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Five signs your employees aren’t happy

t comes as no great surprise: productive people are happier. Recent research* suggests people who are happy at work are 22 per cent more likely to be productive.

Workplace productivity expert Cholena Orr says when people develop better habits, they feel more in control and are happier at work and home.

Orr, the director of pac executive Human Capital, says it is a chicken-and-egg scenario. “People who are productive are likely to be happier at work, and then people who are happier tend to be more productive at work,” she says.

“Stress isn’t caused by the amount of work that you do, it is caused by the way that you manage your work.”

Clearly, then, focusing on productivity and staff happiness is a win-win. So what are the clues that you have unhappy staff?

1. They’re focusing on the wrong things

Unhappy employees report slightly higher instances of procrastination, have 16 per cent greater difficulty focusing on important work, and are 17 per cent more likely to attend unnecessary and unproductive meetings.

Unhappy workers focus on things they can’t control – from the weather to the state of the market or the direction of the business.

They tend to avoid responsibility through absenteeism, blaming others for their lack of delivery, downplaying the importance of uncompleted work, or assigning undue importance to relatively unimportant work. Generally this comes from feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities, or afraid of failure or success.

“Once you’ve identified these issues, set no more than three clear goals with them, and encourage them to take time each week to plan the week ahead,” Orr says. “This will help them to overcome procrastination and regain focus on things that are within their control.”

2. They complain about lacking direction from management

Unhappy workers are 31 per cent more likely to complain about having no direction. There are a number of reasons why. Happy workers are more likely to be present, taking on board management communications outlining the direction of the company and identifying alignment in their day-to-day work.

Unhappy workers may avoid contact with management and miss out on opportunities to gain the clarity they need to provide them with direction.

“Whatever the case, as a leader you can help by taking the opportunity to discuss strategy and outline key performance indicators clearly in a one-on-one discussion,” Orr advises. “Don’t leave it up to email and group communications, as your messaging will likely be misinterpreted.”

3. They have trouble focusing

Are you getting blank stares in meetings? Do you notice employees who are constantly distracted? Is there a member of your team who is more likely to interrupt other workers with non-work related conversations? Chances are they are unhappy and having trouble being present.

This is can be complicated to fix, Orr says. “Once you’ve helped your employees gain clarity of purpose, and to plan, the next step is helping them identify and overcome the things that are causing them to lack focus. Poor email management, too many meetings, messy workspaces and lack of exercise all contribute to poor focus.”

4. They come in late or work excessive hours

Research suggests unhappy workers are 13 per cent more likely to work more than 50 hours per week. Working longer hours doesn’t necessary mean better outcomes; in some cases it can be detrimental to performance.

“Productive employees work reasonable hours,” Orr says. “Happy workers are more likely to have a good understanding of how to manage their energy. They are 10 per cent more likely to have a better work-life balance, 20 per cent more likely to achieve their personal goals, and 5 per cent more likely to ensure they get enough exercise.”

5. They are working in a mess

Unhappy workers are 17 per cent more likely to have a messy workspace than happy counterparts. And it’s not just their desks. Their inbox is likely to be overflowing and files are all over the place. This means they are 14 per cent more likely to be spending up to two hours per day looking for information they’ve misplaced.

Orr advises team leaders to introduce a clean desk policy. “Have a regular de-cluttering day for staff to purge clutter they no longer need in their workspaces, inboxes and in their soft files,” she says. “Introduce the concept of email batching. The benefits are tenfold.”

* Based on a 2015 workplace productivity survey developed with input from pac executive’s leadership team and a group of industry experts. The survey included input from 1385 Australian respondents.