Oswald Letter

Don’t let an unhappy employee bring down your workforce

Boredby Dan Oswald

We’ve all heard the quote, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I’m a firm believer in this. Life’s too short to toil away in a job you hate.

So, I’ve always encouraged my kids to pursue their passions and then figure out how to make a living doing it.

My daughter has found her passion as she enters her senior year of college. When she talks about her job, she just lights up. You can see her excitement and enthusiasm for the work. It’s refreshing to see, and it’s something, as her parent, that brings me great joy.

She’s working for a relatively new nonprofit organization that provides an incredible service for young adults with Down syndrome. Here’s the problem: The organization she is working for really can’t afford to pay a living wage. The nonprofit is just getting established and is still gaining its financial footing. The dedicated full-time professionals who work there are in a different financial situation than my young, single daughter, who needs to earn enough on her own to pay for gas, rent, and groceries.

I’m at a bit of a loss as to what I should tell my daughter, who certainly has found something she loves to do but also needs to find a job where she can earn enough to survive on her own. I’m sure I’ll think of something!

Have you ever thought about how many of the people you work with truly love what they do? What about the people who work for you? It’s usually pretty easy to identify the people who love their jobs. They bring a certain joy and enthusiasm to everything they do at work. And that passion usually bubbles over into the rest of their lives.

Of course, sadly, the opposite is also true. The people who don’t enjoy their work—or even worse, hate their jobs—usually wear it on their shirtsleeves. The problem with this is that it affects everyone around them. If you have one disgruntled worker, he can usually find a sympathetic ear somewhere in the office. And then, possibly, another. Pretty soon your unhappy coworker has become the Pied Piper, attracting every less-than-enthusiastic person in the office.

That’s why I think it’s best as a manager to address those issues head-on. If people aren’t happy working for you, then you should help them successfully exit the company. If they don’t want to be there, then you shouldn’t want them there. You don’t have to be mean about it. It doesn’t even need to be confrontational. It’s a rather simple conversation.

Earlier in my career, I had an extremely talented young woman who worked at the company. The problem was that she really wasn’t happy in her job, and she was voicing her frustration to her coworkers. When we spoke about it, she made it very clear she was unhappy with her job and was looking to leave. We quickly came to an agreement that allowed her to leave the company immediately and pursue the type of position she really wanted. It was a “win-win.” She got to go after what she really wanted, and I got an unhappy employee out of the company.

If you have people who seem unhappy in their work, you simply point out to them that they don’t seem very happy. Then ask them what they would be happiest doing. Tell them to consider anything and everything that comes to mind. If they identify something that’s possible within your organization, maybe you develop a plan that would provide that opportunity. If it’s something they can’t achieve working for your organization, then you tell them it’s not possible working where they do and part ways.

I think we sometimes make things much more difficult than they really are. Everyone, I believe, wants to be happy. There are many people who aren’t happy in their current jobs. As a manager, it’s your job to find those people in your organization. When you do, you need to determine whether they can ever be happy working for your company while contributing to the organization’s success. If they can, figure out a way to get them in a position to do so. If not, then you need to level with them and help them exit the company gracefully. The alternative is leaving unhappy people in the business, and that’s not good. Ever heard the expression, “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch”? Don’t let that happen to you.