How to Manage Frustrated Workers … before They Lose Momentum

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It’s estimated that 20 percent of employees are frustrated at work. Are you managing any of them?

An employee is hired to head up a project. The project stalls but the employee is still there, continuing to produce the ideas and suggestions she was hired for. But her plans end up sidelined along with the project. She’s a good employee, committed to giving her best, but her frustration builds as she sees a project she’s “in charge of” flounder at the hands of indecisive leadership or a budget shortfall.

Is she unmotivated? No.

Is she disengaged? No.

Is she unproductive? No.

But all of those things are looming if left unmanaged.

She’s in a very frustrating situation—with little control over a project she wants to build as a shining example of what she’s capable of. Despite reassurances and a steady paycheck, doing a good job matters to many workers.

Frustration in the workplace is often quiet. Great employees struggle every day from diverse causes:

  • Difficult or unmotivated co-workers
  • Being micromanaged
  • No clear vision or future plans from leaders
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of progress on a project
  • Growing workloads with no end in sight
  • Boredom

Frustration is an inherently unstable state, cautions a article. A frustrated employee may be hesitant to speak up. Or maybe they have spoken up and feel no one is listening or responding ….

The same article suggests that employees will respond in one of three ways—usually in 12 months or less:

  1. Break through the barriers. Some employees will find ways to work around the situations that bar their progress or frustrate them in other ways, i.e., they will find a way to make their high motivation levels match their work.
  2. Decrease their own motivation. They will reduce efforts to match their limited opportunities and support, i.e., they will stop trying so hard.
  3. Leave. High-performing employees may be unable or unwilling to reduce their own effort. The only way for them to correct the mismatch between their motivation and the work environment they’re in will be to look for a job somewhere else.

Keys to quickly managing a frustrated but valuable employee:

  • Listen without minimizing, cajoling or threatening, suggests
  • Thank them for speaking up—even if it should have happened sooner. Better yet, notice frustration on your own and reach out to the employee first.
  • Stay calm
  • Investigate the issue on your own
  • Identify solutions or compromises. When possible, get input and suggestions from the employee.
  • Stay involved in the results of your solution by checking back with the frustrated employee (or others involved)

Listen to frustrated employees, especially those that are or have been highly productive in the past. Their frustrations might point out weaknesses in your organization. Calmly get to the bottom of the frustration and move to resolve it, before they lose momentum or jump ship.


Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.