The #1 Secret Your Unhappy Employees Aren’t Telling You

February 18, 2021
February 18, 2021 Kasey Chas

Your employees probably aren’t going to tell you they’re unhappy. And they may not have a name for the root cause, but they can tell you how work makes them feel: 

  • “Star” employees get all the attention and the best compensation. 
  • The organization doesn’t “have their back”
  • Hopeless about reaching goals
  • Their talent and intelligence just aren’t good enough and others are passing them by
  • Terrified of failure
  • Irritable

You may already be thinking about a certain person or department that exhibits these kinds of thought processes. They’re the ones who are late getting to work but always on time leaving. They’re unwilling to try new ideas or develop new programs and content with “how we’ve always done things.” 

The secret is this: they think they are unhappy because of external circumstances, but what they’re really suffering from is a lack of a growth mindset. 

So what does that mean? It means that your association has to work much harder than it should to be successful and that, even with flawless execution, you still may not be able to achieve the high strategic goals your association has set. 

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, developed the concepts of fixed and growth mindsets while studying student performance early in her career. She presented her ideas in a 2006 book, Mindset: The new psychology of success.

Dweck defines the fixed and growth mindsets this way:

In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset, students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.

Someone with a fixed mindset, trying to “look smart all the time,” would evaluate personal failure as disgraceful—evidence that they are not as intelligent, creative, or talented as other people.

In a growth mindset, however, failure is viewed as a way to learn. In fact, failure provides valuable information about next steps in a project or initiative. Determining what works and what doesn’t work is seen more as experimentation than as outright success or failure. 

After her work with individuals, Dweck and her team started to research attitudes in businesses. They found that organizations exhibit many of the traits found in individuals and could be classified as either fixed-mindset companies or growth-minded companies. 

In fixed-mindset organizations, employees are more likely to cut corners, keep secrets, or even cheat in order to advance. Dweck’s research, however, found that managers working in growth-mindset companies tended to be positive about their teams. They rated their teams as collaborative and creative. They also indicated higher levels of innovation and a commitment to continued learning. 

RELATED ARTICLE>> The Truth About What Drives Growth

Can You Change Your Association’s Mindset and Culture?

The good news is that human brains aren’t set in stone, and it’s possible to change them. It’s certainly possible to change an organization’s culture. As business coaches, that’s one of our key goals—giving teams a new framework for looking at success and failure that enables them to be successful at executing their strategy in both the long-term and the short-term.

Some of the key questions we start with when helping organizations move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset are: 

  • What does success look like at the C-level? Management level? Individual level?
  • What are the repercussions of failure? 
  • What is the process you’ve developed for supporting growth through failure? 
  • What kind of accountability is in place for all members of your team? 
  • What are you doing to make sure your team is aligned with your goals?
  • Do your team members know how to accomplish their work effectively? 
  • Do you as a leader value the learning process more than perfection? 

As my colleague, Jamie Notter, wrote, “Culture is not about being cool or even about having happy employees. It is about reinforcing what drives the success of the enterprise and subsequently being able to adapt the culture (sometimes one process at a time) as markets and internal dynamics shift.”

What that means for you is that your association and team can reframe your mindset, usually through a series of small, intentional changes. It’s all about identifying where you stand in your own mindset and honestly evaluating whether that mindset is bringing growth to your organization or holding it back.

Coaching: A Starting Point for Mindset Change

Consider your unhappy employee. Although it’s possible that he or she exists in a vacuum within the awesomeness of your organization, it’s not very likely. As you learn more about the mindset limitations and strengths of your people, you might discover that mindset is a starting point for your rebuilding process.

If you have questions about how mindset can impact the execution of your association’s strategy, we are here any time. Our culture-driven business coaching program gives you actionable strategies you can use today to build a more dynamic and agile learning organization. 

Find out more about business coaching and the Rockefeller Habits for associations. 


Photo by Ravi Roshan

Kasey Chas

Focusing on people operations, engagement, and professional development, Kasey supports from behind the scenes while organizations across the country align with their vision and create a lasting impact. Kasey uses her experience as a former behavior therapist and mindfulness practitioner to implement behavior analytics and applied positive psychology into delivering programs to enhance motivation and performance.