7 Questions to Ask an Unhappy Employee

The phrase “a happy employee is a productive employee” has been repeated by leaders and management academics for decades. And, even in this distant world of work and focus on work-life balance, the phrase is proving true. According to a research, Companies with high employee satisfaction outperform low-satisfaction companies by 202%

The good news is that 65% of US employees are satisfied with their jobs. 20% say they are passionate about their current position. However, there are still millions of people who are unhappy with their current jobs.

Whether you’ve just started your side hustle or you’re a serial entrepreneur, you know that creating employee happiness is key to building a great company. But what do you do if you suspect an employee is disgruntled? Is employee illness permanent?

Asking questions can open the dialogue to find the root cause of an employee’s illness. By asking the right questions, you create an opportunity to gain insight into your employee’s mindset as well as your own company culture. Here are 7 questions you can ask a disgruntled employee.

How are you doing lately?

It can be easy to dismiss an employee’s happiness as irrelevant until it starts to affect their performance. But the truth is it’s important to see employees as more than employees – they’re people. Serious, important events can and will affect people’s lives And the emotional load a person carries can affect their job performance.

Whether it’s losing a child, losing a parent, or losing a home, people can carry these things with them. So, if you ask an employee how they’re doing, they may open up to you in ways you’re not ready to handle. And, while maintaining proper boundaries is important, it’s also a good idea to make sure employees have the right place to go for help with life’s biggest challenges.

If your company has an employee assistance program, it can be a helpful way for employees to get confidential help with some of life’s toughest challenges.

Is there anything you want to reveal?

This is an open-ended question that can yield different results. This is a way you can ask for feedback without demanding a yes or no answer The answer can capture what’s really on the person’s mind. If an employee is noticeably disgruntled, you’ll want to pay attention to any non-verbal body language cues that might indicate their words don’t match their true opinions.

How do you feel about your job?

Disgruntled employees are often the same employees who underperform and Show less engagement. Asking an employee how they feel about their job will give you some much-needed insight into their behavior. However, the answer to this question may not always be the easiest for the employee.

Often, employees feel that they cannot be honest with their employers. There may be a feeling of apprehension by the employee. Perhaps they feel they could be punished or even fired for expressing their true feelings. As a leader, you need to reassure your employees that you want their feedback so you can improve their work lives. So you can’t hold it against them.

This question may give you an opportunity to confirm your existing doubts. For example, you may think an employee needs more challenge in their role, but may want to stay where they are. Or, you may think an employee is perfectly fine with where they are, but they may realize they need a more challenging position.

How do you feel about your colleagues?

The best teams are driven by teamwork, cooperation, collaboration and mutual respect. If you are not “in the sector” so to speak, you may not be exposed How teams work. How are colleagues? Has a toxic workplace developed? This question can allow you to confirm suspicions if you believe a negative workplace dynamic has developed.

Few workplaces exist without some tension between colleagues. If not permanently, then maybe during high stress times like busy seasons or company changes. Asking your disgruntled employee how they feel about their co-workers can give you insight into some of their unhappiness.

What do you like about your job?

This is a question that can allow you to capitalize on the strengths of an unhappy employee, especially if you suspect the person is not a good fit for the job. Listen carefully to what you hear after asking these questions. If an employee likes nothing — or very little — about their job, pay close attention.

It is important for all employees to know what their strengths and interests are. This becomes even more important when it becomes clear that an employee is no longer interested or able to stay in their role.

If your employee hasn’t already shared something negative about their job, you may want to ask a follow-up question. And that question should be “What do you dislike about your job?” This will help you put the pieces together about the source of the employee’s illness at work.

What inspires you?

Different people are motivated by different things. And, an employee’s motivation may change over time. Some employees are motivated by their salary and future career position. Are motivated by other employees Non-monetary rewards. As a leader, you understand what motivates each employee so you can do your best to facilitate that motivation.

However, sometimes employees aren’t entirely sure what really motivates them. If one of your employees is still trying to figure out what might happen to them, you can help the process by offering some ideas for incentives. Here are some things that can motivate a person:

  • salary increase
  • Work Environment – Remote, Hybrid, Flex, etc
  • culture
  • Autonomy
  • safety
  • Work life balance
  • praise
  • Creativity at work
  • Freedom to create work as they wish
  • Business reputation
  • Relationships with customers, vendors or suppliers
  • Prizes – Prizes, contests, raffles etc.
  • community

These are some of the things that can motivate a person. And, many things that motivate a person to work are not directly connected to the workplace. For example, a person may be motivated to work to save for a down payment on a house or a new car.

Understanding what motivates a person – and equally important, what motivates a person – can help when an employee or group of employees is unhappy.

How can we (company/management) help you?

When an employee feels set up to fail on the job, it’s a recipe for employee unhappiness. Do your employees have what they need to do their jobs? Has the budget been cut? Have resources been excluded? Employees can lose morale when they don’t have what they need to succeed.

So, it’s a good idea to ask an unhappy employee how the company can help them. Do experienced employees need opportunities to learn something new? Does the company need equipment upgrades? Are there known problems with equipment, internal systems or equipment that employees use frequently? Employees often encounter problems, so they can often contribute to solutions.

How we can help you is a good question to ask unhappy employees who may not be good at their jobs. This is a good way to determine how to course-correct if they need additional training, mentoring or support to be successful.


Having conversations with unhappy employees can feel awkward, but it’s worth it. There are several ways you can start a dialogue. You can ask employees what they enjoy about their work, what support they need, and how they feel about their coworkers. The input you get can help get an employee out of an unhappiness slump and back on the satisfaction track.

Erin Shelby on Twitter
Erin Shelby

Team Writer: Erin Shelby is a writer and blogger based in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @ByErinShelby

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Article Tags:

Company Culture · Featured · Find Your Way · Grow Your Business · Leadership

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Find Your Way · Grow Your Business · Lead Your Team · Your Mindset

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