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What To Do If You Have An Unhappy Employee (Or Boss)

Have you ever worked with someone who just seems unhappy all the time?

I often talk with supervisors or employers who have an employee who is never happy.

I also talk with employees who feel like they're never good enough for their unhappy bosses.

If you know someone like that, check out this Facebook Live I did a while back where I talk about how to handle people we work with who just are never happy.

Before you quit or fire someone ahead of time, because they seem so unhappy, think about whether they can feel unhappy and do their job effectively. What is your instruction manual for their work, and what is your instruction manual for their feelings?

Check out the video to see more about what I mean:


Video Transcript

Hey, everyone! I'm Meredith Holley. I'm a lawyer, certified life coach, and the best-selling author of Career Defense 101: How to Stop Sexual Harassment Without Quitting Your Job and The Inclusive Leader's Guide to Healthy Workplace Culture. I help companies and employees stop toxic work environments so they can create a healthy culture in their workplace.

[0:26] Today I want to talk to you about what to do when your employee is just unhappy no matter what. And, this is actually the same tool I use with employees when their boss is just unhappy no matter what. It's sort of a basic tool for what to do when you're just working with somebody who's super unhappy no matter what you do for them.

[0:55] What I a lot of times see--and this is a little bit of a confession for myself, I actually do this too--is a lot of times what we want to do is we feel so overwhelmed and so almost guilty sometimes that somebody is unhappy in their work environment that we fail ahead of time, we quit ahead of time, we fire them ahead of time... we say I'm gonna fire this employee because they're so unhappy and and I'm doing it for their sake because they can't be happy in this position and the only solution is to fire them.

[1:32] Most employees do not like to be fired and so they are probably gonna get even more unhappy at being fired. And, I understand why it's our solution. So, the way that I do this is I'll sort of quit ahead of time. And, I see employees do this too if I have a client who's unhappy or a potential client who is on the fence about working with me, I'll just say "no, no, no... never mind I'm not gonna work with them. They're too confused, they can't do it." And, so I'll say no ahead of time. And, a lot of times we're doing this out of a feeling of being overwhelmed at the idea of someone being unhappy around us, at our perception of somebody else's feelings.

[2:19] We're feeling super overwhelmed and then we're feeling resigned that they're never gonna change. This person can't change. They're always gonna be unhappy and so we just need to get them out of our space. And, really, what this is doing is it's saying I can't hold space for this person to have their genuine experience and I'm not gonna tolerate their genuine experience and their genuine emotions, so I am going to remove them from my life ahead of time to make me feel better.

[2:52] Sometimes we want to do this, right? But, in the workplace context, what I think that you want to look at is the actual results the employee is getting in their job, not the feelings that they're having in their job. So, the results that they're getting is their work product. Are they getting their work product out according to the direction that they have for their work product? And, that's how you want to evaluate their job performance--not based on their


[3:21] It's none of your business how someone's feeling in the workplace and if you can standardize behavior--expect somebody to be respectful, expect them to be kind to their co-workers. If they're following those directions of "be respectful, be kind," any of that, and they're getting their work product done, and then you're deciding ahead of time because this person is so unhappy I'm gonna do the favor of firing them. Or, I'm gonna do myself the favor of quitting even, you're really just giving in to overwhelm and resignation, and creating the most negative result that you could possibly get.

[3:59] So, how do you shift this? How do you do something different? What I like to say is look at your instruction manual for the employee that you're working with, right. Look at, and what I mean by the instruction manual is both look at the instruction manual they actually have for the results they're supposed to get in their job and look at your own personal instruction manual for how they're supposed to show up so that you can feel good, right?

[4:36] So, most of us hate it when somebody - a lot of us had moms who were like I just need you to feel good all the time so that I can feel good. I can't feel good until you're happy all the time. And, what it does is it kind of feels terrible to us, right, if somebody is like you need to be happy all the time. You're never allowed to have negative emotions

or I'm gonna feel terrible.

[5:02] You kind of inspired this, Angela... but also it's something, honestly, I have to say I had Tamara coach me on yesterday, and it was about me. Everything that's been coming up, that other people have been saying to me, is also something that's coming up with me, so I'm totally calling myself out on this. But, it's for real...

[5:21] You and I did talk about this, where we're saying “my employee needs to be happy all the time, so that I can then be happy,” right? Or, for employees, we say “my boss needs to be happy all the time and then I can be happy and show up in my job and focus on my work.” And, it doesn't work because people have feelings and having negative feelings is just normal. And, sometimes, even having really extreme negative feelings can be a normal part of growth and processing.

[5:58] And, even processing trauma that's unrelated to work that we want to support people around. So, a lot of times we think: "I want to support my employees, I want to support my boss, but not if they're having super negative feelings," right? Like they need to have just normal negative feelings and it needs look normal.

[6:15] So what we do then is we say: "okay, I'm gonna fire this person ahead of time for their own good." Which doesn't make sense because they don't actually want to get fired. Or, we quit ahead of time. We're like "my boss is gonna fire me because she's so unhappy all the time/he's so unhappy all the time, so I'm just gonna quit ahead of time." And, it doesn't let us resolve the actual problem that is underlying what is going on.

[6:58] And, the actual problem is always our story about what reality should be that is not consistent with what reality is. So, we put ourselves in a struggle place where we're like "for everyone's own good, reality should be positive a hundred percent of the time or just the negative should be pretty negative, right? It should be the kind of negative that, you know, is normal." Whatever that looks like.

[7:25] We have this small range of what negative experiences are supposed to be like. Anything beyond that is unacceptable and so we just get into this struggle with reality and what reality should be, instead of accepting how reality is and making an impact on it and saying: "how am I gonna encounter this situation in a new way to create the result that I want, or to support this person, or to help this person make a shift to contribute whatever I'm meant to contribute to the situation?"

[7:54] And, the example I always give is like with politics we can always say: "I don't want the person who is in office to be in office right now. I don't want Donald Trump to be President, for example. Donald Trump shouldn't be President. And, then we just struggle with this idea that it shouldn't be reality, which actually doesn't let us make an impact on the reality. So, if I sit around all day long and think cancer shouldn't exist, babies should never die, Donald Trump shouldn't be President (or whoever it is to you, it doesn't have to be Donald), I should have had different parents... we're just struggling because reality stays the same.

[8:38] If we want our boss to be happier, if we want our employee to be happier, one of the first steps we can make is to be like "Hey, how can I support you? It seems like you're feeling a little stressed out. What can I do to help you?” Ask and engage with them in what's going on with them. And, we may even be misinterpreting their feelings. We don't know until they tell us how they're actually feeling. But, if we can engage with it and acknowledge that it's exactly how it's supposed to be, we can really make a difference.

[9:11] So, I just wanted to call myself out about my own overwhelm, my own shutting people down ahead of time, and deciding ahead of time to leave situations that I don't need to leave when I can really make a difference with them and offer love to them. So, I hope that that helps you guys. Thanks for listening!

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