6 Steps for leaders on how to deal with angry staff.

Being a successful team leader isn’t an easy task, as it requires you to be able to utilize certain skills that not everyone has. Even having the correct skills to be an effective leader, may still mean that in some situations, you may find it challenging to deal with unhappy employees.

By being able to support an unhappy employee and provide them with the guidance they need, you might be able to turn them into a workplace superstar. If not, you might lose the potential superstar, because of job dissatisfaction and a poor team environment.

While it is very unlikely that any confrontation will get serious, it’s very important to have procedures in place to help manage unhappy employees.

In this blog I have wrote about the 6 best techniques to use in situations when dealing with unhappy employees.

1. Assess the situation before taking action.

When dealing with an unhappy employee, it’s always important to assess the situation first, before assuming anything. Take the time to investigate and find out what is really going on with your staff member, instead of jumping to conclusions. The reason they are upset could be due to a number issues, such as, their current job status, another member of staff, or they could be having some personal issues that is unrelated to work.

If the issue is in relation to the work environment, try to gather as much information as possible and have a good understanding of the situation before deciding on how to act. If the employee’s behavior is because of a lifestyle factor, do not ignore. Even if it is something that has hasn’t happened at work, it’s important to show your staff member that you fully support them and you are more than just the person they report to everyday.

Being able to offer this type of assistance to your employee is a good way of building their loyalty and trust, while further building your skills as an effective leader to your team members.

2. Don’t wait to address situation.

When an issue with an employee has occurred, don’t wait to address the issue. The best time to address any issue is as soon as you can. The longer you wait after the issue has been identified, the more time the problem will have to grow. It may not be the easiest conversation to have with a disgruntled employee and it can feel confronting, but it’s better to get it done sooner rather than later.

After you have had a discussion with the employee, depending on what the issue is, it may be necessary to address the rest of your team members. This will then halt any talk amongst the rest of the team members and prevent any gossip or rumors from spreading.

Doing this and letting the rest of your team know that the situation has been addressed, can help prevent a lot of time being wasted with HR down the track.

3. Privacy is key to getting a result.


While it is important that staff are informed that the situation has been looked after, it’s best to conduct a one-on-one meeting with the unhappy staff member. By doing this, it doesn’t only prevent the employee bringing up their complaint in front of other staff (perhaps to protect the privacy of others), but it gives the unhappy employee the comfort that others won’t know what is making them unhappy and allows them to feel more comfortable with sharing their complaints. By conducting a one-on-one meeting in private, you may have a better chance of trying to come up with some type of a resolution for the issue, which may not have been possible without the confidentiality found behind closed doors.

By having procedures like this in place, the privacy will help protect the company and other staff from the employee taking unnecessary legal action. It’s important that you document your conversation, as well as documenting any resolution you may have come to.

Once this has been completed, it’s important that you then type up notes, print them out and make sure your staff member understands this and signs off as proof of the understanding. This will prevent any “he said / she said” misunderstandings from causing problems within your team environment in the future.

4. Keep cool and calm.

At a time of conflict, it’s really important to remain calm and level headed when dealing with an unhappy employee. If they start to become upset once you have approached them, simply speak gently and give them time to calm down. This might be a good opportunity for them to go for a walk or go to a place where they might be able to relax. If the situation does escalate, this would be a time to kindly ask them to remain professional.

If you have gone to these measures and this still hasn’t helped, this might be the time to remove yourself from the situation and allow the employee to have some space while they reflect on issues privately. As some employees aren’t comfortable with handling their own emotions they may need time to be alone before coming back and having a professional conversation with you.

5. It will take time.


As part of being a good leader, there is nothing more taxing than dealing with conflict. Being able to fix things immediately can become our number 1 priority. While this is a great opportunity to be able to look at quickly fixing the situation, it is not always the best solution. Being able to fix the problem ASAP and boost employee morale can really help with productivity, but rushing the process is not necessarily the best way.

You have to remember, when dealing with an unhappy staff member that it’s going to take time to sort out issues. If an employee has been unhappy for more than a month it may not be possible to make them feel better after having a one-on-one session with them.

This can be frustrating, but being able to work with the employee and working through the situation over time, will have a better outcome in the end.

6. Always keep records. 

I can’t express how important this is, that every conversation, meeting and outcomes found needs to be documented. This is not just for the safety of the employee, but yourself as well, as it might save you from future lawsuits.

Efforts to address and resolve the issues of unhappy employees don’t always end well. Instead of a positive outcome, you find yourself issuing something like a performance improvement contract, or starting to lay the ground work for a possible termination of their contract.

Whatever the outcome is, always make sure to keep records. This could be things like written or verbal warnings or actions you might have had to take. In the case of legal action against you or your company, these records may play a vital role.

Having access to a range of different Human Resource documents, such as disciplinary action forms, may be handy to utilize from on an ongoing basis. Having such resources close by and readily available, will help you to excel in any tricky or tough situation. Having documented processes and documentation is the key to bringing change in your organization.

At the end of the day, not every job is the right fit for everyone. As a leader it’s your job to help develop and coach the members who are perfect for your team, but it’s equally your responsibility to identify those who aren’t. There may come a time where you might not be able to help a disgruntled employee and you may have to part ways, as it may be time to move on and both go in a different direction.

By Will Wheeler


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