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Dissatisfied employees, pop culture style

AKRON (May 4, 2015) — I think it’s fair to say that anyone in the workforce has good days and bad days. As long as the balance stays predominately in the positive, then you are all set. As a manager, you not only think about your own work satisfaction, but employees as well.

With that said, the real question is how, as an employer, can you tell if your employees are overwhelmingly unhappy in the workplace? That is the question I am here to answer in this blog, using pop culture to help me explain.

Joking about work is a common pastime in television and film, but I have carved out four character traits to watch out for to clue you in that something bigger than a bad day may be going on.

Trait 1: The Peter Gibbons: the bored, not caring employee

The Peter Gibbons

I think everyone has known a Peter Gibbons. While he made a great lead character in Office Space, he might not be the best employee or coworker. If an employee is not passionate about his or her work, it can affect output and their overall work ethic. While taking on projects that are not “passion projects” is a part of any job, if employees continue to not care about their workload, it will affect them and everyone around them. 

There are two ways I see this trait coming out. First, the person might really just not care. They may have taken the job thinking it would be something else and do not care enough to put forth the effort to make it better. However, there are those employees who have had a great track record but have lost focus over time. Whether that person is dealing with personal issues or is displeased with his or her workload, these situations can pop up. As the manager, you may want to check in with these employees and speak to them about how you can work together to fix the problem.

In my opinion, one of the most important reasons you want to check in and try to change this behavior is for overall team morale. If you have a hard-working employee working side-by-side with a Peter Gibbons, who continually gets away with doing the minimal work, what message are you sending to that other employee and the rest of your staff? Do you want them to think that they too should be doing the bare minimum? The answer to that should be “no.” You need to start thinking of ways to ease that situation.

Trait 2: The Andy Sachs: The overworked, unappreciated employee

The Andy Sachs/Miranda Priestley

Trait 2 takes us to the complete opposite side of the spectrum from Peter Gibbons. Working hard at a job doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be so overwhelmed that you want to cry when you get home from work…at 10 p.m. Sometimes bosses can put pressure on their “all-star” employees because they are reliable and will get the job done. However, by doing that, employers are risking burning out. In a way, by building up their workload to pick up the slack for co-workers, you are burdening them for being efficient.

An article from the said, “Just like a sprinter can’t run at top speeds for a long distance, your top tier can’t operate on overdrive for too long without losing stamina and enthusiasm.”

The article also points out that an employer would be giving more reason for a mediocre employee not to do more work because then they will be strapped like their colleague.

As the boss you may think this doesn’t happen since your hard-working employees aren’t discussing their overwhelming workload. However, that might not be the case. It is those same employees that don’t want to fail you so it will probably take them too long to come to you. They think that you have faith in them and that they can handle whatever you are throwing at them and don’t want to disappoint you.

In the case of Andy Sachs and Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada, part of the problem was that Miranda set unrealistic expectations. Andy kept doing everything she possibly could to get the job right and it was never enough.

I think there are some simple clues you can look at to see if this could be occurring in your business. When you ask them how their day is going, how do they respond? Do they seem upbeat and ready for the day? Or are they frantic even though they just walked in the door? Is this employee starting to get sick more than usual? That level of stress can certainly take a toll on someone’s body. Answering these questions may help you determine if you’re employees are overworked.

Trait 3: Hiding errors employee

I Love Lucy

Like the overworked, under-appreciated employee, this employee may be so overwhelmed that they begin to “eat” what they cannot do. In general, I don’t think anyone really likes to admit when they make a mistake. Same is true in the workplace. This is especially true if they fear any level of confrontation with their boss. When mistakes happen, you don’t want the mistakes to get eaten, like Lucy and Ethel did in I Love Lucy. While you wouldn’t want your employees trying to cover up a mistake without you knowing, some might do this to avoid a confrontation.

Don’t agree? Type “How to handle a mistake at work” into a search engine and you will see long lists of advice. There does not need to be advice if people aren’t asking what to do.

 Here is some of the helpful links I found when doing this search:

Mistakes at work are hard all around. They are hard to admit to. They are hard to hear about, especially depending on the magnitude.

In a past job, I made a very big mistake. I didn’t know I made it until it was brought to my attention by my supervisor’s supervisor. I was new to the company, terrified and thought for sure I was going to get let go.

However, the big boss had a talk with me. He had me walk him through the steps I took so he could see how the mistake was made and then asked me what I was going to do to make sure this never happened again. Ultimately, he asked me what I learned from the whole situation and because of this conversation, I not only felt better about the learning process from the mistake, but I respected him as my employer because he took the time to speak to me about it. It wasn’t brushed under the rug, but instead it was addressed and used as an opportunity for growth.

If you create the culture where your employees feel comfortable coming to you with problems, you will be able to catch these mistakes right when they happen — or ever better, before they do.

Trait 4: The driven by negative, not positive employee

Don Draper

Now Don Draper is the boss in Mad Men, not an employee, but anyone who watches the show knows he is far from being happy. I believe it is important for employees — and even their employers — to have something to motivate them, but if employees live in constant fear for their job security, most will end up with lower productivity.

It’s about creating a balance between allowing creativity while adhering to firm deadlines to create the best environment.

The employee-employer relationship works best when both parties understand their role in the company and how these roles relate to each other.

I think one of the simplest rules in business, or really any form of communication, is to speak to people with respect. Employees are more likely to go above and beyond in a role if they are motivated to do so. A boss who gives them a clear understanding of why what they do is important can give them that drive.

Overall, a little communication can go a long way in the relationship between employer and employee. Checking in with them and seeing how they feel things are going can go a long way. Sometimes all people need is a little appreciation to get them through the day.


Do you have any techniques you use to show employee appreciation? Let me know at @jenniferkarpus or email me at


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