How to Manage Unhappy Employees

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17 Minute Read
Posted by Karyn Moyer

Disgruntled or unhappy employees are something every manager or entrepreneur has to deal with from time to time. It’s, unfortunately, part of working life, especially for agriculture careers, which can be demanding.

There are very few jobs more rewarding than those of agriculture careers. However, agriculture jobs are physically demanding and can be highly stressful. Without proper precautions, this can really take a toll on your employees.

Employees who are unsatisfied with their jobs can create a negative working environment and turn off customers. They can create stress within the company. Some unhappy employees can even escalate to doing harmful things, including spreading rumors, stealing, and even workplace violence.

Fortunately, you can help manage unsatisfied employees by being proactive. This means learning how to deal with conflicts in the workplace, addressing problems in the culture that may cause unhappiness in the workplace, and learning how to determine if an employee is unhappy before it becomes a big problem. This will help your agriculture business be more successful.

It’s critical to manage dissatisfaction quickly and efficiently. Organizations with higher employee happiness outperform businesses with low employee satisfaction by 202%. For agriculture business owners, this has some serious potential. With the right organizational culture and business strategy, agribusinesses and farms can really scale - leading to more agriculture recruiting and higher revenues.

This article is going to go over addressing and managing unhappy employees and proactive steps you can take to ensure workplace satisfaction, so you can run your agriculture business effectively.

What are some signs of an unhappy employee?

Workplace unhappiness typically occurs when something is not going the way the employee expected. Agriculture careers can be demanding, and as such, it’s imperative to make sure you are invested in your employee’s success, including their happiness. There is no time frame for how long it takes an employee to become dissatisfied. It varies from individual to individual, and no one is immune to becoming unhappy when circumstances aren’t conducive to a good work environment.

Here are some signs you may have an unhappy employee at your company:

  • Disengagement at work
  • A negative attitude
  • Decreased motivation
  • Absenteeism or tardiness
  • Lack of teamwork or collaboration

It’s critical to be on the lookout for these signs. Understanding these will help you identify situations before they become really problematic. This is especially important as more and more farm owners and other agriculture business owners report increases in the labor shortage.

How To Handle Unhappy Employees

There isn’t a one size fits all approach to handling employees. Every situation is different. As you get to know the situation and your employees, you can figure out how to address the unhappy employee and resolve the problem. Agriculture jobs are unique, and so are the people that work at them. Using different strategies can help you increase workplace satisfaction, and help with employee retention, which is great for agriculture recruiting.

Get in the Right Mindset

Did you know organizations with high employee happiness outperform low employee satisfaction organizations by a whopping 202%?

You have to get in the right mindset. Employees aren’t entitled or acting out when they are unhappy. If you want to get serious about employee satisfaction and employee retention, you’ll have to get in the right mindset.

Unsatisfied employees typically have three choices when it comes to addressing workplace unhappiness. These include:

  • Letting things simmer and not speaking up
  • Leaving, often without a notice
  • Speaking up

If an employee is unhappy, the most important thing you can do is go into the situation with the right mindset - empathy and solution-driven.

The reason for unhappiness is, of course, important to determine. However, what is even more important is how you handle the situation. An employee wants you to hear their experience and their perception of what’s wrong.

Now it’s your turn to make a choice (whether you mean to or not). You can:

  • Lose this employee completely
  • Turn the employee off, which means a disengaged employee on the payroll
  • Fix the situation, improve workplace satisfaction, and have a strong employee stay on

As a direct manager or even entrepreneur, you may not be able to control things like the personal life of the employee, or even how much they make or other external factors. However, you can absolutely control how you react and manage employees.

So, first things first: get in the right mindset. Don’t take things personally, but instead use this opportunity to win this relationship back and take control of the situation.

Assess the Situation

Don’t jump to conclusions. If you realize an employee is unhappy, or if an employee approaches you to discuss matters, it is important to remain clear headed and really assess the situation. This can make all the difference in managing unsatisfied employees so they are productive and remain in their agriculture jobs.

