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The Hiring Group, Thursday, March 15, 2018
Brooks Israel

Co-Founder and Managing Partner at The Hiring Group

3 Ways to Know Your Contractor is Unhappy

I was recently talking with a friend of mine who works with a software company in Atlanta and manages a team of developers. One of his key employees had given his notice a few weeks ago, and my friend was soliciting my help to backfill the position. I could tell the resignation of one of his superstar developers had hit him hard. “I just wish I could have detected that he wasn’t happy earlier,” he said. “[Justin] wasn’t just a great developer, he was also morale booster for our team.”

Many times, it isn’t until an employee tenders his or her resignation that managers know there was an issue. And, as in the case of Justin’s departure, this loss can impact far beyond just the day-to-day developing he was doing. It’s emotional. It’s social, It’s a loss. This conversation made me think about The Hiring Group’s clients and their contractors. Fortunately, because we offer great benefits and incentives to our contractors, we have a high contractor retention rate. But for contractors who work for other staffing agencies, this is not always the case.

If you’re a hiring manager, can you pick up on the social and behavioral cues from your employees and contractors? What are the “warning signs” that indicate an employee is unhappy?

Below I’ve identified three categories of warning signs that your employee or contractor might be unhappy. Keep these in mind as you interact with your team in your day-to-day activities. If you sense that there’s something troubling an employee, be proactive to acknowledge these indicators. If these signals go unrecognized, the next conversation could be their resignation.

It’s hard to describe what is exactly meant by “changes in attitude.” You know it’s happening, but it could be a combination of different things you notice. This change is often a shift of overall demeanor – negativity, confrontational or argumentative behavior. Often a contractor who is disengaged might have an increase in absenteeism or habitual late arrival and early departure from the office. Another point is an eroding sense of commitment. If asked to help with something that is above and beyond their responsibilities, the contractor might decline or seem undecided. Lastly, a huge red flag is “clock watching.” If a contractor is counting down the minutes to run out the door, there’s a serious engagement issue.

As thought leader and author Peter Drucker put it, “The most important thing about communication is hearing what isn’t said.” This is especially true when it comes to the workplace. A contractor’s visual cues are a reliable way to confirm if they are motivated and happy. Few can wear a “game face” and keep their productivity up if they are truly unhappy. Visual cues include closed posture, decreased smiling, sighing or stress indicators like nervous fidgeting.

One of the most telling signs that an employee is unhappy is overall decrease in initiative. This doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in productivity or poor performance. Lackluster initiative can manifest in many forms. Take for instance a company team building event. An unhappy contractor could potentially do a “no show” the day of the event, or they could be present but avoid activities completely. There’s also the “throw it over the fence” mentality, where the employee merely passes along mediocre work and lets defects or errors slide. Apathy is another significant indicator of a disengaged or disenchanted contractor. If asked to weigh in on a challenge, does the contractor give a nonchalant response or claim not to “feel strongly on either side of an issue?” Often this is a sign that the employee is already “checked out” and doesn’t feel his or her input is valued or appreciated.

Being a manager of people and “looking out” for your employees is not an easy job. Your team’s success is dependent on the most productive contributions brought to the table by every employee, including contractors. If you’ve got an unhappy contractor, chances are that person is spending more time looking to get out of their current job to move on to the next. Hopefully these tips will help you proactively identify the “red flags” and try to rebuild an employee’s allegiance to the company and the team. Remember transparency is critical to keep communication lines open, build trust and reinstate the rapport needed for a successful work team.