Having to deal with frustrated team members is an unfortunate part of leadership. Generally, frustrated people are unhappy people.
Frustration in the workplace doesn’t go away by itself, and can get worse. Unhappy team members rarely do their best work and frustration may be a sign that your team has a problem. Read on to learn how to deal with frustration in the workplace and in your team.
What frustration in the workplace looks like
To understand how to deal with frustration in the workplace, you need to find it. It’s not hard to see signs of frustration when you know what to look for.
1. Frustrated team members have emotional outbursts
Most people try to remain calm for long periods before they become frustrated enough to let it show. The emotions build gradually, with every frustrating event increasing the chance of a blow up. Eventually, it erupts in often explosive emotion.
2. Frustrated people stop trying
Amy used to try to improve things in your team. She used to come up with great ideas and was extremely proactive. That all stopped and you didn’t notice it at the time. Now she simply gets on with her work and goes home.
Sometimes you can tell she doesn’t agree with you, but she doesn’t bother speaking up any more.
3. Frustrated team members become less productive
Frustrated team members spend more time in damage control mode than happy employees. Damage control is about making themselves feel better, and one way that this takes places is by venting with other team members.
If you notice your team members having more private closed-door conversations, it could be a sign that you have some frustrated people on your hands. When your team is spending time venting, remember…they aren’t working.
4. Frustrated people become cynical
“We’ve tried this before and it didn’t work.” “These meetings are so pointless.” “That’s just the way things are around here.” Sound familiar? Unfortunately, cynical team members are common in the workplace. But it’s best to try not to have them in your team!
Now that we know the problems, the next step in how to deal with frustration in the workplace is to find the source.
Common sources of frustration in the workplace
It’s far better to have a frank discussion with a team member than to guess at the source of frustration. However, here are some common sources I’ve noticed in others and experienced personally myself throughout my career.
- Communication problems. People aren’t communicating effectively in your team, resulting in misunderstandings and wasted effort.
- Lack of rewards and recognition. Team members that feel as if they aren’t being rewarded or acknowledged for good work begin to think that it’s a waste of time.
- Limited career progression. Sometimes people are frustrated by the limited opportunity for promotions in their team. Look for ways to give them opportunities to develop, even if they can’t get a promotion right now.
- Process problems. Inefficient, slow processes can be a cause of frustration. “This is a waste of my time, there is an easier way!”
- Not being heard. When a team member makes the effort to speak up with improvement ideas without any of them being accepted, frustration is sure to follow. “Why bother?”
Can you fix your team frustration problem?
Now you’re aware of the source of frustration in your team. What can you do about it? Unfortunately, you won’t be able to resolve every instance of frustration in your team.
Every person in your team is different. It’s always worth having a private conversation to address the frustration in your team. However, don’t pretend that there is always a neat solution to the problem.
Ask the following questions to determine whether you can realistically solve your frustrated employee issue.
1. Is the frustration temporary?
When going through team restructures or other major changes in the workplace, it’s common for there to be some chaos. If frustration is from temporary events like this, hopefully it will pass.
2. Is the frustration within the person’s control?
Many people become frustrated from factors outside their control. It may be how your team works or how other people act. In these cases, it is unlikely that the frustration will reduce in the short term.
3. Is the frustration personal or part of the team?
It’s worth understanding whether the frustration is specific to a single person, or has the potential to affect the entire team. If it is a team problem, failing to resolve it could see your people walking out the door.
4. Is it a problem you, as a leader, can solve?
If frustration in the workplace is due to conditions in your team, you may be able to change things. The real question is, are you willing to make changes to suit frustrated people?
If so, will this have any broader impact on the team? You can’t change things in a team without considering the impact. It’s one thing knowing how to deal with frustration, and another to actually decide to do so.
Be honest with frustrated team members
Be honest when discussing issues with frustrated people. Frustration in the workplace often builds and can result in bad behaviour. As such, you should try to address problems as soon as possible.
However, some frustrations cannot be dealt with by changing the team. Sometimes, the person needs to change their attitude to handle the situation. Alternatively, other companies, roles or teams may be a better fit for them.
This is why a candid, honest conversation may be necessary to solve the problem. Many leaders keep team members waiting, pretending that they will solve issues to reduce frustration in the team.
The worst thing you can do to a team member is to give them a false promise of change. This keeps them in your team for longer, but may result in frustration levels rising further. Eventually, you will lose credibility as they realise you don’t mean what you say.
Frustration is a team killer. Keep an eye out for frustration before it builds and destroys morale and enthusiasm. Act quickly to address it, before it spreads to other parts of your team and organisation.