Professionals in Sydney
LegalJune 14, 2022

Why are employees unhappy at their workplaces?

By: Kavitha Kesavan
Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors in the world, said “Culture, more than rule books, determines how an organization behaves”.

An ethical workplace environment leads to happier employees who are motivated to perform to the best of their abilities, improves retention of employees, encourages loyalty, and results in higher productivity.

Managers and the HR department have a major role to play in boosting the morale of employees by:

  • ensuring unethical behaviours do not occur at workplaces
  • implementing strong disciplinary codes in their workplace policies, and
  • ensuring toxic employees are managed effectively.

Workplace policies promoting ethical behaviour must be created and adopted in the workplace. These policies should clearly outline the behaviours that would be regarded as being unethical (e.g., bullying, gossiping and discrimination) and what the consequences of unethical behaviour might be. This information must be given to all employees.

The following are some of the common reasons for employees being unhappy at a workplace:

Bullying in the workplace

Workplace bullying is a health and safety risk. Bullying behaviour can include verbal, physical or psychological abuse. Some common examples of bullying in a workplace include:

  • Deliberately withholding information necessary for getting work done efficiently
  • Denying training or promotion opportunities
  • Exploiting employees by giving an unreasonable amount of work
  • Providing unreasonable deadlines to complete a difficult task
  • Regularly undermining the employee’s work performance
  • Inappropriate humour
  • Ganging up against an employee

Warnings must be provided for first-time offenders. For repeated occurrences, employers should consider terminating the employment of the bully as it is a very serious misconduct that demoralises employees, causes good employees to resign and tarnishes the image of a company.

Negative impact of gossip and rumours

Negative workplace gossip can be damaging in work situations that require teamwork.

Gossipmongers are indisputable cancer in the workplace. Gossip erodes morale, hurts feelings and reputations, lowers productivity and creates divisiveness among employees as people take sides.

Conversations and activities that encourage a positive environment and good self-esteem among employees should be encouraged.

Managers could monitor workplace chat groups as per their company’s IT policy which will ensure that employees focus on their work instead of gossiping about other employees during working hours.

Terminating the employment of a manipulative gossipmonger may act as a deterrence to other employees and encourage them to respect co-workers and to keep the positive vibes ongoing.

Poor or inefficient communication

Companies will find it harder to achieve their goals without camaraderie and strong working relationships among employees.

Poor and ineffective communication can lead to uncertainty about an employee’s roles and responsibilities in a company.

Inefficient communication can cause friction between team members, making it harder for them to collaborate when teamwork is needed.

An office with open door policy encourages transparency — a concept for building trust and loyalty. It shows the team members that they can approach their managers at any time for help and guidance and/or to report unethical behaviours faced in the workplace.

Managers can boost the morale of their employees by showing an appreciation for work that is done well. There should be no favouritism.

Team members should be willing to give and receive constructive criticism and to provide honest feedback while maintaining respect.

Discrimination in the workplace

People must be protected from unlawful discrimination in their employment. This includes discrimination on the grounds of:

  • Age
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • Pregnancy
  • Family responsibilities
  • Disabilities

Discrimination includes:

  • Insensitive jokes
  • Pranks
  • Deliberate exclusion from conversations
  • Insulting words and behaviour
  • Displaying abusive writing and pictures

Every employee has the right to work in a safe environment that is free from intimidation. When misconduct has been reported, the disciplinary action against the perpetrator should be in proportion to the severity of the misconduct. Workplaces should also provide for the special needs of employees with disabilities.

A strong disciplinary code will create an awareness of the core work values and ethics of the organisation.

Inflexible work arrangements

As countries across the world went into nationwide lockdowns in response to COVID-19, companies were forced to adopt a more flexible working arrangement.

Employees also had to make significant changes to their lifestyle during the pandemic with the reduced need to travel to the office. Employees may have:

  • Relocated to their hometown
  • Discontinued nursing care arrangements to take care of elderly parents
  • Discontinued day care arrangements to take care of children
  • Adopted a pet
  • Acquired a new hobby

Some employees may not be willing to travel by public transport — their primary mode of travel pre-COVID — for fear of infection.

Though some employees have started returning to their workplaces in the recent past with countries easing their restrictions, more companies have evolved globally to implement flexible work arrangements such as:

  • 100% work from home model
  • Hybrid work model
  • Four-day workweek
  • Hotdesking
  • Flexitime

which is possible with the advancement in digital platforms. 

Companies that are not willing to adapt to the changes are losing their workforce. To improve their retention rate, companies need to be more flexible and to implement remote/hybrid work, which is a sustainable working model moving forward.

(Note: For sample templates on workplace policies, please refer to our Templates module within the Asia Pacific Employment Law subscription.

For further reading on Organisational Ethics, please refer to our Ethics, Learning and Development module within the Asia Pacific Employment Law subscription.)

Kavitha Kesavan
Content Management Analyst, Wolters Kluwer
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