Acknowledging Employee Frustrations

Frustrations are a part of working life. Co-workers, customers, regulations and management can contribute to feelings of anger, irritation and discomfort. Everyone feels this way sometimes. As a manager, you need to know as much as possible about the issues that trouble your employees. You should also be someone they trust so that they will talk to you when they’re worried or upset.

When employees come to you with their concerns, they’re demonstrating a significant amount of trust in you. If you ignore or minimize their concerns, they’ll quickly lose that trust. That’s why you should always take it seriously when an employee expresses frustration. Don’t ignore them or put discussions off. Instead, acknowledge what you’re hearing and then find ways to learn more about team issues.

Employees typically struggle with:

  • tasks or projects.
  • conflicts with co-workers.
  • personal problems.
  • technical limitations or glitches.
  • limited resources.
  • work overload.
  • stress.

Some people may come directly to you when they’re upset. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case and you’ll need to gather information through different channels. First, you need to be available in order for team members to discuss their concerns. It’s common for managers to espouse an open-door policy and sincerely mean it. However, in reality, they don’t make time in their schedules for workers to talk with them. An open-door policy is worthless if you aren’t available. If you can’t find time to talk with your team members regularly, examine the reasons. Are you attending unnecessary meetings? Are there tasks you can delegate? Managers often get caught up in work that they should really be handing over to team members. If you are a supervisor or manager, part of your job is building an effective team and making interactions with employees a priority.

You can learn a lot about employee frustrations merely by listening. You should listen to everything your employees say, whether it’s through words or body language. People often express concerns casually, saying things like “It would be nice if we had enough time to get all this work done,” or “I’ve been working 24/7,” or “I could get this done faster if I could get some help.” You may hear jokes about any number of things, including budgets, call volumes, low pay, other people’s mistakes or projects that seem doomed to fail. Tune into body language in meetings and in casual interactions. Facial expression can tell you if people are angry or withdrawn. Body language can give you cues about who is feeling frustrated or withdrawn. When you notice these things, initiate conversations through one-on-one meetings so you can learn more.

No matter how you find out about employee frustrations, you should address them immediately. Obviously, you can’t fix everything. You may not have complete control over budgets, other manager’s team members or large projects. However, the way you approach the problem makes a world of difference. Workers notice when you don’t acknowledge their concerns. They’ll feel dismissed and won’t see you as an ally.

You can build a great deal of trust and rapport merely by listening. Sometimes, your workers just need to vent. Work can be overwhelming, especially during busy cycles in the business. If employees feel they have a safe place to share their feelings, they’ll feel encouraged. If you don’t understand the person’s concerns, ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. When you overhear people casually expressing frustration, take the time to meet with them and explore their comments further. Avoid a defensive tone. Instead, tell employees you’d like to catch up and bring up their concerns in a non-threatening way.

Acknowledging concerns can help your team in a very important way. Often, there are issues in the workplace that you aren’t aware of. When you listen to your employees, you’ll have the opportunity to solve serious problems. Sometimes, coworker conflicts include issues like harassment or discrimination. Projects struggle because some team members don’t have the skills to do the work properly. You may need to hire more employees or shift tasks to other people so one person isn’t doing too much work.

You may have to admit to an employee that you can’t change their situations, at least in the short term. They may have to deal with irritating co-workers or high workloads for the short term. Don’t dismiss the things you can’t fix. Instead, offer to look into the problems to see what actions you can take and follow-up with employees after these discussions. If you don’t listen and address frustrations, you’ll end up with people that don’t trust you and that’s bad for everyone involved.