You can’t make everybody happy—can you? As a leader, you may be faced with unhappy team members. Some may dislike policies and procedures; some might not like their work, while others are just not be happy about anything. It might be challenging to win over unhappy people—but it’s not impossible.

How to Help an Unhappy Team Member

Listen to them

What do they want, what aren’t they getting? Why don’t they like whatever it is they don’t like? Once you learn this—do your best to accommodate them.

One of my managers had an employee that begun every day in a foul mode. She’d bark at people and be unapproachable for the first hour of the day. The manager invited her to lunch and asked her what we could do to make her job more enjoyable. She said if she could start her day one-half hour later, it would mean all the world. Getting her three children off to school was a daily challenge. Her husband worked nights, so it was all up to her. The manager told her to start coming in later the next day.

The manager called a team meeting, explained their teammate’s new hours, and then asked if anyone else needed a later start. One more teammate did. The employee came to work happy on most days. You can’t make everybody happy—can you? No, but at least you can try.

Involve them

Include unhappy campers and even malcontents in the decision-making process. Keep an open mind—they may have a better idea or unique perspective. Seek their opinion and advice, and you may find, whether their recommendations are used or not, it brings them closer to the team, personal satisfaction, and happiness.

Several years ago, I gave a weekly training/motivation meeting to offsite salespeople. One of the salespeople nearly always disagreed with me during the session. She’d say things like, “That might work in the big city but not in small-town, Indiana” or “We tried that, and it didn’t work.”

I conducted a meeting every Wednesday. So, I began contacting her on Tuesday and asking her for advice. I’d share what topic my meeting was about and then ask for her thoughts. She almost always shared at least one point that fit my meeting. I’d agree with her, ask if I could call on her in the meeting, and thank you. It changed the meetings for all involved. You can’t make everybody happy—can you? No, you can’t, but you don’t always know who you might be able help.

Support them

Learn what initiatives they’re passionate about and lend your power and authority to the cause. It’s harder to be unhappy when your passions are supported.

Thirty years ago, as VP of operations for one of the largest home remodeling companies in America, the owner called me to his office. He knew me well. We worked together at another company for nearly ten years before this. He knew I loved giving back. We sat down, and he asked what charitable organizations we should support. I gave him a few ideas and then added that holding a blood drive and supporting the Salvation Army holiday toy drive would not only do much good but help develop team culture. He looked at me and said, “Okay, do it.” We did both for the next ten years. My job became part of my mission.

Recognize them

When they accomplish tasks, hit quotas, or initiate new procedures, share their activities and positive results. If you want to put a smile on someone’s face, recognize their value and worth. Often a simple thank you goes a long way. And don’t only recognize results. Recognize effort, specific actions, and character.

At a company event, I was chosen to introduce our newest VP. He had worked his way up in the department. When I introduced him, I talked about how his combination of innovation and diligence made him someone that could be counted on to get the job done. The next week his wife sent me a card thanking me. In the note, she said, “I know how hard he works and how much effort he puts forth to get it done, but it was wonderful to hear someone else say it. Thank you.”

Befriend them

Be the boss they can talk to, share their challenges, and support their efforts. Take them under your wing, mentor them, be someone who cares about them. I can’t tell you the number of times that simply by showing interest in a teammate I’ve helped them be a happier person at work. Take someone to lunch, stop by their work area and ask about their day, bring them a cup of coffee. Be a friend. Before someone tells you, a boss can’t be a friend, read this, Can a Boss Be a Friend?

You Can’t Make Everybody Happy—Can You?

The truth is you can’t make everyone happy. There are unhappy people (I try my best not to hire them, but that’s another post) for which there is no answer. They’re just not going to be happy regardless of what you say or do. But this is a small group—most people only need a little understanding and concern for their needs, wants, and desires. It’s possible to listen, involve, support, recognize, and befriend your way to their happiness. Life’s too short to be unhappy—help someone smile today. You can’t make everybody happy—can you? Nope, but you don’t know who you can help until you try.

How Can I Help You?

Does your business have a management training plan? Many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook, a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. Check it out.

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash