After Hours

10 signs your staff is about to mutiny

When your staff is frustrated and resentful, morale and productivity can take a big hit. Knowing how to spot the signs may help you preempt a full-scale rebellion.

You've always run a tight IT ship. But lately, well, things aren't going so well. You've ramped up your clients, which dramatically increased your staff's workload. And now your smooth-running operation is running off the rails. The likely endgame to continuously overworking your staff is a mutiny. Many times, it comes without warning. The big question here is, if you knew the warning signs, would you do something about it?

As someone who has been on both sides of this disastrous fence, I'm here to share some of indications that a mutiny is about to hit. How you react will have a direct impact on how your company survives growth, shrinkage, and all the typical hurdles associated with running an IT department or consultancy.

1: Whispered tales of woe

Nearly everyone has been a part of this. You walk into a room and the discussions turn to whispers, which quickly die off. As the whispers fade, those involved scurry off to their cubicles or offices, never to tell their tale again (at least while you're around). Those whispers are most often of woe or even anger directed at you, the management of the company, or the company itself. If these whispered tales of woe continue (or worse, grow), you can bet a mutiny is in the works.

2: Suit-and-tie affair

This one is classic. If your employees tend to dress casual every day, and out of nowhere, they are reporting for work clad in a suit and tie (or skirt suit), chances are good those snappily dressed staff members have job interviews. This is especially dangerous when it happens and fellow employees aren't bringing it up. When the employees are silent on the suit-and-tie affairs, you know they are all aware of what's happening. At this point, you probably have a silent mutiny on your hands and it might be too late for some of your staff.

3: Sick day fiesta

IT pros tend to not take a lot of sick leave. They know what's on the line if they do. When the sick days start coming in clumps (especially when it's happening with multiple staff members), people are reaching a boiling point and are doing everything they can to keep from blowing up onsite -- or they are avoiding the suit-and-tie affair altogether. When sick days start piling up, you can bet something much worse is on the horizon.

4: Completely incomplete

One of the most dangerous shifts in IT is when your staff suddenly stops completing jobs. Those incomplete jobs not only pile up, but eventually cause more work and stress for other staff. When that happens, the mutiny will start within but will eventually reach outside your walls. Clients will start complaining and the word will spread. If you see a lot of jobs not getting finished (especially if this is a major change in behavior), you should immediately assume dissension is building among the ranks.

5: Competency nosedive

Related to the completely incomplete: If competency takes a nosedive for no apparent reason, something is amiss. Either your staff members have reached the point where they simply don't care or their hearts and minds are elsewhere. Either way, this is dangerous territory because it will have an immediate impact on your ability to run a business.

6: Argument escalation

Are your staff members starting to argue with you more and more? Are staff members who never argued before starting to argue? Those arguments are being driven by something within the company -- more specifically, unhappy employees. If a handful (or more) of employees are arguing every point they can, that's a sure sign that something is about to boil up from the depths. The hardest part about this issue is that your chances of winning any of those arguments are slim. Best to find the root of the problem before trying to back down the angry staff.

7: Social awareness

Does it seem like your staff is spending more time on social networking than normal? And to make this more pronounced, are they spending that time on social networking accounts that you aren't a part of? If you can't see their social feeds, it's possible they are lashing out at the conditions of their workplace. This is a tricky area because you don't want to tread on their privacy, nor do you want to seem paranoid (which would only feed into the uprising). You could, of course, block social networking from the workplace, but that's not going to stop them from venting once they get home. The other layer of this nasty cake is that word will spread (and spread quickly) of the discontent of the employees. That kind of backlash could have serious ramifications.

8: The furrowed brow

Do you find the majority of your employees walking around with furrowed brows? The demeanor of your employees during the workday says quite a lot about their state of well being. But it's not just in the facial expressions -- it's in the words they use and how they use them. Are you hearing an increase in profanity used within the workplace? All of this points to one centralized them -- discontent. If those employees remain discontent, the mutiny will follow.

9: Avoidance aplenty

Does your staff avoid you at all costs? Do they leave the room when you enter? If it's not just you, are the staff members avoiding anyone within management or higher? Take this one step further: Are duties being avoided? Rules? Etiquette? Contact with clients? These types of avoidances should be taken seriously - especially when en masse. A shirking of duties once in a great while says one thing; when it becomes regular (and by multiple employees), something is amiss.

10: Late arrivals

Have your staff members started arriving to work late? Are their client schedules starting to reflect this tardiness? Do they seem to be making more and stranger excuses for being late? If this is the case (and it's widespread), your staff no longer cares. If this type of apathy isn't dealt with, it will lead to a serious downfall of morale -- especially with the remaining few who do care. And if you can't get the root of the issue, a mutiny will occur.

Act now

There are certain situations that can't be avoided, and there will always be unhappy employees. But when the few become the many, you're looking at a company-wide uprising that could wind up costing you more than you might expect. Do not allow your situation to reach this critical mass. The second you spot the signs, take action to get to the heart of the issue.

Other signs?

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a full-blown IT insurrection? What signs of impending mutiny would you add to this list?

Automatically sign up for TechRepublic's 10 Things newsletter!

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

48 comments
papandreu
papandreu

The post is great...and the signs are well described, with  pinch of dark humor. From my experience, more than 30 years with all kinds of teams, in IT, development, and other fields, I have never seen a team which actually implement a mutiny. BTW, the signs you give are of PERSONAL response of the staff - which of course, as you imply, can multiply, and put you in a difficult position. But the market is so big: you can always enroll other people, instead of those who left.

The closest thing to mutiny I have seen is unionizing. But i have not yet seen this originating in IT.

More on this:

http://key-leader.co.il

dvs2rockin
dvs2rockin

I am currently very un satisfied with my current site empolyee, and i am really amazed that I have been doing these things un-knowingly. and you have just brought to my notice that its time for me to change my job Cheerss

mike-022
mike-022

Sorry i feel funny of it because some people saying it just to make their day good and laugh but seem you aunt is serious about it.

j.valenciaochoa
j.valenciaochoa

Its normal to deal with boring employees, but in some circumstances we should start analyzing ourselves, remember, not only individual, is a team

erikljohnson
erikljohnson

Along with arriving late: arriving exactly on time and leaving exactly on time. I worked in a place where this suddenly became really obvious. - I was not the boss- when all of a sudden, no one cared about getting there a few minutes early so as to be ready to start on time, nor staying to finish something and the parking lot was empty a couple of minutes after closing time so you knew that people were shutting down to go 10 or 15 minutes before.. Also, sabotage: the boss might never realize what is missing for a long time; old achieved files shredded, supplies, seldom used items, etc. damaged or gone, things disappearing from certain people's desk or from in-basket. If someone comes in early before anyone else is there...

Technologicallee
Technologicallee

How about a rising number of cell phone calls in conference rooms?

rmycroft2000
rmycroft2000

Most companies seem to believe that flogging the miscreants will solve the problem, rarely does the company fix the cause of the discontent. Just saying what we all know to be true.

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

So you're a manager -- but just barely: Just barely up from a lead and just barely up from a supervisor. The company or government agency doesn't care about your people's problems, they just want their management objectives met, they put on the squeeze, insist that productivity go up and costs go down. What to do, what to do? If you explain this to your employees, it's like trying to explain to the miserable Israelite Slaves why they should be loyal to you as their Egyptian master building the pyramids while you're holding the whip. You aren't one of them (any more, if you used to be a tech). Why should they sacrifice? Now if there aren't any real job alternatives, what you need to do is just be cold and distance yourself: Drop empathy. If they can't rebel, there's no chance the peasants will come storming the castle with pitchforks and torches. Let them suffer. You don't care; you don't have to. Tough nougies. If the job market is fluid so there are opportunities out there, you could try commiserating and let them know tacitly that you understand things are bad and you are working with your senior management to make things better. Bring cookies to work. Feed them goodies. Give them a free lunch every few weeks. And be sure that if they are there for 12 hour days, you are too. Of course, the best of all worlds is if you are a psychopath -- so many managers and above are these days. It's a world of chaos and opportunity. Play games. Make promises of bigger and better things ahead, then before you get caught at it, make even bigger and better promises so they'll forget the ones you made months ago. Fill them with hope, even though it is empty and futile. If you have the skills to manipulate them, you'll be a winner -- a real darling of upper management. Be sure to fill them with empty grand glorious visions of the future as well: It has to sound plausible even if it is impossible. The psychopath route isn't for everyone, so as you send out your own resumes and wear an especially spiffy expensive suit to work, let them all know that you will give them glowing recommendations and references (even if company / government agency policy forbids it). Otherwise, this pretty much looks hopeless as a no win situation if you have one shred of integrity. One could argue that lack of integrity is what makes it possible to be a manager in the first place so none of this should be a particular problem for the narcissistic technological incompetent who is adept at playing politics.

