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10 Things That Make Employees Unhappy in the Workplace

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Written By Adeyemi Adetilewa

Successful entrepreneurs know that hiring is one of the most important skills to have in the early phases of a new business venture. The quality of that talent will be a huge factor in determining whether you attract investments and other high-quality employees.

Getting that talent onboard is just the first step. Once you’ve assembled your personnel, you have to optimize your teams and, most importantly, keep them happy. If you fail to cultivate a positive company culture, all those new hires could jump ship. 

A new study on employee unhappiness by Real Estate Witch offers actionable insights into what employees really want out of their workplace and easy ways entrepreneurs can stimulate, retain, and motivate their employees.

Here are some of the things that can make employees unhappy in the workplace and which can lead to chronic job dissatisfaction.

Poor Management

1. Poor Management

Bad managers are the most commonly cited cause of employee unhappiness. A staggering 75 per cent of employees are frustrated with their managers, suggesting that bosses have a lot of room for improvement.

The study specifies areas where employees would like their managers to improve. The No. 1 cause of frustration is unclear communication, cited by 31 per cent of respondents. 

It is easy to see how ambiguity can creep into workplace communication at a new business or startup, where funding and survival are often in doubt. Still, clarity is an important ideal to work toward, and there are few people in any workplace who wouldn’t benefit from clear, simple language. 

The second-most commonly cited frustration is micromanagement (27 per cent). This is an easy way for managers to improve because it actually calls for them to do less. 

The third-most commonly cited cause of frustration is favouritism of other employees (27 per cent). This is something that shouldn’t ever happen in the first place, and remedying it would require some acknowledgement of wrongdoing. 

Managers should always be aware that unfair or inconsistent treatment of employees will absolutely erode their ability to do their job effectively and will quickly get them tagged as “a horrible boss”.

2. Personal Attacks and Unkind Remarks

Disturbingly, nearly 1 in 5 employees (19 per cent) say they’ve experienced personal attacks or unkind remarks from their managers. Furthermore, 15 per cent say they’ve experienced harassment or bullying from their managers.

Although the way different employees assess a boss’ management style is subjective, behaviour that rises to the level of harassment or bullying should never be tolerated and will quickly erode workplace morale. 

Considering that employee motivation is one of the biggest factors in whether a new venture survives, most entrepreneurs should probably avoid harsh management styles.

Harsh Performance Reviews

3. Harsh Performance Reviews

Nearly a quarter of employees (23 per cent) regard their performance reviews with dread or anxiety. Having some nerves is understandable, but 1 in 5 workers say their managers tear down their confidence and negatively impact their self-esteem during reviews. 

4. Bosses Who Discourage Breaks

Nearly 1 in 5 employees (19 per cent) say they feel uncomfortable taking breaks because their managers might view them as unproductive, and a surprising 13 per cent say their managers explicitly discourage them from taking breaks.

The need to grind through lunches and breaks is understandable in the chaotic early days of a new business, but pressuring employees to skip breaks on a regular basis will lead to employee dissatisfaction and, paradoxically, low productivity.

5. Work Responsibilities Spilling Over Into Non-Working Hours

Employees place a very high value on work-life balance. It may be tough for entrepreneurs to limit their business activities to normal business hours, but they should do what they can to avoid leaning too much on their employees outside of work hours.

After-hours communication is already the norm for a majority of workers (68 per cent), with 19 per cent saying they have to respond on weekends and 16 per cent saying they are on-call even on holidays. 

Just 32 per cent of respondents say they only have to respond to work communication during normal business hours. Among those workers, 32 per cent say they are satisfied with their managers, which is 33 per cent better than the overall respondent pool. 

The bottom line? Asking employees to be available outside of work hours can quickly impact how they perceive and respond to their managers.

6. No Remote Work Options 

Now that the pandemic has given U.S. workers a taste of remote work, a lot of them want to make it a permanent fixture of their working life — and for good reason. Remote work has real, proven benefits. Around 70 per cent of office workers say they want to be able to work remotely at least part-time, and 47 per cent say they never want to go back into the office at all.

However, more than a quarter of employees (28 per cent) say their companies offer zero or very poor remote work options. For entrepreneurs in the early stages of hiring talent, this is an unmistakable signal that a strong remote work policy could be a huge difference-maker.

No Remote Work Options

7. A Culture That Discourages PTO Use

A majority of employees (60 per cent) say a good benefits package is “very important” to them, so it is probably not surprising that they can become disgruntled if they don’t feel empowered to actually use those benefits.

Of the 51 per cent of respondents who say they’ve accrued more than 15 days of paid time off (PTO), around half (49 per cent) use 10 days or less per year. Among those who underuse their PTO, 48 per cent say they are concerned that taking time off might have a negative impact on their career.

Furthermore, nearly one-fifth of employees (18 per cent) say their managers discourage them from taking time off, and 15 per cent say their manager didn’t approve their PTO request. Although it might be necessary to deny PTO requests before a deadline crunch, doing so routinely might be perceived as a betrayal of trust.

It’s also unhelpful in the long run because employees are actually more productive after they relax and recharge.

8. A Toxic Workplace

Nearly two-thirds of employees (64 per cent) say a good salary is very important to them, but a majority (56 per cent) say they’d take a pay cut if it would guarantee they’d be happy at work.

For nearly 1 in 6 employees, a happy workplace is so valuable that they’d take a pay cut of $20,000 or more if it would guarantee a positive company culture.

The takeaway is clear: Employees may accept a job for money, but they only stay if it is a healthy environment. Positive company culture is vital for productivity, employee satisfaction, and even employee retention.

9. A Poor Family Leave Policy

Staggering three-quarters of employees say they are offered less than the recommended 12 weeks of paid, job-protected family leave, and 46 per cent receive a month or less.

With all we know about the correlation between good family leave policies and low infant mortality and healthy childhood development, it is understandable that new parents would feel bitter about an inadequate family leave policy. 

A good family leave policy is a powerful recruiting tool for today’s employees who highly value benefits packages.

A Poor Family Leave Policy

10. Discrimination in the Workplace

Approximately 45 per cent of employees say that diversity, equity, and inclusion should be top priorities in a workplace, but nearly half (46 per cent) say that discrimination is a real problem in their office. That’s a huge divide, and employees aren’t happy about it.

It’s worse for Black employees, who are 19 per cent more likely than white employees to say discrimination is a problem. Black employees (26 per cent) are also twice as likely as white employees (13 per cent) to report receiving a poor salary.

The top complaints related to discrimination are: pay gaps (35 per cent), racism (33 per cent), sexism (30 per cent), weight discrimination (25 per cent), homophobia (24 per cent), ageism (22 per cent), religious discrimination (22 per cent), transphobia (20 per cent), nepotism (20 per cent), and ableism (17 per cent).

10 Things That Make Employees Unhappy in the Workplace

To summarize, listed below are some of the reasons why employees are unhappy in the workplace:

  • Poor management
  • Personal attacks and unkind remarks
  • Harsh performance reviews
  • Bosses who discourage breaks
  • Work responsibilities spilling over into non-working hours
  • No remote work options
  • A culture that discourages PTO use
  • A toxic workplace
  • A poor family leave policy
  • Discrimination in the workplace

If these things are not addressed immediately, they can lead to chronic job dissatisfaction.

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