You’re not a mind reader, but is there a way you can tell whether or not your employees are happy? And if so, how do you increase employee happiness?

HR and managers have the difficult job of perceiving dissatisfaction where none may exist. They must know what to look for in disgruntled employees. They have to interpret indirect cues — a role more suited for a person in the psychology or professional development coaching field, really. They must also be able to understand and construe indirect signals — that is, is the person just having a bad day, or is there a trend developing?

HR leaders must know what signals to look for in employees that may mean they’re unhappy.

That’s a lot of information to take in, so let’s start with the not-so-obvious signs that your employees may be disgruntled and then offer ways to manage those troubling situations.

1. They Alter Their Work Habits

As an HR professional, you may not have the same insights into an employee’s performance as his or her direct manager, which makes evaluating that employee more difficult. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean you can’t obtain feedback. Instruct managers to keep an eye on their employees’ working habits and look for sudden changes in performance such as drastic drop-offs or even rapid production improvements. The latter may come as a surprise, but employees who abruptly improve their working habits might be trying to make a good impression prior to putting in their two week notice.

2. Their Attendance Changes

Are employees quickly using up their sick days? Or are they coming into work later or leaving earlier? If employees are taking sick days sporadically, it’s likely not cause for concern, but if they’re using them within a condensed period of time, they might be interviewing for new opportunities. Employees on the verge of departing may also turn up for work much later than normal, even if they’re allowed to roll in at not-so-standard hours. These employees could, of course, just be settling into their role, but they could also be feeling apathy for their current position. Many employees keep the same daily routine, so any change should be noticeable.

HR needs to be on the lookout for subtle signs employees display that indicate they're unhappy. HR needs to be on the lookout for subtle signs employees display that indicate they’re unhappy.

3. They Receive More Customer or Employee Complaints

Did your company once award an employee “Employee of the Month,” but now they have struggled to keep customers happy? This could be happening for a variety of reasons, but not because their skill level has dropped off. It’s best to have a conversation with the employee, understand the situation and offer a plan of action. The latter may include simply switching their job responsibilities, offering new perks and benefits or solving current work-related issues they’re dealing with.

Improve communication by regularly meeting one-on-one with employees and scheduling consistent team meetings.

4. They Stop Communicating

Would you expect employees who don’t feel enthusiastic about their jobs to communicate quicker than others who do feel great about their position? Probably not. Employees who fail to follow up promptly with customers or coworkers could be unhappy. Poor communication could also be a company-wide problem that is affecting everyone’s attitudes. In a study conducted by, 62 percent of employees quit their jobs due to communication issues with their employers. To solve this problem and increase employee happiness, improve communication by regularly meeting one-on-one with employees, scheduling consistent team meetings and talking with them even outside of work. You can also provide recognition to employees who have shown outstanding performance. These will help dissolve the major barriers that often exist between employees and their superiors.

5. They Always Clock Out Early … or Even on Time

Employees who regularly leave work right as the clock strikes 5 p.m. or fail to put in an 8 hour workday may be showing signs of fatigue or general unhappiness. Many people consider their jobs careers, and they enjoy working past the usually required 5pm stop time. If your employees consistently leave early, keep an eye on their production. Once production begins to drop, it’s time to have a meeting with them.

How do you handle employees who directly complain to you?

You may be presented with two different scenarios when employees go out of their way to express their dissatisfaction. In the first scenario, the employee directly states their complaint. In the second situation, you’ve done a bit of digging, noticed warning signs and concluded the employee may be unhappy, so you address them. In both situations you must tread lightly. Your first step should be to ask questions to better understand the employee’s dilemma. Have an honest conversation with the staff member about their position, challenges and aspirations. A conversation such as this will reveal a lot about where an employee currently stands. In fact, we recommend having these conversations with your employees once a month. This will keep them on course.

Solutions to the Problem

Once you have a conversation, you can begin proposing solutions. While some fixes will come on an individual basis, other solutions to increase employee happiness may be (and probably should be) department or company-wide. For example, if your employees are feeling under-appreciated, begin recognizing them for a job well done along with a reward to top performers and those who demonstrate living the company’s core values. You might even get creative and designate a specific day every so often to show your company’s appreciation for its employees and/or set recognition volume goals. It’s often difficult to discern whether your employees are happy in their current roles, but keeping the lines of communication open and being able to recognize signals will make the process easier.

Want to learn more about how to boost employee happiness?  Download our free eBook 5 Ways to Delight Your Employees! Or request a demo.