Do you have a new employee who walked through your doors full of enthusiastic ideas six months ago, but now remains silent at meetings? Is your previously optimistic and upbeat employee now avoiding you like the plague? Before you brush it off as their bad day or poor attitude, consider this: how is your behavior contributing to their sudden change in commitment to the organization?
According to a 2011 survey by The Harvard Management Update, employee morale significantly drops after the first six months on the job in 85 percent of companies. As you try to juggle the constant demands of your leadership role, it's sometimes easy to overlook the tell-tale signs of an unhappy employee.
Since your best employees can make it particularly difficult to recognize their unhappiness because of their ability to maintain a level of professionalism, it's especially important to know what to look for. Check out these not so obvious signs so you can change your behaviors before you lose your best and remain stuck with the rest.
1. They're avoiding small talk.
Your unhappy high performers might still be plugging away at their work, but disengaging from unnecessary chit-chat with others. If you notice a sudden shift in their conversation level with you and others, it could be a sign of their unhappiness.
2. They stop contributing during meetings.
When your formerly talkative and eager employee stops contributing during meetings, they may have mentally checked out. If you notice they are suddenly going with the flow instead of adding additional ideas, it could be a sign of their unhappiness.
3. They're impatient and short with you.
Think about the last time you were unhappy with someone. How did you interact with them? Were you snippy or abrupt in your tone because of your growing impatience? If an otherwise pleasant employee is becoming argumentative and impatient, it could be a sign of their unhappiness.
4. They're taking off more time.
An increase in the amount of call-ins and requests to leave early or start late is a red flag. Perhaps they're job hunting or just plain avoiding their source of stress - your organization. If your previously reliable employee is starting to spend more time away from work, it could be a sign of their unhappiness.
Now that we've established the signs to look for, let's evaluate your behaviors which could be contributing to their unhappiness. Since a large part of an employee's happiness is determined by the work environment, it's important to look in the mirror. As their leader, you play the most significant role in encouraging or hindering a positive culture.
Here are some of the ways you may be chasing the best performers out of your doors for good.
1. You're micromanaging their every move.
They get it. You are good. However, they are too, or else you wouldn't have hired them in the first place. Each time you second guess your employee's work and attempt to persuade them into doing it "your way," you are causing them to feel demoralized. Stop hovering over their shoulder. Stop asking them to report every little move. Let go and show them that you trust their abilities.
2. You're dishonest.
Even if it isn't good news you're sharing, it is crucial to tell your employees the truth - no matter what. The moment you lie to them or fail to follow through on rewards you've promised such as a promotion, raise or bonus, they will never work to their full potential for you again. This is a slippery slope that is virtually impossible to overcome. If you've made a promise, you must find a way to follow through. Don't lie to your employees, and don't make promises you might not be able to keep.
3. You publicly chastise your employees.
Your employees are not children. If you have a concern, discuss it with them privately. When you try to "teach them a lesson" by calling them out in public, it sends a message that you are insecure and need to feel powerful. The employee you chastised will become permanently "checked out," and you ruin the environment for everyone else. Don't publically embarrass your employees. Nobody wins.
Do some self-reflection. Which of these demotivating behaviors do you sometimes exhibit, and what unhappy employee signs are you overlooking?
Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a regional director and senior consultant with JL Nick and Associates Inc. She is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 15 years. To contact Elizabeth, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit JL Nick and Associates' website at www.jlnick.com.