From Disgruntled To Dangerous

Exploring The Role Of Employee Discontent

“The difficulties of life are intended to make us better, not bitter.”
– Unknown

When an organisation hires a new employee, they look for the suitable skills, qualities, and capabilities they think will best fit their organisation.

Organisations understand the critical importance of recruiting the right employees and invest considerable effort and resources.

Organisations often utilise multiple recruitment channels to attract the right talent, including job boards, social media, and professional networks.

They meticulously screen resumes, conduct thorough interviews, and may even administer skills assessments or personality tests.

Reference checks and background verifications are standard procedures to ensure a candidate’s credibility.

Furthermore, organisations aim for a cultural fit, looking beyond qualifications to assess a candidate’s alignment with the company’s values and mission.

Indeed, organisations meticulously plan their recruitment processes, believing the individuals they bring on board will contribute positively to their teams and work culture.

They do not anticipate a new hire becoming unhappy, unaccommodating, or frustrated.

At no point do they think that their new employee will potentially vent their anger to their surrounding employees and their managers.

Their optimism stems from the thorough vetting and selection processes designed to ensure a strong match between the candidate’s qualifications, experience, and personality and the job’s requirements.

Organisations may strive to create a supportive and engaging work environment. However, a thriving and beneficial relationship between employees and employers is not guaranteed. It can all be undone very simply when an unfortunate workplace event occurs.

Take the following two examples:

Example #1: Apple Huge Reveal

Just days before Apple’s 2017 huge reveal, a disgruntled employee is believed to be the leak that compromised the anticipated event centred around the iOS 11 GM.

According to a September 9, 2017, Apple Insider report, it is suspected that a disgruntled employee revealed proprietary/confidential information regarding new features and hardware of the iOS 11 GM, new AirPods revision, “Face ID” facial recognition details and setup process, a new “animoji” feature for Messages, and the apparent marketing names of Apple’s forthcoming iPhone line-up; iPhone8, iPhone 8Plus, and iPhone X.

Example #2: Georgia-Pacific Mill Hack

IT specialist and systems administrator hacked his former employer, Georgia Pacific.

What Happened?

The former administrator was terminated from his employment in February 2014 and escorted off George-Pacific’s Hudson Mill premises. Despite his termination, his access to corporate applications remained in place.

The former employee was found to have an open virtual private network connection to the Georgia-Pacific Mill’s network. With this connection, he intentionally transmitted harmful code and commands to the system, sometimes bringing the mill’s production to a standstill.

FBI agents assigned to the case concluded that he intentionally sabotaged his former employer as payback.

These two examples show the scope of security risks disgruntled employees bring.

Let’s get into the details of what disgruntlement is.

What Is Disgruntlement?

Disgruntled workers are employees who feel unsatisfied with their jobs and tend to express dissatisfaction through complaints. Interestingly, the word “disgruntled” derives from the archaic term “gruntled”, which originally meant ‘’to grumble”.

In other words, a disgruntled employee is someone at your organisation who is more often than not upset and showing it by, you probably guessed it, grumbling.

Any organisation can have a disgruntled employee or two.

Often, workers get upset for minor reasons like a co-worker not helping them on a project, someone stealing their ideas as their own, not being appreciated, being overworked or not getting a pay increase.

Sometimes, an employee may even be disgruntled because of something at home that is almost entirely out of the organisation’s control.

So, no matter how well you run your organisation, you may occasionally come up against a disgruntled employee.

In short, the individual’s dissatisfaction is intimately linked to unmet expectations. They had hoped for specific outcomes or experiences in their job or life, but when these expectations weren’t fulfilled, it left them feeling disheartened and discontented.

It can be best presented by the following graph:

Here is an excellent example of an article, “The Case of Disgruntled Nurses”, which explores the concept in a real-life organisational situation. It highlights several factors and events contributing to employee disgruntlement within Oneida Home Health Agency (OHHA).

The Case of Disgruntled Nurses (By majillani |



  • OHHA received a letter from its staff council highlighting concerns and suggestions that violated the organisational hierarchy.
  • Rachel Nelson, the executive director, and Annemarie, the nursing director, had been working to address financial issues and improve accountability, productivity, and quality.
  • Some staff members resisted these changes, leading to conflicts and the letter sent to the board.

Problems and Causes

  • Rachel and Annemarie introduced changes without fully understanding the negative reactions from some staff members.
  • Senior nurses, accustomed to lenient supervision, resisted the new bureaucratic structure.
  • The introduction of a more complex documentation system increased paperwork, which nurses disliked.
  • The previous culture lacked criticism and penalties for poor performance, leading to job satisfaction among senior nurses.

