A Message for Disgruntled Employees

There are disgruntled employees all around us and they will often go out of their way to do harm, or to get one up on their employers.

A Message for Disgruntled Employees

There are disgruntled employees all around us and they will often go out of their way to do harm, or to get one up on their employers.

A Message for Disgruntled Employees

The giant Disney Corporation believes strongly in its version of the Value Chain. It believes that satisfied employees give better customer service, which directly impacts customer satisfaction. They believe that in turn drives increased customer retention, particularly in its theme parks. And ultimately, that has a positive knock-on effect on financial results.

So strong is its belief that it claims to be able to predict its year-end financial outcome from its mid-year results of its group-wide employee engagement survey. Now while that sounds like a big claim, you get the drift of the message. If employees are not satisfied in their job (now more commonly described as employee engagement) then there are negative financial consequences.  

Leaving Disney aside, how many times have you personally as a customer, been on the receiving end of poor service at the front line? Or indeed how many times have you witnessed some of your own work colleagues dragging their heels, wasting time and deliberately missing opportunities for the business? There are disgruntled employees all around us and they will often go out of their way to do harm, or to get one up on their employers.

Don’t forget that those employees also interface with other colleagues and possibly even with customers. This person won’t hold back from letting others know how disgruntled they are. They may be overt in their actions or they might be passive-aggressive. I’m not scaremongering when I say that their negativity can be corrosive in a team.

When conducting confidential engagement surveys with our partners Workbly.com, we classify employees into three groups. There are those that are highly engaged and fully committed, who tend to be highly productive and will embrace change willingly. A second group are reasonably engaged and do a good job. But there is often a third group that are actively dis-engaged. They are the ones that go around looking for others to join them in their negativity. They’ll bitch and moan about everything.

Now of course we don’t know who they are, because surveys are anonymous. But addressing this is not about ‘who’ they are, it’s about ‘why’ and ‘what’ can we do about it! Let’s not forget one important point. When employees join a company on their first day, they’re likely to be highly engaged. What causes them to fall into the third category over time? Is it something the company has done or failed to do? Or is it something to do with the employee themselves?

A Disgruntled Employee

54 year old John joined his company 10+ years ago, as a key account executive. In that time, he became a major asset to the company, regularly beating his sales targets. As the company grew and his status in the industry escalated, a new position became available when John’s boss departed. John applied for the vacancy, expecting to get it but didn’t.

The downward spiral started around then. He transformed from the effective and popular Dr. Jekyll to a difficult Mr. Hyde. Not accepting that the skills of leading a sales team are completely different to those of selling to key accounts, he has turned on the company and his new boss in particular. He does the bare minimum that he can get away with and resists every new process, initiative and decision.

Unfortunately, he has managed to convince some of his colleagues that his negativity is justified. But most of his other colleagues are sick and tired of his negativity. They try to avoid bumping into him and don’t take his calls unless they have to. John’s own health has deteriorated as he counts down the years to his retirement. He has developed a bad back and a regular cold.

Steps that a Disgruntled Employee Should Take

If my story seems one-sided, please trust that I’m just giving the short version today. Having met with John, I believe that in this particular case, he needs to look at himself. In this weekly column, my usual approach is to suggest corrective change tips for organisations to embrace. Today, I’m going to deviate from that and speak to the disgruntled Johns and offer three possible options.

Option 1: Do nothing

If you select this option, be very careful. I’m afraid the organisation always comes first and therefore, should not be expected to carry passengers. Even though John is a great salesperson, his negative impact on the business is greater than his value. So taking this option might well end in tears, and a possible P45.

Option 2: Leave the company

If you think that you cannot adapt and accept the new reality of your situation, then perhaps it’s time to move on. And I do appreciate that sometimes the right answer is to leave. If you stay and don’t change, you run the risk of ostracising yourself, ruining your reputation and possibly your health.

However, assuming you get a new job, won’t you have to change and adapt to a new reality there too? You will be on tenterhooks for your probation period until your appointment is confirmed. Do you think you could possibly apply that same willingness to adapt with your current employer? If so, then consider option three.

Option 3: Stay and adapt

As blunt as this sounds, go for a long walk and come back and get over the fact that you didn’t get the job. Seek clarity and feedback on why you didn’t and work hard to accept it. People don’t deliberately go to work to do a bad job, and neither do you. Remember what made you a great salesperson. Be proud of your other talents and be the best you can be. And if you feel strong enough, surprise your boss and offer an olive branch. Choose your attitude, don’t let it choose you.


Employers, you’re not completely off the hook this week. Far too often, employers get it badly wrong and handle such scenarios with bluntness and a total lack of empathy and sensitivity.

Remember that it takes two to tango.

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Culture & Change management expert

Enthusiastic and down-to-earth, Alan can share his hard-won insight from helping global giants to grow profit.