Disappointed in Your Employees? Here’s How to Deal with It

It can seem like we must walk on eggshells to retain employees. If you’re disappointed in your team, here’s how to handle it so everyone wins.

You’re disappointed in an employee at work. As a leader, what do you do about it—especially if you’re afraid they might walk away?

In an Employee’s Market, Can You Afford to Be Disappointed? 

There was a time when a competitive wage was enough to give employees pause before leaving a job, even if they felt underappreciated or dissatisfied. This just isn’t true anymore.

As leaders we hope all our employees feel appreciated and are happy with their jobs. But we also know that despite our best efforts, it can be hard to please everyone while meeting our business goals.

Today, employees can find a new job in a week, and they have lots of choices. As a result of this, many leaders are reluctant to provide feedback to their team.

So what do you do if you’re disappointed in an employee’s performance? Do you continue using the same approach you’ve always used, asserting that tough conversations are necessary for a strong organization? 

Or do you take the opposite position and avoid all but glaring performance issues, hoping to retain enough employees to keep your core business functions intact?

We don’t want to lose great employees because they feel criticized or undervalued. In an employee’s market, we need a new way to handle disappointment. 

Here’s how you can deal with disappointment as a leader without sending your team packing. 

Questions to Ask Before Sharing Your Disappointment 

Triggers & Feelings

When you initially feel that sense of disappointment sinking in, don’t act. That’s right, I said don’t do anything! Don’t make any decisions; don’t tell the employee what you think; don’t bury the disappointment. Before you do anything, you need to figure out the source of the disappointment. What triggered it? 

  • Was a key deliverable late?
  • Was the project over budget? 
  • Was the work poor quality or lackluster? 
  • Was your team tearing each other apart?  

As leaders, we often find that disappointment follows repeated attempts to solve a challenge. This can make you want to pull your hair out. Exploring the cause of the disappointment is key to finding a constructive way to move forward. 

What Did You Expect? 

Spend some time evaluating your expectations. The goal is to determine if you want to dial back your expectations, or explain why you think they are so important. Ask the following questions:

  • Are these reasonable expectations? 
  • If not, why are they unreasonable, and what standards could I apply instead? 
  • Does my team member understand that these are expectations? 
  • If not, how can I communicate them in a clear and supportive way?

Getting Ready to Talk

Finally, you can reflect on how to approach your team member. Ask yourself:  

  • How can I approach this conversation in a way that deepens the employee’s connection with myself and the company? 
  • During the conversation, what are the things that I want to convey about my appreciation and how much I value the employee?  
  • What is my specific ask, and how can I frame it in a positive and present centered way? 
  • What support or resources can I offer to help my team member succeed in this specific area?
  • Have my emotions around the initial disappointment, and a feeling of irritation or anger, if present, subsided? Am I ready to have a conversation with compassion and a quiet mind?  

If you decide that you need something different from your employee, approach them in an open and supportive manner, learning from them what their perspectives are and what they need to be successful.

Know Your Employees to Retain Them

The way you approach this conversation hinges on an understanding of your employee and how they feel when they receive feedback. For some people, it isn’t about “feeling;” they just want the information so they can improve and grow. For others, they can feel very hurt, undervalued, angry, etc. This can be impacted by their relationship with authority in general and how confident they feel about themselves, both professional and personally. 

If you know how the employee tends to handle feedback, this can go a long way in creating a constructive conversation that grows the relationship and, ideally, results in a solution. 

Our best defense against great team members leaving is to understand who they are and what they need to be successful. We should also be talking to them frequently about all kinds of things—not just the things going wrong—so that we are building a foundation, a rapport. And then, when we need to ask for something to be different, it’s only one of many conversations that we are having together.

When we understand why we are disappointed, we can make better decisions for our team. By gaining insight to our emotions and expectations, we are empowered to respond vs react. Kudos to you for your openness to do the deep dive and approach disappointment in this constructive way!

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