Dealing with a Disgruntled Fab Shop Employee Featured Image

Signs of an Unhappy Worker

Just when you think you’ve assembled the perfect fabrication team, someone on your staff decides to leave to go help with the family business or moves out-of-state because their spouse got transferred. Personnel changes can’t be avoided in any company, but they make a significant impact in a small fab shop where time and funds for training new staff are particularly limited.

It’s one thing when an employee feels badly about departing due to factors outside of their control, but it can be much more serious when a worker leaves due to lack of job satisfaction, as that can adversely affect the shop in morale, productivity, safety, and even reputation. Fortunately, disgruntlement is a disorder that’s both treatable and preventable.

When someone is described as disgruntled, it means they are feeling unhappy due to a perceived failure in achieving their expectations, hopes, or desires. Dissatisfaction on the job can arise for a variety of reasons and it’s up to the shop’s owners and managers to not only detect when employees are developing such feelings, but also to motivate them to change.

Some signs of a disgruntled employee include:

  • A change in attitude. A previously cheerful employee who suddenly develops a bad attitude has likely had something go out of order in their personal or work life. Likewise, the outspoken crabby guy in the shop who suddenly clams up and acts somber might be dealing with some new problems.
  • A decrease in productivity. When an employee’s output of work suddenly drops in speed or quality, there will be some physical, mental, or emotional issue behind it.
  • Excessive absences. An employee with a previously good attendance record who starts to arrive late or calls in sick frequently may be acting out of unhappiness.
  • Complaints from others. While a manager might not always notice a problem in an employee’s behavior, there’s a good probability that their coworkers will. When one employee complains about another, there’s a chance that one of the two of them might be starting to get disgruntled.

Managers need to always stay alert to changes in conduct among their subordinates. Many small things can signal the beginnings of disgruntlement in an employee, from constantly checking the time clock to distancing themselves from others on the staff. When suspect behaviors arise, the boss needs to diplomatically check with the employee to see if something is wrong and, if possible, learn why.

Keeping the Staff “Gruntled”

A firefighter goes through extensive training on how to put out fires in the most extreme circumstances, but they would rather teach fire prevention than to put their skills to the test. In the same way, a wise manager should prepare to deal with a variety of contingencies for disillusionment in their staff, but then do everything humanly possible to prevent such by keeping everyone “gruntled.”

The term “gruntle” is an actual word, though it’s often used humorously these days. It is probably a variation of “grunting” and in the 1500s it meant to murmur, complain, or grumble. By the 1600s the term “disgruntled” had arisen, with the idea that someone wasn’t able to complain aloud, so they just held in their dissatisfaction and became sullen. Over the years disgruntled came to refer to someone holding a bad attitude, whether they verbally expressed it or not, and gruntle faded out of usage. In a 1938 novel, P.G. Wodehouse wrote a humorous line, “If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.” From that point onward, people started to use gruntled to mean the opposite of disgruntled: satisfied, contented, or in good spirits.

Job satisfaction is the essential ingredient to avoiding an unhappy employee, and management has the responsibility to set the tone in their organization or department that will keep their team from being less than productive or being tempted to take their talents elsewhere.

The relentless pace of work in a metal fabrication shop can be—literally—a grind. Often the parameters of the work itself can’t be changed, but the way management reacts to staff doing their best can have a huge impact. When people don’t feel appreciated, they usually aren’t 100% efficient in their work, no matter how hard they try. It costs a manager next to nothing to give a worker a compliment on a job well done. A small amount of money put into a gift card for an individual or donuts and pizza for the team at the completion of a job will likely pay for itself many times over through improved productivity.

From company shirts to company parties, there are a variety of ways management can help a set of employees feel like a team that is invested and working to accomplish great things together.

Defusing the Disgruntled

Communication is the key to solving most issues of dissatisfaction in the workplace.

Before someone is hired for a position or an employee begins work on a specific project, outlining all expectations is fundamental to success. Having employees regularly review their job description as well as the tasks listed for each workorder can prevent misunderstandings and resentments later. If such still arise, then a calm assessment of the details by a manager and the worker should be able to show where a discrepancy has developed, either on the part of the employee’s understanding or in the instructions themselves, and a workable solution can often be determined.

When a member of management addresses an employee over any issue where emotions can potentially flare out of control, it is important for the manager to be composed and willing to listen to the employee. Allowing the staff member to vent their frustrations in a safe environment may help them to find a solution themselves, or at least be willing to accept counsel from company leaders.

An important human need is for a person to feel like they are being heard. Managers should practice active listening, paraphrasing back to the employee what they are perceiving they are saying to make sure that understanding is taking place. Notes should be taken that can be referred to, then when it’s the managers turn to speak, they need to be sure to talk with the worker and not at them. Lecturing an employee seldom solves issues of attitude.

When All Else Fails

Management cannot, of course, capitulate to every request that an unsatisfied worker makes. While feedback is important and should be taken into consideration, if expectations were made clear at the beginning and the employee demands a different outcome, then something must give—and it’s almost always on the part of the employee. If accommodation cannot be provided and the employee stands their ground, then a parting of the ways may be in the best interests of all concerned. Hopefully such a transition can be dealt with peaceably by both parties.

Many resignations are performed in anger, and it’s critical that managers and supervisors remain calm and courteous through the situation. Shouting recriminations back at the departing worker won’t solve anything and may lead to further negative actions on their part against the company later.

If a disgruntled employee is unable or unwilling to change yet doesn’t take the steps themselves to resign—or if their behavior crosses a serious line of rules, ethics, or the law—then it may be necessary to terminate them. When that happens, make sure that all applicable employment law is followed to the letter. While wrongful discharge is the fastest growing type of employee lawsuit, a company can protect itself by knowing and applying the law.

A small fabrication shop may not be able to afford a separate Human Resources director, but every owner and manager who might have to terminate an employee should attend paid training from a labor attorney or other legal professional to learn what is and isn’t acceptable management behavior in such situations.

Compassion should be the rule of the day when management must fire a worker. Negotiating some sort of compensation softens the blow and may keep the employee from retaliating. Can the employee be given a couple of weeks (or even months) to find a new job? Can they be given a severance package? Can they retain their medical insurance for a period? In exchange for such an offering, the employee should then be required to sign a formal agreement that says that they have no claim against the company. A small accommodation on the part of the employer can prevent a costly legal case later.

Keeping a cool head while maintaining clear communication can help a shop owner or manager mitigate most cases of employee discontentment. While it takes a bit of work and patience, it’s much easier to prevent employees from becoming severely disgruntled than it is to deal with that situation after the fact.



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Filed Under: Machine Tools, Fab Shop Tips