The Problem with Disgruntled Former Employees

We’ve all at least known, if not actually been, a disgruntled former employee. 

Disgruntled former employees (DFE’s, for short), are often problematic in the eyes of management. After all, they’re often the loudest, most publicly opposed to leadership. They’re completely unhampered by any societal obligations to their now-ex-coworkers, and unless you’ve bought them off with some sort of an NDA tied to compensation packages, might be the most likely to start talking about their negative experience with anyone and everyone who is willing to listen. 

From a leader’s perspective, it’s likely their quality of work has been tanking, they’re misbehaving around the office, and obviously don’t want to be there, so why should you listen to someone who was so obviously unhappy with their job?

Because of the power dynamic that might be keeping honest feedback from making its way to you is now removed and you might be finally getting exposed to what you need to hear.

People with hiring and firing power often underestimate the fear that most people have around their jobs. After all, especially in capitalistic countries with very little social safety nets, one’s job is most likely tied to their ability to survive. 

So while you might think that you’re open to feedback, unless you’re actively implementing and rewarding feedback from others, explaining why you’re not taking certain suggestions, and creating a space where the lowest-ranked employee can give feedback to the CEO, then let’s be real – you’re going to only get feedback that’s been sanitized and toned down, if at all.

It might be true that the DFE is bitter, disgruntled, and has personal issues going on – AND why do you think they’re bitter and disgruntled? Did you ever consider how the culture you’re building might have played into that? 

Perhaps it’s just a personality mismatch, or they’re not a good fit, or they over-represented their skills and are now flailing. Yes, it’s true, they likely have a part to play in their own frustrations and resentment. 

This also does not mean that you might be completely blameless either.

And now that this rogue maverick is free from the fear of you firing them or making their daily life a living Hell, they’re free to let you know what it’s really like. 

Granted, DFE’s probably won’t give you that feedback in a nuanced, fair way that’s easy to digest. But it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.

A friendly reminder: the best way to avoid having DFE’s wreck your company’s reputation is also to prevent these people from becoming DFE’s in the first place. 

What blindspots might you be missing if everyone is too scared to share their honest feedback about you/the product/the culture/the company? 

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