This article is based on some of my own experiences, what I read in articles and from what friends told me.
What unites most (if not all) of new employees, be it their first job or they just changed to a new employer, is their motivation and engagement. They want to help the company to excel and they often have a keen eye on what could be improved. Those are often the ones who (still) fight against the status quo, besides some few whose value is to fight any injustice but might already be considered a “pain in the ass” by some of their superiors (and even peers).
As a leader you should be very alert to any rumble, negative comments or outright anger shown by employees. If they still show those emotions things are still okay. Not perfect, although being able to voice negative feedback is actually a sign of a good work environment. If you don’t hear any negative feedback or criticism, one of two things happened. One, everything is awesome, and each employee is just happy at work and feels recognized and appreciated. Or two, people have given up. If you cannot tell the difference, chances are it is the latter.
One strategy friends and I have seen is that the leadership is having an open ear for the problems of their employees. This is already great. But unfortunately, it is not enough and can also be detrimental. For employees who are sad, angry, or fed up with a situation it is helpful to feel heard. But without seeing action, this feeling of being understood can turn into resentment and distance. It is nice to feel understood and it will smooth things over for a while when the employee has the feeling that he/she was listened to. But this is not a sustainable strategy. If nothing happens and nothing changes, this feeling can and will turn into anger, resentment and inner resignation.
I don’t say that you need to directly jump to action only because one of your employees is unhappy. But you should also not try to minimize or wipe away their concerns to maintain the appearance that everything is perfect. That is a recipe for disaster. What you can do instead is to openly address this concern and see how other people think about it. This is already one step further than only listening to the person.
Then, if there is enough evidence that other people are also negatively affected by that, your job as a leader is to somehow alleviate this pain for your employees. Remember, your job as a leader is to serve your employees so they can do their job in the best possible way. I know you won’t always find a solution that is perfect for everyone. But having a transparent discussion, followed by a transparent plan to change things, plus actually seeing changes, will be rewarded by your employees. The reward will be trust, performance, and more negative feedback =). Only if people really feel safe will they voice criticism. If you created such a culture, well done!
Also, if you think, Stephan, I am no leader and I cannot change it, I feel you. But have you really tried everything? If yes, then remember your situation and how you feel. When you have the power to change things, do it better! And if you are a leader yourself, please be alert when your employees are angry.
Take care, Stephan