The value of an upset employee
By Mel Kleiman

Share this article:  

While every cloud has a silver lining, it can be hard to discern when the cloud is an upset employee. When you’re dealing with employees, inevitably some will feel misunderstood, wrongly judged or have their feelings hurt — and responding appropriately to strong negative emotions can be a challenge.

When employees do air their grievances, you actually owe them a debt of gratitude because frustrated employees have three choices:
  • They can speak up
  • They can let things simmer inside while their work suffers
  • They can start planning their exit strategy
Only the first option gives you the opportunity to remedy the situation.

Your first instinct might be to try to determine if the employee's anger is justified, but you'd be wise to realize the reason he is angry is not the issue. You are hearing the employee's perception and experience, and that is all that matters to him.

This is when you have the opportunity to either turn these employees into allies, lose them or — even worse — turn them off but keep them on the payroll. So, don't take these situations personally and don't blow the opportunity to win these relationships back. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Thank them for their feedback. Let them know the time, energy (and probably courage), it took to let you know about the situation is of great value.

  2. Empathize with their frustration. They want to be understood, and they want to feel justified in their beliefs. This doesn't require a long, drawn-out discussion. Saying something like: "I can imagine how frustrating this must have been for you" will do. Be sure to be genuine about this or you will sound patronizing.

  3. Ask for the details. Ask them to outline what led up to their displeasure. Assure them that you will look into the details of what happened and, the more information they can provide, the more quickly you will to be able offer a remedy.

  4. Apologize. Not just a quick "I'm sorry," but an honest apology for the frustration they have experienced. Think of it this way, they are helping you improve your business. Let them know, in a genuine way, you're sorry for the inconvenience, displeasure or discomfort they experienced.

  5. Take action. What are you going to do about it? Your next action will be what the employee remembers. What will it take to win back the employee's trust?

  6. Follow up. Be sure to say, "I'll follow up with you in (timeframe) to make sure we get this right and it doesn't happen again." After you come up with a solution, it's time to check back to be sure they are now satisfied (and, consequently, once again delighted to be working for you).
Follow these simple steps to turn an unhappy employee into an engaged employee and improve the way things get done to boot. How's that for a silver lining?

Mel Kleiman is a speaker, consultant and author on strategies for hiring and retaining the best employees. He is one of only 650 speakers worldwide to have earned the prestigious Certified Speaking Professional designation and the president of Humetrics, a developer of recruiting, selection and retention systems and tools. Mel has written five books, including The 5 Firsts: A Simple System to Onboard and Engage Top Talent and publishes a regular blog.