Take the time to really understand what is going on with the employee. It may be due to their job status, workload, or conflict with a coworker.

If the issue does indeed stem from something going on at work, gather information and assess all factors before determining how you should act upon the issue. Even if it isn’t because of something at work, don’t just ignore it. You can use it as an opportunity to show the employee you care about them as people, not just what they can do for your company.

Stay Professional

As the manager or owner of your agriculture business, you need to set the tone for the business and stay professional. If employees are very unhappy, they may not always handle the situation with the professionalism they should. As you know, it’s human to sometimes let emotions cloud our judgments.

While it isn’t appropriate for an employee to yell, swear, or cause problems, it sometimes happens. No matter the issue, it’s up to you to remain calm to defuse the situation. You know the old saying, “You can’t always control what happens, but only how you react to it.” That applies here.

Address it Sooner Rather than Later

When you determine there is a problem, you must address it sooner rather than later. If you notice it and avoid it, it will only grow and give the employee time to get more upset. This will almost certainly affect team morale, customer support, productivity, and company culture. This can really affect your business, reduce revenue, and affect agriculture recruiting. The bottom line is any issues need to be promptly addressed and handled.

Keep it Private

It’s incredibly important to make sure you don’t confront an unhappy employee in front of others.

Not only is this rude, but it certainly won’t help the issue. It will most likely cause the employee to feel incredibly disrespected and even become more unhappy.

As the leader, you should handle situations calmly and in a well thought out manner. Approaching dissatisfied employees in front of their coworkers shows you can’t keep your cool. If you can’t keep your cool, how do you expect your employees to work professionally?

Instead, take the conversation to a more private setting, such as a private office or conference room.

Approach the Employee with Empathy and Kindness

After you’ve gone to a private office or conference room, closed the door, and created a more private environment, it’s time to discuss the issue.

The employee may or may not be receptive to discussing the issue or sharing what is on his or her mind. That doesn’t mean the employee is being disrespectful or difficult. It could be for a number of reasons, including:

  • Intimidation, especially since you’re in a position of power over the employee
  • Shyness, as part of a personality trait
  • Past experiences with bad management
  • Disliking confrontation

It’s important to remind yourself there are many reasons why an employee may be slow to open up, so you can lead from a place of kindness and empathy.

Empathy is key to maintaining a good relationship with employees and keeping them happy. For agriculture jobs, it’s key to employee retention. The statistics on the importance of empathy in the workforce are clear:

It’s important to have empathy when managing unhappy employees, especially as you try to resolve any issues they may have or are going through.

The tone you set can determine how well the conversation, the solution, and the employment relationship will go.

Start by sharing commonalities with the employee. Explain to them you understand they are having a difficult time, and you want them to do well and succeed because they are important to the organization. Odds are, they want to succeed too. This helps you find common ground quickly so you can get to the issue at hand.

Listen to the Problem.

No really… listen.

While coming up with a solution is the end goal, you won’t get anywhere without listening. Don’t immediately jump to solutions before hearing the employee out. This won’t get you anywhere but instead can lead to an unproductive conversation and an unhappy employee feeling worse because they haven’t been heard.

There are very few unhappy employees who just behave poorly or cause problems for the sake of doing so. It’s more likely an employee’s feelings, absenteeism, and poor performance is a result of an unknown larger problem.

When you listen with the goal to understand, the employee will be much more open and communicative about the challenge or problem they have.

After listening to the problem, offer solutions. Ask what solution they would like to see, if possible. Brainstorm solutions together. There isn’t anything wrong with jumping in and helping someone address the challenge they have. This shows humility, caring, and empathy on your part.

Take the Appropriate Action

If there is a problem in the workplace, you’ve talked it out and understood it, and the employee expects you to take action, it’s time to actually take action. This is especially important if this is an ongoing or repeated issue. Take the appropriate course of action, whether that’s shifting the workload, solving conflict with other employees, or reexamining company culture.

The employee wants to know where you, as the manager or entrepreneur, stand. Do you care about your employees or are they just a name on an HR file folder?