The Case for Disgruntlement

  1. Unmet Expectations: The article discusses how management and organisational structure changes led to unmet expectations among the staff. This unmet expectation is a primary driver of disgruntlement.
  2. Conflict and Resistance: It describes the conflicts that arose due to staff resistance to the changes introduced by Rachel and Annemarie. This resistance manifests their disgruntlement with the new systems and management.
  3. Negative Perceptions: The article delves into how negative perceptions and mistrust developed between Annemarie and the senior nurses. These negative perceptions are rooted in their disgruntlement with each other’s actions and decisions.
  4. Recommendations for Resolution: The article proposes various solutions to address the disgruntlement, including replacing senior nurses and considering Annemarie’s termination. These recommendations directly relate to resolving the issue of disgruntlement among the staff.
  5. Conclusion on Communication: The article emphasises the importance of effective communication and understanding between managers and employees to overcome disgruntlement and improve organizational performance.

In Summary

The article’s specificity on disgruntlement lies in examining the various aspects, causes, and consequences of employee dissatisfaction and resistance within OHHA.

It explores how these factors contribute to the overall sense of disgruntlement within the organisation and provides recommendations for addressing this issue.

The question, then, is, why do some people become highly disgruntled or even vengeful? What makes some carry out malicious acts while others exposed to the same events and conditions do not act maliciously?

The transition from disgruntlement to vengeful behaviour is a complex process influenced by various individual and situational factors.

For example, just because two employees have a disagreement or passionate argument at work does not automatically assume they will come back and physically harm one another.

Most of us won’t react with violence, no matter how much injustice we may face. So, what differentiates us from those who do?

Let’s take a step backward to try and understand what we mean by unmet expectations.

Unmet Expectations

Unmet expectation is a situation whereby the individual feels disappointed because what they thought would occur didn’t happen, which can be best described in the following picture.

A precipitating event refers to a specific incident or situation that triggers a significant change or action, often with profound implications for employees and the organisation.

This event can range from a sudden economic downturn, a significant restructuring, a workplace accident, a leadership change, or any other occurrence that disrupts the usual course of business.

For employees, a precipitating event can catalyse change in their work environment, job roles, or expectations. Depending on how it impacts their circumstances (disposition), it can lead to various emotions, including uncertainty, anxiety, or even rage.

Employees often need to adapt, make critical decisions, or potentially face new challenges in response to such events, significantly affecting their job security, job satisfaction, and overall well-being.

For example, when new employees join a new organisation, they often come with expectations and anticipations.

These expectations can encompass a wide range of factors, such as job roles and responsibilities, workplace culture, compensation and benefits, opportunities for growth and development, work-life balance, and the overall experience within the organisation.

New employees typically expect clear communication about their job roles and responsibilities, a welcoming and inclusive workplace environment, fair and competitive compensation, opportunities for skill development and career advancement, and a healthy work-life balance.

On the other hand, organisations have their expectations when hiring new employees.

They anticipate that new hires will contribute effectively to the organisation’s goals and mission, follow business policies and procedures, work well with colleagues and teams, adapt to its culture, and demonstrate a commitment to success.

They also expect new employees to be proactive in their roles, show dedication and enthusiasm, and continuously seek ways to improve their skills and contribute positively to the workplace.

The alignment of these expectations from the new employees and the organisation is crucial for a successful and productive employment relationship.

What happens when expectations are not matched or fulfilled?

There is misalignment.

According to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report, only 23% of employees are engaged.

However, 59% of employees are referred to as “quiet quitters”, or what I call disengaged.

These employees are filling a seat and watching the clock. They put in the minimum effort required and are psychologically disconnected from their employer.  Although minimally productive, they are more likely to be stressed and burnt out than engaged workers because they feel lost and disconnected from their workplace. They are also likelier to make mistakes and not follow cybersecurity corporate policies.

A very worrying sign is that 18% of employees are called “loud quitters” or highly disengaged.

These employees take actions that directly harm the organisation, undercutting its goals and opposing its leaders. At some point, the trust between employee and employer was severely broken. Or the employee has been woefully mismatched to a role, causing constant crises.

Let’s take a further step backward to try and understand why humans behave the way they do by understanding their disposition.

Personal Disposition 

Refers to an individual’s inherent characteristics and traits that influence their behaviour, attitudes, and interactions with colleagues and the work environment. It includes aspects such as their temperament, personality traits, values, and emotional tendencies, which collectively shape their approach to work, teamwork, and decision-making within the organisation.

For example, individuals with low self-esteem or poor emotional regulation may be more prone to lash out vengefully when they feel wronged. Here are some examples of personal disposition found in insider cases:

  • Conflict with fellow workers
  • Bullying and intimidation of co-workers
  • Serious personality conflicts
  • Unprofessional behaviour
  • Inability to conform to rules
  • Difficulties controlling anger

Example: Off-duty Alaska Airlines Pilot Charged With Attempted Murder

What Happened?

