Unhappy Employees Aren’t Necessarily Disengaged Employees

Suppressing your employees’ natural emotions doesn’t stop unhappiness. It simply puts a mask on disengagement.


A few years ago, I wrote a post on my blog HR Bartender titled “Happy Employees are not Engaged Employees” talking about the relationship between happiness, motivation, and engagement. It continues to be a popular post on the blog. I hope you’ll check it out.

But, it occurred to me after writing the post that we should talk about the opposite – unhappy employees.

Occasionally, employees come to work unhappy. They might also become unhappy about a decision the company made or their manager made. In fact, employees do have the right to be unhappy every once in a while.

Just because an employee is unhappy doesn’t mean they are disengaged.

An employee’s state of unhappiness might only last for a short time. If we think of classic change models, there’s always this step of frustration, anger, denial, whatever you want to call it. I typically gave it the label of a “24-hour funk”. Whenever the company made a decision that we knew employees weren’t going to be happy about, we allowed them to be in a funk about it for a day.

Then we all agreed to deal with it and move on.

Many times, the employees who were initially unhappy about the decision came to appreciate it. They possibly even ended up liking the decision. But change is change, and it takes time to process. We need to give employees time to acclimate to change. More importantly, we need to allow employees to be unhappy – express their emotions.

Please notice I didn’t say be mean and offensive. It is possible to be unhappy and considerate at the same time.

Where companies need to pay attention is when employees start becoming unhappy a lot. Or for long periods of time. When an employee can’t shake the 24-hour funk, something else might be happening. It’s important to get those conversations on the table.

Suppressing your employees’ natural emotions doesn’t stop unhappiness. It simply puts a mask on disengagement.

Originally published on

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