They’re watching. They want to know you take concerns seriously, and they want to be able to trust you.

Document Everything

To protect yourself and your company, make sure you keep documentation of the unhappy employee, their behavior, your response, and what action was taken if any. It’s best practice to document everything that takes place, both for your benefit as well as the benefit of your employees.

This is especially important if the employee is causing problems and termination might be necessary. With so many employment lawsuits occurring, it’s a good idea to protect yourself by documenting everything, including meetings, warnings, and more.

Know When to Get Legal Involved

In the rare event, an employee is very unhappy, you may need to get legal involved. These reasons can include:

  • If their behavior is due to something much more serious in nature indicative of workplace problems or culture.
  • If the dip in performance is caused by harassment or bullying.
  • If you think the employee poses a threat to yourself or someone at the company.
  • If an employee becomes very hostile during conversations or makes threats.

In the case of a very unhappy employee, it’s better to err on the side of caution to keep your workplace safe and healthy.

Understand the Problems Behind the Problem

Dealing with unhappy employees obviously isn’t a lot of fun. It can leave even the most seasoned manager, HR professional, or entrepreneur feeling a bit awkward or on edge.

It’s a very stressful problem, but uncovering situations with employees can actually be an opportunity!

For instance:

  • An employee who is chronically late because of daycare hours could be a sign your work/life balance needs work or you need flexibility. 73% of employees said workplace flexibility increased their happiness at work.
  • An employee upset about missing a promotion could indicate there aren’t enough career growth opportunities at your workplace.
  • If more than one employee struggles to meet deadlines consistently, it could be a sign they have too much on their plate and not enough time to realistically get it all done.

Take a moment to really consider if this is an individual problem, or if the incident is the result of a larger issue at your company.

Take a look at your own management style as well. Think realistically about how you manage your people. Did you know more than 75% of employees quit their boss, not their job?

The ideal workplace means your employees aren’t only improving their skills, but managers are improving their leadership skills as well. Who you are as a leader and how you treat your employees' matter.

Remember, an ounce of prevention is cheaper than a pound of cure. This applies to workplace problems and the work environment as well. Employee retention is key to running a successful business. Look at all factors when dealing with unhappy employees.

Tips to Manage Unhappy Employees (1)

What NOT To Do

We’ve discussed what to do, now let's discuss what NOT to do.

Just as there are best practices in how you manage employees, there are things that you can do to exacerbate the problem.

Don’t do these things, or you’ll probably face more unhappy employees.

Don’t Empower Bad Behavior

If your employee has the company upset, stalled, and chaotic, they are being empowered.

Do not give unhappy employees this kind of power in the workplace. If there is a problem, address it, but keep everyone else on task. This way, the unhappy employee sees the business is carrying on, despite their negative choices and bad behavior.

It’s one thing to care for an employee and seek solutions – it is quite another to let the unhappy employee cause drama and problems in the workplace.

Don't be Patronizing

One of the very worst things you can do is project moral superiority or patronize the individual. Don’t correct the employee about their version of events. Instead, listen, and think before responding.

Even if the employee doesn’t have the accurate details, you don’t want to have the goal of just proving them wrong. That’s not helpful. Don’t do that, and certainly don’t trivialize concerns.

Don’t Simply Quote Policy

When speaking to an unhappy employee, don’t just highlight company policy. Yes, something may be company policy, but they probably already know the policy. They don’t need to be reminded of them when they’re upset.

First, hear the problem out, determine why they’re unhappy, and come up with a solution. Blindly quoting a policy is just waving away concerns, and that won’t keep employees happy or improve employee retention.

Don’t Assume The Problem is Taken Care Of

Most people know the old adage about assuming things.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming the problem is over and taken care of. Take the time to do a quick follow-up with the employee.

Schedule a meeting for a month after the conversation, review everything discussed, and go over any changes. If there have been positive changes your employee has made to be a better worker, make sure you go over that.

Staying on top of the situation is the best way to handle ongoing problems and issues from occurring.

