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4 minute read

How Do You Tell Your Boss You’re Unhappy?

Should you tell your boss that you’re not happy at work? Difficult as this conversation might be, find out why it pays to try. 

A woman unhappy with work

An exit process survey by Robert Walters has revealed that although 94% of employers would prefer their staff to come to them before resigning, the reality is that very few employees do so.

Even though a professional might be looking for a new position, many will not disclose it to their bosses until they have found a new job. For some, having that conversation is too difficult and even intimidating.

The survey found that only 42% of employers will speak to their bosses if they are thinking of quitting. Some respondents cited loyalty to the company as the reason, while others did not want to burn bridges.

Another group of respondents believed that if they were open with their bosses, they might stand a reasonable chance of promotion and not have to go through the hassle of finding another job.

Why is talking so hard to do?

While some won’t do their employers the courtesy of sharing their unhappiness and dissatisfaction prior to looking for another job, others are simply worried about the negative consequences of speaking up. In addition, some professionals are not comfortable sharing feedback with their managers.

It is not just employees who find it hard to start the conversation. Many employers fear a backlash if they are forced into a difficult conversation with an unhappy employee, even more so if past conflicts between the two parties have contributed to the employee’s unhappiness.

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However, it still pays to try. The cost of recruiting, hiring and retraining staff — especially talented ones — can add up quickly. After all, 85% of employers said they could spot the tell-tale signs that an employee is unhappy and planning to leave.

Unhappy team members, bosses say, become distracted and disengaged, and their productivity quickly falls away. To make things worse, absenteeism leads to even greater costs to the business.

But how do you tell your boss you’re unhappy with your work?

Be open and honest

Having a transparent conversation with your boss is the first step to getting an issue resolved. The top reasons why employees are unhappy at work include limited growth opportunities within the company and dissatisfaction with pay. Other reasons include feeling undervalued and under-challenged or belonging to a corporate culture that no longer fits their aspirations or values.

Speaking to your boss about the lack of career progression opportunities might be the trick. Setting fresh goals will give you a renewed sense of value and direction. A clear career progression plan and growth opportunities are also among the most important factors in staff retention.

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Discussions are often more difficult — and sensitive — about pay because employees often link remuneration to their own value in the company. Many professionals gain industry-wide contacts and over time discover how their salary compares with their peers.

In addition, being mindful of a few key talking points can make a potentially bumpy conversation much smoother.

First, it is important to remain calm and professional. Focus on issues, not personalities. It can be off-putting for a boss to hear an employee bring up a raft of new criticism, and it reflects poorly on the worker for not having the issues addressed earlier. Discuss your unhappiness – don’t have a dump session.

Second, clearly articulate what you need. If it is about job performance, be clear about reasonable and challenging targets, as well as work priorities. If your concerns are financial, make your case to increase pay. If you are having difficulties with a line manager, state clearly how you would like it resolved.

Third, triangulate. If you find it difficult to see eye-to-eye with your boss, work through figures, proposals, or solutions together. Taking the focus off the personal aspect can dial down any tension.

Take the offer of an exit interview

At the end of the day, even if the working relationship can’t be salvaged, both parties should welcome an exit interview. An exit process is important because former employees are likely to be more reflective about the organisation’s culture, systems, and processes. Having difficult conversations can stand you in good stead when you build skillsets in your career.

The process of looking for another opportunity can also help you understand the reasons behind your unhappiness and refocus on the important aspects of your career development.

This article is contributed by Robert Walters Singapore.

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