How Great Managers Can Fix Employee Frustration

Organisations bring together many different people with different personalities that are bound to clash either with each other or with the organisation’s systems at one point or the other. Below we discuss how great managers handle employee frustration.

Handling incidences of employee frustration in a team is a normal part of any manager’s job.

The first step to fixing employee frustration in the workplace is recognising it, and fortunately it’s not hard to identify when you know what to look for. Here are the common signs of frustrated employees.

Common signs of frustrated employees

They have emotional outbursts

Most people sit on their frustration hoping it will go away on its own until they can’t hold it back any longer and it therefore it usually explodes out in an emotional outburst, often sparked by an event that’s not even necessarily related to the root cause of the frustration. For example, an employee frustrated about not being promoted might have an emotional outburst over the office printer not working.

They stop trying

If an employee who used to be proactive, always coming up with new ideas and suggesting possible improvements, suddenly has nothing to contribute in meetings, that’s a sign of employee frustration.

They become less productive

Frustrated team members have less mental energy to focus on their assigned tasks as they spend more of that energy ruminating on the source of their frustration or venting and complaining to colleagues.

They become cynical

If an employee is always poking holes in others’ suggestions, declaring everything pointless and adopting a generally pessimistic view towards their work, that’s another strong sign of employee frustration.

They play the blame game

Sometimes employees show their frustration by dumping the blame for their failures or inadequacies at the feet of someone or something else, even when the facts clearly don’t align with their accusation.

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They become withdrawn

Some employees respond to frustration by avoiding the workplace completely – they might take sick leave even while perfectly healthy, request a transfer to another team, or even serve resignation notice.

What causes employee frustration?

Some common sources of frustration include:

  • misunderstandings due to poor communication;
  • working under pressure due to unrealistic expectations;
  • lack of appreciation and recognition from managers;
  • lack of regular, honest feedback from managers;
  • bullying and office politics in the workplace;
  • limited opportunities for career development;
  • slow and inefficient company processes and policies;
  • unequal working conditions and compensation;
  • being micromanaged by their direct supervisor, and;
  • being heard but not listened to (there’s a stark difference).
Fix employee frustration

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How to handle frustration

Now that you know the signs and sources of employee frustration in your team, here’s what you can do:

Handle frustration as soon as you spot it

When you notice a frustrated employee, it’s tempting to let the frustration go away on its own but this will backfire. Meet with them as soon as you can – you don’t have to have a ready solution, the key thing is to show the frustrated employee and the rest of the team that you’re aware of the issue at hand.

Let them vent

Emotional intelligence is very important in leadership. When employees are frustrated, they need to vent, especially to someone in a position of authority like you so give them the chance to do that.

Show genuine concern

People vent because they want you to be concerned about their frustration so this is not the time to be calm and collected to show how steely you are. Show them that you care, and listen actively to them.

Show you’re in this with them

It’s important to quickly demonstrate to the frustrated employee that you want to help them resolve their issue. Repeat their frustrations to them in your own words to make sure you’re on the same page.

Thank them for sharing

Keep in mind that employees usually prefer not to speak their minds to their managers so make sure to acknowledge and appreciate the bravery it took for the employee to be so candid and honest with you.

Get to the root cause

Keep asking the frustrated employee “why?” until you find the true source of frustration – the real underlying problem. You might even come across some uncomfortable truths, but it’s for the better.

Find a solution with them

Work with the frustrated employee (and maybe even the whole team) to identify a viable solution to the problem. This is the time to put emotions aside and be clinical about what needs to (or can) be done.

Be honest

The worst thing you can do to a frustrated employee is to give them false hope. If the solution you have discussed with them will take some time to effect or is outside your control, you should let them know instead of saying whatever it takes to placate them because the frustration will only return ten-fold.

What not to do

Handling employee frustration is a very delicate task and it’s important for managers to know not only what they should do, but also what they should avoid doing at all costs:

  • Don’t play favorites in cases where the frustration is based on conflict between employees.
  • Don’t try to one-up them as it gives the impression that you think their problem is trivial to you.
  • Don’t dwell too much on the past, focus more on the future and how you can improve things.
  • Don’t correct minor details as they vent, this will only annoy the already emotional employee.
  • Don’t offer unilateral solutions, no matter how pure your intentions, make sure to involve them.
  • Don’t start quoting company policy because they either don’t care about it or want to change it.
  • Don’t demand that they stay calm as they vent, this will only infuriate and frustrate them more.

In Summary

Frustration is a very difficult emotion to deal with on a personal level, let alone handling it in other people. Left unchecked, employee frustration in the workplace festers and sooner or later it erupts and disrupts productivity, teamwork, and morale.

This is why managers should always be on the lookout for frustrated employees and make sure to address their issues as promptly as possible.

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.