Workforce Disruption Management

5 telltale symptoms of a frustrated workforce

4 min read

Work climate is all about how well your internal environment meets employees’ expectations and your own. If core employee expectations go unmet, you face ripple effects that impact operations, productivity, and more.

Unfortunately, most employees don’t voice the concerns that drive disengagement and turnover, because they doubt their superiors will listen. By the time you know there’s a problem, your star performers could be walking out the door.

So, how do you know if your work climate is causing frustration? Look out for the following symptoms—and be prepared to investigate further if you spot any. But don’t stop there! Make it your goal to detect trouble before it starts and nip work climate issues in the bud, while empowering employees to make themselves heard.

Symptom #1. Growing workforce volatility

Let’s start with the most apparent symptom. Are more and more employees quitting than before or actively searching for other jobs? Quality matters as much as quantity: if high performers and longtime team members are among those leaving, it’s time to look closer at the situation.

True, many external factors can drive workforce churn—but it’s just as possible that a declining work climate is leading people to jump ship. Exit interviews can tip you off to the cause. If departing employees consistently highlight similar concerns, it’s a systemic issue within your organization, not just an individual one.

In some cases, you might spot signs of increased turnover in advance. More staff members may be updating their LinkedIn profiles, or more employee resumes may surface on job boards. If that happens, don’t blame your people for seeking new opportunities. Instead, ask yourself if a broader problem needs attention.

Symptom #2: Rising absences and leave requests

When team members report to work consistently, they’re likely engaged and committed to their roles. It’s also perfectly healthy—even desirable—for employees to use their vacation time and take sick days when needed.

Nonetheless, your work climate may require attention if you start seeing more absences than usual, whether planned or unplanned. Spiking absences don’t just chip away at day-to-day staffing levels. They can signify growing stress on your workforce and more high-impact problems heading your way, such as widespread burnout and turnover.

While considering overall numbers, stay alert to more specific patterns within your absence data. For example, a jump in last-minute, short-term absences or long lunches could suggest that staff members are interviewing for other jobs.

Symptom #3: Changes in day-to-day behavior

Everyone has their own style of work and communication. What counts as typical differs from person to person, team to team. But when people start acting differently from what you’ve come to expect, and those patterns persist over time, something may be going awry.

For example, keep your eye out for:

  • More disagreements and friction among team members

  • More frequent complaints to HR or management

  • Lower participation in meetings

  • More phone usage or longer-than-usual breaks

  • Slower responses to queries or requests

Such signs may be hard to quantify, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real. You know your people, especially if you’ve managed the same team for a while—so trust your instincts if you sense an unexplained departure from the norm.

Symptom #4: Demands for more resources

Higher-level decision-makers may not always see the symptoms of disengagement firsthand. Instead, indirect signals may filter up through the team managers dealing with problems on the ground.

Are managers constantly asking for more contractors, internal hires, or support from other units? That could be a red flag that team members are struggling to manage their workloads, among other challenges. If such problems go unchecked, those teams could burn out sooner rather than later, and your attrition rates may soar.

Symptom #5: Unexplained declines in performance

One way or another, unmet employee expectations eventually lead to measurable drops in performance. For example, teams may start to produce lower-quality work, make more errors, miss deadlines more frequently, or otherwise fall behind schedule.

If performance issues fail to resolve themselves, your work climate could be the culprit. While you can expect temporary fluctuations from time to time, stay on the lookout for sustained patterns of decline that seem to come out of nowhere.

When high-flying teams or individuals struggle to deliver results, it’s a sure sign that something is amiss. The reasons may include excessive workloads, strained team dynamics, flawed communication, or rigid schedules that wear people down. There’s no way to know for sure unless you investigate further.

Staying ahead of employee disengagement

What comes next if you notice signs of trouble in your work climate?

First, don’t wait to investigate and address the issues. When employees struggle day to day, problems like increased burnout and turnover are just around the corner. Once your internal work climate starts going downhill, it can gain its own momentum.

Next, understand that the symptoms are not the actual problem. The root cause is usually a failure to meet core employee expectations about workload, communication, relationships, and schedules. Don’t settle for easy answers: commit to looking beneath the surface, building a trusted channel of communication between employees and management, and addressing the real reasons for a fraying work climate.

Above all, find a consistent way to monitor your work climate and uncover key distress signals—even before you start seeing overt symptoms. The correct technical solutions can provide proactive, data-based insights and alert you to warning signs that may not be noticeable at first sight. By staying on top of the root causes of disengagement, you’ll put yourself on the path to a more stable and reliable workforce.