Imprecator
Imprecator

The Staff is about to Mutiny, why is that bad? A) Next quarter's results are going to show a significant reduction in operating costs, so the Company goals for a 50% anual EBITDA will be met without difficulty. B) By getting rid of all the whiny, grumpy, insufferable, obstructing IT geeks, you've paved your way to migrate EVERYTHING to the cloud! Good news all around! Hand out tablets to all the non-it staff and break out the Champagne!

ptjones
ptjones

Should be "10 signs your staff ARE about to mutiny". Hard to take notice when the "writer" has no command of the English language :-(

cd613
cd613

always be friends with the janitor remember the janitor is always over looked hes my eyes and ears The Breakfast Club (1985) janitor

Kinetixx
Kinetixx

There is not a place where i have worked where discontent was followed by a mutiny. Why? Because after the mutiny comes the firing. Even if the manager of a unit is in agreement, there is someone higher up in the food chain that will simply say the problems are with the unit manager. If discontent is found out, someone will inevitably offer their "open door", and that too is followed by firing. Call me cynical.

Bucky Kaufman (MCSD)
Bucky Kaufman (MCSD)

I used to be a paid writer for TR/CNET and Builder.com and I watched that deterioration happen over several years in the discussion forums. Whenever I'd try to have a conversation about tech, the board trolls would explode with insane comments from crazy Tea Party types throwing random tantrums. When I asked the TR staff to moderate the forums, they said that they were against censorship - and then rejected every submission I made from then on. I'm in TX and you're in KY, so I understand that it's a regional cultural thing. If you want to grow your business, allowing Libertarians and Tea Party Republicans to threaten and harass your writers is probably not the best strategy. btw - one of the most prolific harassers posted under variations of the name "Maxwell's Hammer". To this day, he still seeks me out in discussion forums to harass me. From time to time, he does public records searches on me and posts the (boring) details... just because he's crazy. This never would have started, had not TR so emboldened him with their support for his off-topic tantrums.

GSG
GSG

We're in the middle of this very thing. We used to have a very high morale with little turnover or absentee problems, then suddenly things took a downturn. Everyone was waiting to see how the situation would shake out, feeling that we'd get through the FUD, and that improvements were on the way. We gave it our best shot, but things have not improved like we'd hoped.

tammy.gould
tammy.gould

I came to work one morning wearing an outfit that my boss had seen me wear to the interview at which she hired me. She paniced and said, "You have an interview today, don't you?" "No, it just happens to be the only clean clothes I have left in my house."

Slayer_
Slayer_

How should a company deal with it?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

be very difficult to pick these out of the background discontent, as suit and tie was standard dress.

a.portman
a.portman

One day I arrived at work in a suit and tie. As it was a polo shirt kind of place, it was well out of the ordinary. A manager type said "Who died?" "My Aunt."

Imprecator
Imprecator

I worked at an ISP that was a business unit of a PTT. They also handled IT outsourcing for the corporation. I remember being at a meeting where the sociopaths (sorry: Middle/Upper Management) were saying that the Mainframe ops personnel had been treated like crap by the deal. But they said they were going to let them go because they (The Mainframe Ops people) had so much ill will against the company that they (the sociopaths) considered that there was no way to turn around the situation. So, the solution was (and still is) "The Floggings will continue until morale improves"

Imprecator
Imprecator

So, you think that Low/mid level managers, according to the people higher up the food chain are like Nazi Death Camp Kapos. And based on what I've seen, you're right. I discovered that I sucked at being that, and guess what? the pay wasn't any better either.

Treknology
Treknology

@ptjonesIf you're so worried about the use or misuse of English in this article, be most concerned about the context of the word "preempt".

Patch9999
Patch9999

If you must play the pedant, do check your dictionary. Staff is singular.

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

If you want to know what is happening in your company, always make friends with the receptionist, the secretaries, the catering staff, the cleaners, and whomever is in the equivalent of goods-in/out. No matter what job you hold, they can make all the difference. I always find time to help them out, thanks them for the job they do, remember their birthdays, and listen when they have a problem.

