Dealing with an Unhappy Team Member

Ramez Hanna

Leadership consultant at Eneba



"A team member who had recently joined our team after transferring internally had started criticizing the company during official and unofficial team gatherings. The act itself is okay in moderation but when it becomes a constant topic being brought up in every possible occasion, then it's not good. It starts creating a negatively focused environment yet without any intent of taking action. In the beginning I thought it was just a phase and that it would taper off. However, the more I let him vent, the worse it got. It was as if complaining was feeding his discontent. Fortunately, he was quite productive and was appreciated by everybody. Unfortunately, his negative influence began filtering out to those who appreciated him."

Actions taken

"I brought it up to him during our one-on-one meetings. He acknowledged his discontent and explained in detail all the reasons and circumstances that had led him to feel that way. We began working through those reasons, or at least I started working on them, making sure he wouldn't have to be in those situations again. In a way, I think he was challenging me to be a better manager than his previous managers. However, no matter how hard I worked on resolving the situation, it was not enough. He would calm down for a while, but then relapse into complaining again. I decided to get help on the matter and talked with HR. HR agreed to act as a neutral party and open the discussion with him in an attempt to resolve his discontent. This discussion, too, started well enough but I soon realized that he was deeply angry and unhappy. I thought it would be best for him if he left. I came to understand that he was only staying at the company because her was comfortable. I explained to him that nothing is worth living in bitterness like that and left him with the choice to put the past behind, move on together, and start on a clean sheet, or that he consider resigning from his position. I allowed him to take a day or two to think it through. After those couple of days he decided to resign. He left our team feeling better. We still have a good relationship."

Lessons learned

  • "As soon as you notice a team member is unhappy, deal with the matter immediately. Don't wait."
  • "Be very specific when giving feedback on negativity. Avoid using generic words such a 'you always do that', 'negative', and 'toxic'. Instead, use words that describe how you and/or your team feel, as well as the impact that person is having on you and/or the team."
  • "The manager cannot be there all the time to act on every comment, so deal with it asap."
  • "Make it very clear that negativity is not something you can tolerate and that it should be dealt with."
  • "Phrase and approach it as a challenge to manage his state, instead of threatening him."
  • "Sometimes the best thing for you, the team, the company, and that individual employee is for that person to leave."

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Ramez Hanna

Leadership consultant at Eneba

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyCulture DevelopmentPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionSkill DevelopmentIndividual Contributor Roles

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