1 in 5 Employees is Unhappy In Their Role — If That's You, Here's What You Can Ask Your Manager For

woman sad at work

Canva / Fairygodboss Staff

Profile Picture
Vicky Frissen10

Do you wake up at the crack of dawn, excited about another day at the office? Or do you hit snooze one too many times before dragging yourself to the desk you've come to resent? 

Chances are, you’re one of those people who fall into the second category. A fifth of the American workforce is unhappy in their current role. 54% of people are happy, but only 7% are in their dream career. 

It’s not an individual problem; instead, it’s something that managers need to care about and prioritize. Here’s why — and how.

Why should managers care?

If you think it’s not a manager’s problem when an employee is unhappy in their job, think again. 

Ideally, managers should have a shift in mindset: it's no longer about making sure everyone does their job one way or another, but about supporting people to do their work the best they can.

Here are some reasons why managers should adopt that mindset.

Hiring new talent is tough enough

You don't want to lose talent. attract the right people to your team—motivated, eager to learn, fun to work with. 

In 2021, 41%of the global workforce had intentions to leave their jobs because they weren't happy. Unhappy employees are more likely to leave, and chances are they’re taking other people with them, thanks to a phenomenon called turnover contagion. 

Having a high turnover rate won't look good to possible new employees either. This means you'd have to work even harder to attract top talent, and retain them. 

Take care of your current employees first, and then start looking at what's out there. It’ll have a positive effect on your hiring process.

Happier employees are more productive

Think about what you do when you’re in a bad mood or feeling sad. It’s probably not rocking on some spreadsheets or learning new skills, is it? 

No, most people wallow, become tired, unmotivated and end up scrolling their phone or staring into the distance. Unsurprisingly, this also happens at work: we can't simply shut off our coping mechanisms when we’re on the clock.

The harsh solution? Fire those who aren't smashing their targets. But that’s not a sustainable hiring strategy. 

Instead, you should take care of your employees, which will ultimately result in people who are more productive, more creative, make fewer mistakes and learn new things faster. 

The ripple effect is real

Oh, there are only two or three employees in your business who hate their jobs? No biggie then.

Insert annoying buzzer sound: wrong. That can become a large problem, quickly.

It’s often not just one employee who hates their job. If it is, in a big enough company, it might be the employee’s ‘fault’, and not yours, but usually there’s a bigger problem: more people are unmotivated and unsatisfied with their jobs.

For one, they might have the same reasons to be unhappy. But misery also spreads, thanks to a psychological phenomenon called social contagion, which can happen to emotions–both positive and negative. 

That’s why you should address every sign of an unhappy employee, and not sit and wait until it has spread like wildfire: then it might be a lot harder to solve.

How to nurture happiness in the workplace 

Want to know how to turn that frown upside down? Of course, sometimes it’s an intrinsic issue, or someone is simply at the wrong job. But that can't possibly be the case for half of the workforce, so let's look at some ways managers can do their part.

Start with the basics: tools, training and support

Do your employees have access to the tools, support, and training they need to function without stress? Or are your designers working in a pirated version of Photoshop? 

Without a solid foundation, there’s almost no point in adding on extra things to make your employees happier.  

It can be simple: create a library full of resources that can be shared and passed on to new hires, to make work a little easier. For instance, include a best corporate travel management list, for whenever someone needs to make a business trip and is looking for help. Sure, people can Google travel agents, but it’s nice if you give them a hand.

This also goes for offering decent compensation and benefits that matter. At the end of the day, people get jobs for that as well. So if someone has to spend more time and money on finding a babysitter than they actually earn back from going to work, it's time to re-evaluate the remuneration you offer.

As an employee, recommend resources that may be helpful to you and be vocal about what benefits matter to you. You don’t know unless you ask — and if these are crucial to you being happy at work, you need to ask your manager asap.

Find out why people hate their jobs

Understanding the root of the problem is the first step. Don't assume someone is unhappy because they don't like the day-to-day work, or their colleagues, or waking up before sunrise. Here are some more reasons someone could be unhappy at their jobs:

  • They want to take on more responsibility but get shut down every time
  • They wish to tone down on their level of responsibility, but expectations are high
  • They don't feel connected to their coworkers
  • Their boundaries in work-life balance aren't respected 
  • They don't see what they are working towards: there’s no room for growth
  • They're not getting the support, tools or training they need
  • There’s a toxic workplace culture with gossiping and little transparency

Knowing what the cause of their unhappiness is, is the only way you’ll ever get to a solution. 

Now, it's a delicate conversation to have, of course, but not one you should avoid. How do you go about it? 

Be transparent, kind and clear. Explain that you want to find out what is bothering them, not because you want to explain to them why they're wrong for feeling that, but because you want to help. 

Announce that it will be a joint effort, and that complaining won't lead to being fired: you simply want to make things better for everyone. 

As an employee, you can also bring up these conversations with your manager. Use “I” statements to focus on how you’re feeling and be specific with your requests.

Be the kind of manager you’d love to have

Give this one some thought: think back on jobs you hated, and the managers that didn't do anything. How could they have made things better for you? Then go and do that.

This can be anything ranging from:

  • Less micromanaging
  • Giving more responsibility without constant checking-in
  • Being more interested and friendly
  • Being more understanding of personal situations 
  • Giving better feedback, and being able to receive it

Be honest with yourself about what a great manager does, talk about it with your employees to find out if you're on the same page, and adjust accordingly.

Build an authentic, great workplace culture

Less pizza parties, more honest conversations. 

Attacking the problem one unhappy employee at a time can be a little time-consuming and very non-efficient, so let's look at the big picture here.

Talk to all your employees, and find out where you stand with organizational culture. If there’s none yet, this is the perfect time to start building a healthy one. If people are recognizing that there’s a toxic culture, read this article on how to fix your corporate culture.

As an employee, you don’t need to wait for your manager to start these conversations. Start small and address problems before they get bigger and grow toxic. Suggest activities you’d like to do as a team or ways you think the team can better connect.

Giving more responsibilities equals giving more respect

People are funny. We want both freedom, and responsibility—which seem to contradict each other. But look at it this way: we want to be in control.

In control of how we do our work, to be precise. If you’re hiring ‘independent self-starters’ but ultimately end up having them work inside a set framework, chances are they’ll be unhappy in no time. 

Give people a bigger say in the way they work, and don't have them go to the next in line every time they want to make a decision. It’ll give a lot more meaning to work and will make people feel more valued and respected.

Set super clear boundaries

If you want employees to be happier, think of them as people, not employees. In fact, think about them as if they were your partner.

Would you want your partner to be receiving texts and calls from their boss at the dinner table at night? Would you want them to work late on date night? Or, would you rather have them home, but stressed out and weirdly singing the Slack notification sound while staring at the wall?

Treat your employees like you’d want to be treated, which starts with having clear boundaries. Make it clear that you don't expect them to work during their time off, and if you find that they do: find out why. Do you need more people on the team? Is the workload too high? Or do they have the feeling that this is expected from them? 

Being happier at your job means that it should be just your job, and not something that melts into your personal life. In that sense, boundaries are meant to give space, not limit it.

Are you happy at your job?

If you’re not, don't wait around for your manager to come talk to you. At the very least, send them this article, but better yet: be proactive and address the issues with them directly. You got this.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Vicky Frissen is a freelance copywriter based in Barcelona. She helps brands and businesses stand out from the crowd by putting some personality in each piece of copy she writes—whether it’s a 1,000-word blog post or a short and snappy Instagram caption.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for dealing with unhappiness at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!