Treknology
Treknology

@KinetixxPreviously, I was part of a mutiny. The tech support team went out and joined the relevant Union en masse. This was followed by firings, which back-fired as we were able to prove that the firings were because of joining a Union. 

The product was sub-standard. "New" machines contained recycled components which had not been re-tested. Hard drives were imaged without authentication or pre-testing. Basically "quality control" was done by the customers who had paid premium prices!

That particular company no longer trades in Australia or, as I just checked, any other English-speaking country

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

I would have said the same, until I remembered one of my own. A manager, who new nothing about the work being done and introduced procedures that made everybodys job harder, was often late for his own daily status meetings. One day I ajourned the meeting 15 minutes in and sent everyone back to work. When he turned up later I told him what I had done, and refused to call everyone back. We didn't have to have the conversation publicly, but he insisted. I am told he went to the senior vice president to tell the story. 10 years later I am still here, and he left soon after. So whilst I haven't seen anyone else do anything other than quietly look for another job, I guess there is a certain amount of bad management up with which we will not put.

GSG
GSG

I volunteer moderate for TR. I was talking about my "real" job. There's lots of FUD around a merger, and what roles we'll be taking, and jockeying for position, so to speak.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Don't let them hurt you.

cgkomeshak
cgkomeshak

...if a manager is so clueless as to really need info from this article to help see bad morale among the staff before it breaks out into a mutiny, then it is highly doubtful the manager could perform any of the more complex tasks that would be required in the missing follow up article: "10 Things to Prevent a Staff Mutiny."

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

arm the C level managers, and then shoot all the revolting employees.

Richard Bo
Richard Bo

For both suit and tie offices and casual offices, if employees seem to have more dentist and doctor appointments it could be that they need a couple of hours off to go on job interviews.

rolivi
rolivi

I was on the management team of manufacturing facility. Most days were slacks and oxford shirts. One day I had a suit and tie. Someone (subordinate) says "Who died" and I said, "My Aunt". The following week another Aunt died... (Daughter of the first one).. and this guy thinks it must be a safe joke... imagine the look on his face after sticking his foot in his mouth a second time. Two weeks later I'm in suit and tie again and he was silent about it. That was the day I had an interview :)

ptjones
ptjones

And also incorrect, but then again, I was referring to the "English" language, not the Seppo variant of same.

Treknology
Treknology

@Chaz Chance# "No, Minister. The drivers' network got it wrong. There are only 335 administrators."

"How did you find out?"

"From the private secretaries'  network, Minister."

HAL 9000
HAL 9000 moderator

And get rid of the unhappy people, but the work through put suffers and the customers leave in droves when the phone doesn't get answered. I had that happen with a ISP a few years ago and now they don't exist any longer. They got new people and found that their existing customers had left them in droves and that when potential new ones where found they mostly declined to do business with them when they looked for information about that ISP. By that time I had only been dealing with them for 8 years with a perfect service record but all of the staff leaving was more than enough to convince me that they wouldn't be a Long Term asset to me. Col

jsargent
jsargent

Those employees really are revolting. Maybe they should take a bath once in a while....tidy themselves up.... maybe come to work in a suit once in a while. ;)

Slayer_
Slayer_

Of course, when they finished, moral was so low another batch left, and they kept leaving. Around 80% loss. I stayed because I kept getting promotions as everyone above me left :) I even got an office when my boss quit.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Having your prostate then your teeth checked by the same guy was preferable to a day at work. :D

cybergrrl
cybergrrl

@rolivi 

...or clean your office - they'll think you already got the other job.

TRgscratch
TRgscratch

wear a suit every once in a while, when there's nothing happening... it'll screw them up

Redd Jedd
Redd Jedd

Staff can be singular or plural. It depends upon whether one is referring to the group as a unit or to its members as individuals. The entire jist of the story refer to the "staff" as a whole. Even though in the individual points the story may refer to "your employees", "IT pros", "your staff", "your staff members", the author is still referring to the "Your Staff" as a unit, and therefore it would be the singular form of the word.

Alienwilly
Alienwilly

At that rate, unless you are real slow to catch on, you'll probably be next to go.

Slayer_
Slayer_

That's a sign something is wrong.

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

I just didn't realise you could see my teeth from there... ;)

jsargent
jsargent

Did he wash his hands after checking your prostate?

Editor's Picks