Management & Leadership

How to Help Your Employees Overcome Frustration at Work

happy employees

Frustration can be a difficult emotion to deal with. If we leave it unchecked, then it can quickly turn nasty and overwhelm us with a powerful sense of disappointment and negativity, to the point where we lose all enthusiasm, and everything we do seems pointless.


Why are My Employees Feeling Frustrated?

There are several reasons why your employees might be experiencing frustration at work, but most often, it is when they are blocked from achieving a specific goal or result. Typically, the more important the goal, the greater the feeling of frustration – and the longer this goes on for, the more confidence your employees will lose, and the more angry they will become. This creates a vicious cycle that only usually ends when the frustration ends.

Of course, it isn’t just failure to achieve goals that cause your employees to get frustrated at work. Other common factors include:

  • Working under pressure
  • Office politics
  • Bullying and micromanagement
  • Unequal working conditions (for example, being paid less for doing the same job as somebody else)

Common Reactions to Frustration at Work

You’ll probably notice different employees dealing with frustration at work in very different ways – here are the seven most common reaction types that your employees are most likely to exhibit (and remember, each employee may exhibit more than one of these reactions over the course of trying to deal with their frustration):

1. Direct Approach:

Employees taking this approach will do anything within their power to overcome obstacles and reach their goal – this might mean developing new skills and putting in extra effort, but it could also mean changing the goal itself.

2. Blame Game:

Some employees deal with frustration by trying to find somebody – or something – to blame for their inability to achieve their goal. This is sometimes undertaken without enough knowledge of the facts to accurately place the blame.

3. Aggression:

Another common reaction is aggression. Employees who respond to frustration in this manner may try to hurt – either verbally or otherwise – the person who he or she believes to be the reason for his or her frustration.

4. Regression:

Employees who react in this manner will aim to find sympathy or pity from others around them, in order to help them feel better about their frustrations – this can sometimes include behaving in a way that is not typical of their normal behaviour.

5. Apathy:

This type of reaction to frustration is when an employee becomes completely disinterested in his or her job – they may well continue with the actions, but they or will likely become passive, lose motivation, and their heart will no longer be in it.

6. Compromise:

Some employees are unwilling to accept failure as an option, and will instead find a compromise that involves achieving at least part of their goal, to help them to feel like they have still done something good, and to save themselves from any expected embarrassment.

7. Withdrawal:

This is a more extreme version of the regressive response, and employees who react to frustration in this way will likely run away from the situation completely – this could be anything from calling in sick, asking for a transfer, or even handing in their notice.


How Your Leadership can Help Employees Deal with Frustration at Work

As a leader, it is your job to help each person in your team to be the very best they can be. As such, you can help your employees to deal with frustration by supporting them in finding their own solutions.

Allowing your employees to find their own solution to a problem is very important – solving it for them may remove the problem itself, but it will do very little to relieve the frustration because the frustration normally comes as a direct result of employees feeling like they lack the skills or knowledge to fix the problem themselves.

Here are a few questions you can ask your employees to help them find their own solutions:

1. Guide Their Direction

“What do you want to achieve?”

“Why do you think you haven’t managed this yet?”

“Do you feel like the problem is with your skills or your resources?”

2. Encourage Objective Reflection

“What will happen if you don’t get what you want?”

“What will happen if you do get what you want?”

3. Help them to Understand the Impact

“How will the company be affected if you don’t get what you want?”

“How will the company be affected if you do get what you want?”

4. Help Them Develop an Action Plan

“How do you think you should deal with the situation?”

“Do you have any other plans if your first idea fails?”

“Talk me through the different steps your plans involve”

“When are you going to take the first step?”

Talking to your employee and helping them by asking questions similar to those listed above will relieve some of the pressure your employee is feeling and may help them to see a solution they hadn’t thought of before.

Here are a few more thoughts to bear in mind when asking these questions:

– Focus on the FUTURE, not the PAST. It is what has already happened that is frustrating your employee – by focusing on the end result, you are helping to reintroduce positivity

–  Don’t answer the questions yourself. Help your employee to feel confident and independent by listening carefully to their answer, and not interrupting with your own

– Only discuss what is within the employee’s control. It is a waste of time to discuss things that cannot be changed – this only encourages further negativity and frustration

By helping to minimize the frustration of your employees, you will earn greater trust and respect, which in turn will have a positive impact on your company culture.


You can’t change what has happened, but you CAN change how you let these events affect you.


About The Author

Archana is an Industrial Psychologist who believes that knowledge has to be improved, challenged and increased constantly, or it vanishes. In her current role at NAMAN, she is leading various projects related to individual profiling, competency mapping, assessment centres, 360-degree feedback, and training interventions. A Gold Medalist in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from The M. S. University of Baroda, she is also an efficient researcher.

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