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How to Get Frustrated Employees Back on Track

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

Frustrated employees aren’t always disengaged employees. In fact, they probably still care and that’s why they’re frustrated. They may have been your most engaged employee at one time - and can be again. But if you don’t handle the situation, they’ll either quit, and you’ll lose a once very valuable contributor, or, as my colleague Dave Naylor warns, “They’ll quit and stay.”

The worse thing to do is avoid the situation and hope it goes away. Most likely the person needs some attention and help. So what do we do with the frustrated employee? Keeping GRIT in mind (generosity, respect, integrity and truth):

  1. Make sure you’re in the right mindset. Have a helpful intent, and believe you can make a difference.

  2. Be open and approachable. Allow the person to vent. (Rule of thumb is to vent up so the manager can help. Venting down or across might just spread the toxins.)

  3. Listen without being defensive or making excuses. Be completely present.

  4. Acknowledge the person’s feelings about the situation. Show empathy. Employees report feeling acknowledged satisfies many frustrations.

  5. Share the reasoning behind the frustration-causing decisions (as much as you can divulge).

  6. Look for an opportunity to help the person problem solve, to make some kind of change that will make an impact (even if it’s simply changing their thoughts around it).

  7. Follow up whenever there are any open items. Check in regularly.

Read our April 15th blog on Improving Morale for more tips.

I know this would have worked very well on me 20 years ago when I became frustrated in my position. Instead, I was either ignored, turned away, or sometimes even responded to quite defensively and condescendingly.  

So give it a try. I’ve seen this approach work very well for many managers I’ve coached and trained. You’re not going to win them all back, but there’s a good chance you’ll get the majority of frustrated employees back on track with this approach. And you’ll be much more likely to identify the ones who quit and stay so you can take care of that situation as well!


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