How to deal with an unhappy employee?


Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

We hired a new advisor, a very smart guy in his 30s. I was in our lunch area the other day and heard him say to a colleague, “I have no intention of working these 7-6:30 hours for very long. I enjoy my free time too much.” In our firm, most people work 10 to 12-hour days. I couldn’t tell if this comment was relative to our firm, or whether he was making a statement about his life. I couldn’t hear the response because someone else walked in and spoke to me. Should I say something to him? This is a high-energy, fast-moving culture and we are proud of it. I value personal time too, but we work hard to earn it.

John D.

Unhappy Employee
Image source: Public Domain Pictures
Unhappy Employee

Dear John,

If you are thinking about approaching someone on something you overheard, you want to be careful. For example, I wonder:

  1. Are you sure you heard the whole context of the conversation?
  2. Were his comments meant as truth or as bluster or way to impress his colleague?
  3. Would he be comfortable having the same conversation with you?

This all said, he made comments in a public place and in the lunchroom no less, so having someone overhear is highly probable. You could approach him and inquire about what he meant by the comment if it continues to nag you and seems inconsistent with your culture.

Have a desired outcome for the interaction before you speak to him. Do you want to verify his comments? Remind him of the culture of the firm he joined? Let him know you will be watching him closely to see what kind of effort he extends? This conversation could go a lot of ways, so be sure you know what you really want to happen as a result of it.

Approach him with a spirit of curiosity, however, not a spirit of judgment. “I couldn’t help but overhear a comment you made in the lunchroom, and I’m hoping you will clarify it for me” is better than “What did you mean by your unwillingness to work 11.5 hour days around here?” That seems obvious, but it’s really common when we are uncomfortable or we’ve ruminated over something to just blurt out the first thing we think.

Be ready when you have the conversation for any response. He could be upset that you were “eavesdropping,” he could deny the conversation, he could be combative about the need to work long hours or he could be sheepish and apologize and reinforce his commitment to the firm. This is why you want to be clear on your expectation.

As a last thought, I ask you to consider whether devotion, commitment and hard work have to be shown through working 10-12 hour days. You might want to also take the chance to step back and question whether this is the healthiest and most profitable approach for your culture. Each organization goes through shifts and changes over time. Maybe this is the catalyst to help you consider whether it’s time for a change in thinking, too.

By Beverly Flaxington, read the full article here.