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Frustrated employees

Having to deal with frustration in a team is a normal part of leadership. Organisations are large, complex and involve many different people, so it’s no surprise that people are going to become frustrated from time to time.

Frustration in the workplace often doesn’t go away by itself, and can get worse if left alone. Frustrated team members rarely do their best work and frustration may be a sign that your team has a problem. The good news is, frustration is an early warning sign.

When you see signs of frustration, you can start to take action to prevent the situation from getting worse.

What Frustration in the Workplace Looks Like

To understand how to deal with frustration in the workplace, you need to be able to identify 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 may erupt in an explosive emotional outburst.

2. Frustrated People Stop Trying

hopeless - frustration in the workplaceAmy 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.

If your team members sound like Amy, you might just have a frustration problem.

Learn More: To read more about why people don’t speak up, read this post: Why Your Team Won’t Speak Up, and Why You Need Them To.

3. Frustrated Team Members Become Less Productive

Meerkats whisperingFrustrated team members spend more time in “damage control” mode than happy employees. People in damage control make themselves feel better by venting their frustration 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 and complaining, remember…they aren’t working. Some venting can be a good stress-release, but too much is not a good thing!

Learn More: The Best Way to Create a Happy Employee.

4. Frustrated People Become Cynical

Cynical - frustration in the workplace 2“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!

Cynical team members can really damage efforts to improve your team. Continuously improving your team is important, so you need people to support improvement opportunities.

Learn More: 5 Reasons Smart Leaders Keep Chasing Team Improvement.

Common Sources of Frustration in the Workplace

It’s far better to have a frank discussion with a team member than to just guess at the source of frustration. However, here are some common sources of frustration I’ve noticed over my career:

  • Communication problems. People aren’t communicating effectively in your team, or with other teams, 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 all a big waste of time.
  • Limited career progression. Sometimes people become frustrated by the limited opportunity for career development in their team.
  • 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 ideas without any of them being heard, frustration is sure to follow.

Learn More:  Seeing Performance Issues In Your Team? Try These Things.

How to Deal With Frustration Problems In Your Team

Now that you’re aware of the source of frustration in your team, let’s look at what you can do about it.

1. Deal With Frustration by Addressing it Directly

When you notice a frustrated team member, don’t play the guessing game. Have a direct discussion about the behaviour you have noticed. Approach the conversation with a constructive and curious mindset.

Ask your team member questions to understand the true source of frustration and let them vent with you for a little while. Try to empathise with their situation.

You may hear some uncomfortable truths, but this will be helpful in the long run!

Learn More: 4 Ways Leaders Can Build Empathy in the Workplace (and Why It Matters).

2. Find the Root Cause and Develop Solutions

Work with your team member (and perhaps your whole team) to move towards a solution to the frustration problem. Start by finding the root cause of the issue. The root cause is the underlying problem that causes the frustration in the first place.

The best way to deal with frustration is to fix the root cause – not the symptom.

Frustration in the workplace - root cause

Use a simple tool like the “5 Whys” to work out the root cause of your frustration issue. Then create solutions to fix the root cause, not just the symptoms.

The “5 Whys” Root Cause Analysis Tool

The 5 Whys tool is very easy to apply. It simply involves asking “Why?” until you find the root cause of the problem. Here is a simple example:

Bob missed the deadline for the important report and now it’s late. Why?

Because nobody told Bob that the due date for the report had changed. Why?

Nobody knew that Bob needed to know – they weren’t aware he writes the report. Why?

The responsibilities of people in the team weren’t clearly understood. Why?

Nobody had ever written down which team members are responsible for which tasks.

As you can see, each level of asking “Why” helps you to get closer to the real problem. Sometimes, you might need to ask “Why” more than 5 times, or less, for simpler issues.

Learn More:  5 Signs That You Aren’t Really Solving Your Team Issues.

3. Start to Deal With Frustration Issues Quickly

When you notice frustration in your team, don’t wait until it goes away by itself. The chances are, it probably won’t. If you wait too long, it may have your team members running for the door.

Meet with your frustrated team member quickly. You don’t need to fix the source of frustration immediately, but you do need to show your team that you are aware of the issue and you want to start doing something about it.

The longer you leave it, the more chance you have of destroying motivation and ruining your own reputation.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #71: A Simple Model for Team Motivation.

4. Deal With Frustration By Being Honest With Your Team

The worst thing you can do to a team member is to give them a false promise of change, especially if the source of frustration is out of your direct control to solve. False hope may keep people in your team for longer, but will result in frustration levels rising even further.

If it’s going to take you a while to work through the problem, be open about it. If you are unable to tackle the problem because it is outside of your team’s control, be honest about it.

Try to focus on the parts of the issue that are in your control or influence, and focus on them instead. Then your team can see that your heart is in the right place, and you are trying to improve the situation.

Have you struggled with frustration in your team? What happened? Share your story in the comments below!

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