An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder after he allegedly tried to shut off a plane’s engines mid-flight.

He was riding as a standby employee passenger in the cockpit “jump seat” when the airborne altercation occurred.

After a brief scuffle inside the flight deck with the captain and first officer, the off-duty pilot ended up restrained by cabin crew members and was arrested in Portland, Oregon, where the flight was diverted and landed safely.

Behind the Scenes

Alaska Airlines reported no blemishes in the employment record of the charged pilot. The head of a California flying club he once belonged to said his alleged behaviour was completely at odds with the meticulous, mild-mannered family man he remembered him to be.

According to the affidavits, the charged pilot told police after his arrest that he was suffering a mental crisis during the incident and had struggled with depression for the past six months.

The court documents said he also told police that he had taken “magic mushrooms” for the first time, ingesting them about 48 hours before boarding the plane.

During the check-in or boarding process, employees did not observe any signs of impairment that would have led them to prevent the off-duty pilot from flying.

Depression is certainly a significant global health issue that affects millions of people.

Depression is a debilitating mental health condition characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in daily activities.

Depression was one of the reasons why a German Wings co-pilot deliberately crashed his Airbus A320, some 100 km north-west of Nice in the French Alps in 2015, killing all people on board.

Depression’s impact is substantial, both in terms of individual suffering and the broader societal and economic consequences.

Personal disposition can be broken into the following subcategories.

Perceived Injustice reflects the unfairness or injustice toward them that can fuel vengeful feelings. If someone believes they have been treated unfairly or suffered a significant injustice, they may be more likely to seek revenge to restore what they see as justice. For example:

  • Being passed over for promotion
  • Being passed over for a salary raise
  • Demotion
  • Being passed over for a project
  • Transfer to a different department
  • New supervisor hired
  • Access changed
  • Co-worker overriding decisions
  • Bonus lower than expected
  • Responsibilities changed 

Individual Difference means that different people have different levels of perceiving situations, whether good or bad. Some people have other ways to cope with unpleasant situations. Some individuals may have a predisposition towards aggression or a higher level of hostility, making them more likely to respond to disgruntlement with vengeful behaviour. Others may be naturally more resilient and better at managing their emotions. 

Trust Gap is the difference in how much employees and employers trust each other in their professional relationships regarding factors like confidence, transparency, and mutual reliance. A large trust gap increases the doubts and suspicions that may arise when employees feel their employer is not forthcoming, fair, or consistent in their actions, decision-making, and communication, potentially leading to decreased job satisfaction, motivation, loyalty and increasing criticism of management and business. 

Past Experiences refers to an event or events that have happened in the past but have shaped the person’s behaviour.

For example, someone who has had past issues with the following scenarios:

  • Had security violations
  • Harassment or conflict with co-workers
  • Difficulties controlling anger
  • Unprofessional behaviour
  • Bullying and intimidation
  • Intoxication
  • Personality conflicts
  • Arrested
  • Hacking
  • Misuse of organisation assets

Moral and Ethical Values refer to an individual’s personal values and moral compass that can encourage or discourage vengeful behaviour. Some individuals may prioritise forgiveness and conflict resolution, while others may prioritise retribution.

Opportunity and Risk refer to the universal law of pain and pleasure. If someone believes they can exact revenge without severe repercussions, they may be more inclined to do so. 

Social Support means the presence of a strong support network, such as

family and friends can provide the foundation to help discourage an individual from responding to grievances. At the same time, the lack of support can exacerbate the feeling of revenge as an acceptable or expected response to perceived slights or wrongdoings. In some cultures, retaliation may be seen as a better or even expected response to perceived slights or wrongdoings.

Financial Challenges frequently introduce workplace stressors. The ongoing concern of meeting financial obligations can prove distracting, hindering one’s ability to concentrate on job responsibilities. Additionally, financial instability can trigger personal problems that extend into the workplace, encompassing issues like interpersonal conflicts, disputes with supervisors, increased absenteeism and possible aggression.

Substance Abuse can be a significant danger to both them and the workplace. Substance abuse can impair their judgment and decision-making, leading to potential safety hazards and mistakes in tasks or responsibilities. Furthermore, it can result in absenteeism, tardiness, and decreased productivity, ultimately affecting the organisation’s overall efficiency. Interpersonal relationships may suffer due to erratic behaviour and conflicts with co-workers. It can jeopardise their well-being and endanger the stability and effectiveness of the workplace, making it a critical issue.

Tipping Point

After understanding why specific individuals become dissatisfied while others become profoundly disgruntled, despite identical circumstances or events, what factors might drive an employee to contemplate taking hostile actions against their organisation?

