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A Brief Guide On How To Manage Disgruntled Employees

5 min read   |  
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Even if you have the best company culture in your workplace, there is bound to be one or more disgruntled employee in your organization.

Handling dissatisfied employees is a major task for HRs to maintain decorum and discipline. When employees are satisfied with their job and team members, it attracts higher productivity and employee engagement.

Are you wondering how to manage disgruntled workers? How can you address the problems of a disgruntled employee and provide solutions? What should be your next step if their behavior leads to a toxic work environment?

Today we will discuss the tactics HR must follow to identify an unhappy employee and what steps to follow while addressing the situation. Let’s start with the very basic:

What Is a Disgruntled Employee?

A disgruntled employee is usually dissatisfied with their job and makes their displeasure known. The term disgruntled is derived from the ancient word ‘gruntled,’ which means ‘to grunt.’

In simple words, an employee often upset about their job and actively voices their concerns is termed as a disgruntled employee.

Every organization has its fair number of dissatisfied employees. Workers often get upset for petty reasons like not getting enough help from colleagues, lack of appreciation, not enough payments, irregular rewards and recognition, etc.

How to Handle Disgruntled Employees?

There is no particular time frame for an unhappy employee to feel disgruntled and before the situation goes unsalvagable, HRs and managers must recognize the following signs of a disgruntled employee:

  • Decreased motivation
  • Disengagement at work
  • Negative comments and attitude
  • Employee Absenteeism
  • Isolation or lack of teamwork

Once you start noticing these signs in your employees, it will help you handle them before the situation worsens. There isn’t a single way to handle a disgruntled employee as predicaments for each will differ.

For sure, the one-size-fits-all approach is not the solution here; hence, these 10 tips will help you handle a disgruntled employee:

1. Do not let the situation prolong

Suppose you notice an employee who is maybe passive-aggressive or upset, never ignore them. Addressing the situation will be uncomfortable, but ignorance will lead to eventual disengagement. The longer you avoid, more will the work environment be affected.

It is always wiser to find the problem, proactively approach the employee in person, asses their situation, and find a solution.

2. Be kind and empathetic.

Once you’ve identified a dissatisfied employee, your next step should include a one-on-one meeting with the employee to discuss the issue.

These kinds of employees take some time to share what is on their mind, and you must be patient and kind not to get annoyed and judge them for being difficult. While processing the first meeting, you must have a respectful tone for the rest of the process. You must listen to them patiently, try to see their viewpoint, and make them feel comfortable sharing their concerns.

3. Show no partiality

Being an HR professional, you must act as a mediator in any situation for your employees, including a disgruntled employee.

Show professionalism and refrain from biases and partialities. Just because employees who grumble might come across as difficult or problematic, but you never know what they are going through. They might show little aggression, defensive nature, but you must remain neutral and calm. Practicing this will protect you from becoming partial or bias.

Also, Read- Types of Conflicts In the Workplace and Conflict Management Strategies

4. Document everything.

You must document situations and conversations with a disgruntled employee for many reasons. Firstly, it helps you record the time you became aware of their problem. Thus, protecting you from any claims of discrimination and negligence.

Another reason for documenting is to keep facts straight. They are usually frustrated for various reasons, and thus it is crucial to have detailed notes about their actions. It helps people and colleagues to not behave rudely with
employees who are facing any problems.

5. Do not publicize the issue.

Confidentiality is an essential quality for HR to maintain an atmosphere-positive workplace. You will come across many employees or managers who might want to know about the disgruntled employee’s situation, but you must keep the issue private.

A disgruntled employee is already dissatisfied for many reasons, and if they get to know that their colleagues talk behind their backs, such circumstances might fuel their resentment. If any information is being shared, it must happen on a need to know basis, which protects the integrity and privacy of the employee.

6. Do not treat them as a lost cause.

There might be a chance that an employee is unhappy because of a reason you do not have control over. It could be a promotion issue or personal issues that are affecting their mental health. Even if the situation is something you can not do much about, please deal with empathy and diligence.

Sometimes they might become self-destructive and blame themselves for every problem; in such situations, it is your duty to show them a way out. Do not just fire them or reprimand them. Give them a chance. Treat their worries as valid. Tell them it is ok to have a bad day, and that will not last long.

7. Look for the larger problems.

While you deal with a disgruntled employee, you might also feel a bit disgruntled as an HR. It gets stressful, but it is also an opportunity for you to know about your organization’s hidden problems.

For instance, if the employee is upset because they missed the promotion, it is a sign that your company has no career growth. If an employee comes late to the office often because of personal commitments, it is a sign your company does not focus on flexibility and work-life balance. It is time to address smaller problems to understand your company’s larger problems leading to unhappy employees.

8. You can not help everyone.

When you offer help to someone and communicate effectively about their problems, people always appreciate the offered compassion and help. But, many people would happily reject your helping hand, and you can not force them.

In such situations, you must keep in kind- not everyone wants your help. If you come across such vindictive or vengeful employees, you must take appropriate action to deal with them.

9. Know when to take legal action

Every situation would not lead to a legal intervention, but some incidents might. For example, if the disgruntled employee has involved themselves in workplace harassment, bullying, or violence, you must take necessary legal actions.

Sometimes, the individuals might possess a threat to someone in the company or tend to become hostile; you must stay alert to recognize them and take your legal advisors’ help. Whenever the issue is about workplace safety, caution and precaution are paramount.

10. Never assume the problem is solved.

Many HR commit the mistake of assuming the problem is taken care of after having one meeting with the employee. Make sure to hold regular follow-ups with the employee even if they say “everything is ok.”

Discuss their progress, the positive changes, and how the meetings helped them to overcome their problems. Failing to follow-up might lead to multiple issues like- rumors, negative comments about the company, and unpleasant company culture. You can prevent more significant issues from arising by staying at the top of the situation.


There are plenty of reasons for an employee to show dissastisfaction with their job. As an HR, you must recognize them and help them come out of such situations. Some matters you can correct internally, but others like divorce, loss of a dear one, financial-issues are much more complicated.

Learn the issues what causes disasitsfaction amongst employees, and follow the steps to bring in positivity and growth in your organization.

This article is written by Gautam Gayan. He works as a Content Marketer at Vantage Circle. Apart from being a passionate content creator for HR services and employee engagement, Gautam is a theatre enthusiast, an avid reader and an asipring poet. For any related queries, contact editor@vantagecircle.com

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