How to Prevent Unhappy Employees in the First Place

Part of managing unhappy employees is making sure they don’t become unhappy in the first place.

Creating an environment that is conducive to employee retention and high workplace satisfaction is much more productive and efficient than handling the unhappy employee.

Here are some things you can do to prevent unhappy employees in the first place.

Look at Your Company’s Culture

If you have many unhappy employees, it’s time to look at the common causes of why this is happening - which usually relate to company culture.

Unhappiness in a good workplace should be the exception, not the norm.

Look at common causes, such as:

  • The weight of the workload
  • If deadlines are too demanding
  • If you’re speaking too harshly to employees
  • The perception of being treated unfairly

Take a real, honest look. It can be difficult to see what you are doing wrong when you are so close to the situation. However, if you find yourself having to handle unhappy employees frequently, you must figure out why.

Don’t focus on the individual, but the broader reasons for unhappiness in the workplace. It could be a problem with how you deal with employees, or it could be bigger, such as a problem with company culture.

Did you know 79% of US employees claim company culture is important for job satisfaction?

A deeper look at the common causes and company culture is imperative for employee retention. Many employees would switch to a job with stronger and more satisfactory company culture. People who are satisfied with company culture have better relationships with coworkers and managers and are more productive.

Conduct Regular Performance Reviews

A great way to prevent employees from becoming unhappy and being stressed out about work related issues is to have regular performance reviews.

They’re a great way to make sure employees don’t bottle up their feelings, become more stressed out, and end up being an unhappy employee. A more regular dialogue can create a much more successful and open work environment that is conducive to employee retention and productivity.

Regular performance reviews are critical for success.

  • 89% of leaders agree that clear and regular feedback is critical. Employees need to know their work has meaning. This increases job satisfaction and promotes employee retention.
  • Recognition and feedback should be tied to the company’s mission and culture. Every workplace strategy should include employee happiness and engagement.
  • Reviews should be a two-way street. Workers who feel encouraged to give their feedback and believe their input is appreciated are more than 4 times more likely to be productive


Unhappy employees are bad for business. It’s not only difficult for the employee, who is a valuable part of the organization, but also for team morale and for customer satisfaction.

The cost of replacing unhappy employees is much higher than fixing the problem. An important part of employee retention is making sure employees are happy.

Furthermore, keeping your employees satisfied can be a huge boost to your bottom line. Agriculture jobs with high employee happiness consistently outperform low employee satisfaction companies. Happy and engaged employees create more revenue, are more productive, and generally perform better.

To keep agriculture employees satisfied, it’s very important they feel respected and heard. Having an agriculture job where employees feel appreciated, can get feedback, and can get support when facing challenges is imperative to having happy employees.

Despite all of your best efforts, you will from time to time still have to handle an employee who is unhappy. However, with a little patience, empathy, and understanding, you can be well on your way to a better understanding of how to help the employee.

Pay attention to what the employee says. See if the issue is something that can be changed, and should be changed. If it isn’t, help support the employee through what they’re facing. Not only will they feel appreciated, but you’ll likely see a huge boost in morale and enjoy a more successful employee relationship.

About AgHires Recruiting

Agriculture recruiting can be tough. You want to be able to hire the best for your agriculture business, which can be challenging when taking care of everything else needed to run a successful business - like keeping employees happy. AgHires is a leading recruiter in the industry and can help you hire happy employees who will be a good fit for your organizational culture.

Disgruntled or unhappy employees are something every manager or entrepreneur has to deal with from time to time. We have tips to help you manage unhappy employees and help them be more productive.
Karyn Moyer

Karyn Moyer

Karyn Moyer is the Senior Marketing Manager at AgHires, with over 13 years of marketing experience, over 9 of which she has spent in the agriculture marketing industry. Growing up in a small farming town, Karyn has a deep appreciation for the importance of agriculture and its role in our communities. Since joining AgHires in 2017, Karyn has used her wealth of experience and knowledge to help job seekers and clients achieve their goals. She has a passion for learning and discovering new ways to support the industry.