for them.

They quit and walk away

When your workers are disgruntled, they become very impatient. The moment they believe their contributions to the organisation are no longer valued, they resign and take a walk. One factor that could trigger this, for instance, is if a high number of extremely talented co-workers voluntarily resign, there is a tendency that you might be left with a batch of employees who will be unhappy.

Interestingly, many of these will happen at the early stages the employee’s unhappiness. At a more advanced stage, disgruntled employees take it a notch further by:

  • Damaging your brand and misrepresenting your company
  • Alienating valuable clients and making costly mistakes
  • Leaking crucial brand secrets
  • Writing bad reviews for your organisation
  • Discouraging potential hires from joining your establishment
  • Poisoning the thoughts of others and distracting them
  • Missing deadlines
  • Stealing from your company

The study by Blackhawk Engagement Solutions further revealed that 38% of employees said their employers currently offer no rewards or recognition at all. Meanwhile, 82% want to be recognised for exceeding personal performance levels, 79% wanted recognition after receiving a promotion while 77% want to be recognised for exceeding team performance levels.

Happiness study 2

At some point, unhappy employees either leave or frustrate their employers to the point where they are asked to leave. By the time an employee leaves an organisation, they usually have more than one reason for leaving. Some of the reasons are illustrated in the table below.

Top reasons employees leave their jobs

However, this doesn’t always have to be the case. As we have already established that unhappy employees do a company more harm than good, the question then becomes, what can we do about it?


Joe Folkman, an  author, speaker and researcher on the topic of strengths-based leadership development, pointed out a need for a leader who:

  • Inspires and motivates: Has the ability to energise people to achieve outstanding results.
  • Is trustworthy: Must be one who is trusted by all members of the team.
  • Develops others: This should be an individual who is genuinely concerned about the development of others.
  • Communicates effectively: Gives others a clear sense of direction and purpose.
  • Has integrity and is honest: He/she must be honest and puts a lot of effort into keeping his/her word.
  • Builds relationships: Strikes a balance between getting results and being concerned about the needs of others.
Job Satisfaction Bubble Graphic cropped
Figure showing facets of job satisfactions | Image source: wikispaces.psu.edu


When the signs of unhappiness begin to manifest amongst your employees, it is crucial to understand that money is an important motivation for employees but it not always the key to restoring the happiness of disgruntled employees.

Happiness study 3

Rather, as an employer, you should focus on:

  • Showing genuine care and concern for your employees
  • Taking the time to care about your employees as individuals as you do about their performance
  • Investing in them
  • Exploring ways to tap into their strengths
  • Understanding that their well-being is as important as the job you pay them to do
  • Guiding them towards professional development
  • Expanding your communication with them using various channels including social media and Apps


Unhappy employees can hurt your brand in several ways. However, there are ways to restore their satisfaction and happiness[[[. Pay close attention to your employees and not just the jobs they have been hired to do.


Have you had any personal experience with a disgruntled employee?

Samod Biobaku
A Nigeria-based writer and blogger who has written and edited for top brands including The SUN, Punch, Newswatch, Pulse.ng, Bigsam Media, Nigerian Bulletin, Swish Interativ, Hello Nigeria, National LIFE, iCampus, Jobberman and Cheki.