Staying Out of Harm’s Way: How to Handle a Disgruntled Employee

By Mariah Collins, SHRM-CP on Mar 18, 2024
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Navigating the complexities of workplace dynamics, particularly when it includes a disgruntled employee, is crucial for maintaining a healthy and safe work environment. Understanding how to handle a disgruntled employee not only aids in resolving potential conflicts but also plays a significant role in safeguarding the well-being of all employees. 

This is underscored by alarming statistics that highlight the severity of workplace violence in the United States.

According to data from the National Safety Council, the issue is far from negligible, with thousands of American workers each year reporting instances of workplace violence. During 2021-22, workplace assaults led to 57,610 injuries. Furthermore, the year 2022 alone saw 525 fatalities due to workplace assault.

The threat extends beyond physical altercations, encompassing the fear of workplace shootings. In 2021, 57% of the 61 incidents that matched the FBI’s criteria for an active shooter situation occurred within businesses, educational institutions or healthcare facilities.

These statistics are not just numbers but a call to action for employers and employees alike to engage in meaningful discussions and strategies on how to handle a disgruntled employee.

Through proactive measures and a keen understanding of the underlying issues, it's possible to navigate these challenging waters and foster a safer, more inclusive workplace for everyone.

RELATED: How to Terminate a Remote Employee >>

How to Handle a Disgruntled Employee: 3 Steps

  1. Identifying a Disgruntled Employee
  2. Handling a Disgruntled Employee
  3. Terminating a Disgruntled Employee

Workplace Violence: Most Active Shooter Incidents Occur at Work

Identifying Disgruntled Employees

Disgruntled employees are disengaged complainers who actively undermine productivity, morale and your company’s reputation through a variety of damaging behaviors:

  • Tardiness
  • Absenteeism
  • Lack of motivation, participation, passion and creativity
  • Negative attitude
  • Poor performance
  • Speaking out against supervisors, company actions and policies

Most disgruntled employees are unhappy with their jobs for specific reasons – many of which can be addressed. Sometimes, all it takes is a private conversation to figure out how to solve the problem or simply allow them to vent their frustrations. In some cases, however, the signs a disgruntled employee exhibits may be a precursor to workplace violence.

RELATED: Toxic Employees: You've Identified One At Your Business, Now What? >>

Handling Disgruntled Employees

Effectively managing disgruntled employees is a critical aspect of maintaining a healthy workplace culture and ensuring team harmony. Recognizing and addressing the early signs of employee dissatisfaction is key to preventing escalation and the potential spread of negativity within the team. Here are some strategies aligned with the goal of how to handle a disgruntled employee, aimed at transforming challenges into opportunities for improvement.

  • Early identification of red flags

    Train management and staff to recognize red flags that can lead to aggression, such as threats, property destruction, overt hostility and talk of suicide. Make it clear to employees that such behavior should immediately be reported to management.
  • Prompt and professional response

    A disgruntled employee’s attitude can infect the rest of your team. So, when you identify an angry employee, address the issue immediately to help ensure the malaise does not spread to others.

Be careful to handle interactions with disgruntled employees professionally, and keep the atmosphere as positive as possible.

  • Maintain open communication

    Provide a private outlet for them to discuss grievances, but don’t empower them by addressing them at the expense of normal business operations. Maintain your composure, and document the employee’s behavior in case it recurs and disciplinary action is necessary.

To foster a positive turnaround for disgruntled employees, consider these best practices:

  • Express trust

    When your employees feel trusted to deal with their dissatisfaction and their work in general, they’re more likely to be engaged, high performers.
  • Provide training 

    Employees who lack confidence in their job performance often become unhappy at work. To prevent (or remedy) this situation, provide adequate professional development opportunities.
  • Follow up

    After your initial conversations, check in with the employee to see if his or her perspective has improved. Maintaining communication helps the employee feel valued and creates opportunities to identify whether further corrective measures are necessary.

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Terminating Disgruntled Employees

If an employee continues to be disruptive despite your best efforts to resolve the situation, it may be time to consider termination. As we’ve witnessed across the country, dismissing disgruntled employees and simultaneously cutting them off from support may lead to acts of retribution and might result in liability if they attack former colleagues.

The best remedy is to minimize the emotion inherent in an employee termination at the outset. How terminations are handled is a critical factor in determining whether or not the ousted employee will elevate negative feelings to another level post-termination. Employees who characterize their termination as unfair, unexpected or vindictive are more likely to respond in a vengeful manner.

You often can mitigate the emotional backlash and a terminated employee’s desire for revenge through a progressive disciplinary system tied to meaningful employee evaluations. Such a process gives employees fair warning and a chance to improve.

RELATED: Chasing the Silver Lining: How to Overcome Negativity in the Workplace >>

Take these steps to minimize the risk a former disgruntled employee will try to harm your company or your employees:

  • Give direction

    Give clear direction for the desired improvement in accordance with your company’s disciplinary policies, which should be communicated to all employees.
  • Train managers 

    Train managers to effectively communicate their concerns to employees.

  • Accurately document

    Accurately document the employee’s quality of work in regular performance reviews, which may ultimately serve to validate your decision to terminate.

10 Steps for Successful Offboarding

When terminating a disgruntled employee – or any employee – follow these best practices. Take extra precautions when firing employees who are angry or believe they have been unfairly treated, especially if you have any indication they could pose a post-employment danger to you or your staff:

  • Neutral facilitator

    Have a neutral manager or outside consultant carry out the termination.
  • Direct approach

    Be brief, straightforward, composed, and respectful during the termination process.
  • Security measures

    If possible, position a security guard or law enforcement officer nearby.
  • Continuous meeting

    Do not take a break during the termination meeting, as some disgruntled employees request time to privately compose themselves so they can retrieve weapons.
  • Support services

    Consider offering outplacement services.
  • Severance and assistance

    Offer severance benefits and emphasize any outside help that may be available.
  • Option to resign

    Consider allowing them to resign instead so they may qualify for unemployment benefits and maintain some level of dignity.
  • Complete separation

    Don’t invite them back for company events, and minimize the reasons the terminated employee would need to revisit the workplace.

RELATED: Know Before They Go: How to Ease the Pain of Employee Departures >>

  • Terminate disgruntled employees with kid gloves

    Don’t immediately seek a restraining order against former employees who begin taking harmful actions against your company, as this could further aggravate them. If social media slander is the problem, give it time, as instances of former employees posting harsh words online may eventually run their course.

That said, when a terminated employee’s posts or other actions become menacing, take proactive measures to keep your employees safe. Report threats to the proper authorities, and involve law enforcement immediately if a visibly angry former employee returns to the workplace.

  • Keep track of negative interactions

    Keep track of any negative interactions after an employee is fired to document offenses. Before you take legal action – which should be a last resort – try to work directly with the ex-employee or with authorities to remediate the situation.

Managing Disgruntled Employees: Ensuring Workplace Safety with Axcet HR Solutions

Dealing with disgruntled employees can present challenges that impact the overall well-being of your workplace. Prioritizing safety and maintaining a harmonious environment is crucial. Axcet HR Solutions, a leading professional employer organization (PEO), is here to provide expert guidance on handling such situations.

Our safety and risk management consultants and our HR consulting team can help you navigate the complexities of managing disgruntled employees, implementing proactive strategies to diffuse conflicts, and ensuring workplace safety. With Axcet HR Solutions by your side, you can foster a positive work environment while minimizing risks.

Take proactive steps to address employee concerns and promote a safe workplace environment. Schedule a consultation with Axcet HR Solutions today to learn how our experienced consultants can assist you in handling disgruntled employees effectively.

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