If a company's workers aren't happy, their bad mood could spread to shareholders as well. Let's review a selection of companies with less-than-stellar reputations for employee contentment, and see whether any of them can turn things around.

I checked the 2008 lists of low-rated employers from Glassdoor.com, to see how the companies have done since then. Many have gone out of business or filed for bankruptcy protection, including Circuit City, Blockbuster, and Washington Mutual. Here's how some of the better-known survivors from the 2008 list have fared in recent years:

Company

Avg. Annual Return,
Past 2 Years

Avg. Annual Return,
Past 5 Years

Rite Aid (NYSE: RAD) 63% (23%)
Unisys (NYSE: UIS) 88% (16%)
Level 3 Communications (Nasdaq: LVLT) 15% (21%)
Motorola (NYSE: MOT) 41% (18%)
Borders Group (NYSE: BGP) (30%) (43%)
UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) 36% (9%)
S&P 500 20% 1%

Data: Glassdoor.com.

Being on the list doesn't doom any of these companies, but it's a useful warning sign for investors. While most of the companies have done well since their appearance on the list, they're still underwater and trailing the market over the past five years.

Uncertain futures
Adding to the stress workers face at these gloomy businesses, their prospects for future recovery all look decidedly mixed. UnitedHealth stands to benefit from more people getting coverage under recent health reforms, but those same reforms may also penalize it for not spending enough on care. Borders has been losing money for years, whacked by online retailers and e-books. Increases in efficiency at Rite Aid may not be enough to overcome its massive debt load. Level 3 also faces massive debt, but its recent deal to provide movie-streaming services for Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) bodes well. Meanwhile, Unisys is hoping that a deal to service Apple's corporate and government customers, along with rising margins, will help it turn itself around. And while Motorola's revenue has been falling in recent years, but the success of the Android platform has given some hope for the company.

Two years from now, some of the companies on the list will likely be history, while others will sport smiling employees. You needn't wait for annual lists of worst employers to gain valuable insights, though. Various online sites offer a peek at employee satisfaction -- and you can always just strike up a conversation with workers at many companies.

Poor employee satisfaction ratings aren't always a death knell. They may just reflect a lot of room for improvement.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Apple and Netflix. Apple, Netflix, and UnitedHealth Group are Motley Fool Stock Advisor choices. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on UnitedHealth Group, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. The Fool owns shares of Apple and UnitedHealth Group.  Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.