What is their tipping point?

Imagine that you were laid off from work. Would you seek justice and reprisal for the grievance?

Let’s take a look at the following actual case scenario that happened in Santa Clara.

Example: Shooting In Their Workplace

Hours after being laid off in November 2008, a product test engineer at a Santa Clara, CA, technology company returned to his former place of employment to clean out his desk.

While doing so, co-workers said he suddenly became agitated and entered the office of the company CEO.

Co-workers did not know the former employee had brought a 9 mm pistol to the office.

The next thing the workers heard was a rapid succession of gunshots. When the shots ended, the CEO, vice president of operations and the head of human resources were dead.

What made the test engineer take such extreme actions? What made this person dangerous?

Every person has a critical or turning moment when a situation or behaviour crosses a threshold, leading to a significant and often irreversible change.

Every person has a different tipping point.

Every person has a different recourse.

However, some employees may take a more negative course of action against their organisation when they feel extremely disillusioned, unsupported, or desperate due to unresolved issues or perceived mistreatment.

Several factors can contribute to this:

  1. Extreme Discontent: A prolonged period of discontent, frustration, or feeling ignored can push employees to consider more negative actions to vent their anger or seek retribution.
  2. Lack of Options: When employees believe they have exhausted all available options within the organization and still haven’t found a satisfactory resolution, they may turn to more negative actions as a last resort.
  3. Revenge or Retribution: In cases of severe grievances or perceived injustices, some employees may act out of a desire for revenge or to make the organization pay for what they perceive as wrongs committed against them.
  4. Personal Crisis: Personal crises, whether financial, emotional, or related to their work environment, can amplify an employee’s negative feelings and lead them to take extreme actions as a form of coping or out of desperation.
  5. Influence from Others: Negative actions can be influenced or encouraged by peers, colleagues, or external parties who may share similar grievances or have ulterior motives.
  6. Disregard for Consequences: Some employees may decide on negative actions when they believe the potential consequences, such as termination or legal issues, outweigh their perceived need to express grievances.
  7. Lack of Trust: If employees perceive that the organization lacks transparency, integrity, or a commitment to addressing their concerns, they may see negative actions as the only way to force attention to their issues

Think of the above points as pressure/stress points that gradually lead to a significant crisis.

Such a crisis can potentially propel the individual to prioritise seeking harm to others.

Revenge is a complex human behaviour that people seek for various reasons.

  1. Emotional Satisfaction: Revenge can provide a sense of emotional satisfaction or closure to someone who feels wronged. It allows them to feel like justice is served and that they’ve regained some control or power in a situation where they may have initially felt helpless.
  2. Deterrence: Seeking revenge can also serve as a deterrent. If someone believes that taking revenge will discourage others from harming them or their interests in the future, they may be more inclined to seek revenge.
  3. Restoration of Self-esteem: Revenge can help restore an individual’s self-esteem or self-worth. When someone is hurt or feels disrespected, seeking revenge can make them feel like they’ve regained their honour or self-respect.
  4. Psychological Closure: Some people use revenge to achieve psychological closure. They believe that by retaliating, they can put an end to the psychological distress or trauma caused by the initial harm.
  5. Social Validation: In some cases, revenge can be a way to gain social validation or support. When others acknowledge and support the avenger’s actions, it can provide a sense of belonging or group cohesion.

In the above example, the test engineer gained satisfaction by causing the ultimate pain to others, even though he knew that his actions would undoubtedly doom him for the rest of his life.


Understanding tipping points is valuable for predicting or influencing human behaviour, as it helps identify when a situation is ripe for change or when a small action or event can have significant cascading effects.

It also underscores the idea that relatively minor factors sometimes trigger significant shifts in behaviour or outcomes.

Importantly, employees typically do not start their day with the intention of causing harm to their organisation.

Negative thoughts or actions toward their workplace usually develop over time, often due to various factors such as dissatisfaction, frustration, or perceived mistreatment.

These feelings can simmer beneath the surface, gradually intensifying until they reach a point where an employee may contemplate taking negative actions.

The key message here is that there is a window of opportunity for intervention.

Rather than solely focusing on punitive measures when employees exhibit signs of disgruntlement or dissatisfaction, organisations can take a more proactive and supportive approach.

By identifying these early warning signs and addressing the underlying issues, employers can help employees reorient their thinking and behaviour toward a more positive and constructive direction. This approach mitigates potential harm and fosters a healthier, more productive work environment.

Therefore, organisations must create a supportive, transparent, and respectful work environment, actively address employee concerns, and provide outlets for resolving disputes to prevent employees from feeling driven to such extreme actions.

Additionally, promoting mental health and well-being initiatives can help employees cope with stress and grievances in healthier ways.