Five things your employees are unhappy about

Article by Liz Ryan on

I get a lot of mail from HR leaders and department managers who have questions about employee satisfaction. Since few if any business schools or HR training programs teach people about fear and trust, many leaders are confused.

They think of their employees’ satisfaction on the job as a quantity that can be measured and manipulated, like the temperature of a pot of water on the stove.

The reason that boiling water is considered the easiest cooking task is that all you have to do to make the water hotter or colder is to turn a dial — to turn the heat up or down under the pot.

That isn’t how culture works. In real life, creating a healthy culture has nothing to do with turning dials.

In fact, when you view your culture as a set of dials that you can turn — giving out a few more sick days per year or bringing in lunch for the employees twice a month instead of once a month, for instance — you fundamentally misapprehend how culture works and insult your employees, to boot!

Your employees are not donkeys who can be motivated with carrots and sticks. They are brilliant humans you have invited to push your mission  forward. They have talents you haven’t seen yet and won’t see until you give them room to bring their talents to work. Culture-building is trust-building, and it takes personal reflection and personal investment from every leader to make it happen.

Culture is made of waves of trust and fear. When the overriding message from your organization’s leaders to your employees is “Keep your nose clean, stay in line, hit your goals and everything will be fine!” you’ve got a fear-based culture.

In that state, the ideal scenario (from a management point of view) is that everybody does their job as vigorously as they can and no one complains or steps out of line. Everything stays ship-shape every day. Your human factory runs without a hitch.

Where’s the passion in that? Where’s the fun? There is no fun in that model, and there is no passion. It’s a compliance model — and the message to employees is “Toe the line, or we’ll find somebody else to do your job!”

As your organization evolves to become more human and thus more energized, creative and collaborative, you won’t run the business by posting yardsticks everywhere and telling your employees they have to hit the yardsticks.

Instead of yardsticks, you’ll keep everybody on the team aware of your mission and let them see where their own personal missions intersect with yours. Triumphs will be team triumphs — something for all of you to celebrate together.

Healthy organizations don’t put managers on one side of an invisible fence and employees on the other. Your empowered HR department is the Ministry of Culture in a healthy workplace. Everyone in the company is part of the Ministry of Culture, too.

Employee satisfaction is a function of the health of your culture. You can tweak one element in your workplace — pay, for instance — and experience a short-lived boost in employee satisfaction and a reduction in turnover,  but unless your culture is healthy and human, that bump will not last.

If your pay scales are fair and up-to-date with your local talent market, then pay is not likely to be the reason your employees are unhappy. Trust and respect are more important elements than pay and benefits to most employees, assuming your pay and benefits are comparable to those of employers in your area.

If your employees are unhappy, here are the five things they are most likely to be unhappy about:
  • Recognition
  • Visibility
  • Latitude
  • Unaddressed Conflict
  • Feedback Loop

Read more about these 5 things and 3 To Do items to get your culture on a healthy track in the original article on

Liz Ryan is CEO/founder of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap.

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