The Perils of Workplace Whining

We’ve all been there:  smack talking our boss with co-workers over a drink, rolling our eyes at high maintenance clients, or even complaining about the quality of office coffee.

Call it venting if you will, but the old-school term for constant complaining in the workplace is whining. And much like eating too many doughnuts or having an extra cocktail, it might feel good at the time but indulgence has its price: chronic complainers can damage your business and hurt your bottom line.

Let’s examine the negative effects of whining and how to counter it.

Toxic Culture

  • You get what you focus on. The universal law of attraction says we get what we ask for, and when you whine, you focus only on what’s wrong – and soon, all you see is the negative. Everything is bad and every co-worker a jerk.
  • Negativity kills innovation. Chronic whiners always shoot down new ideas and focus on what can’t be done, rather than what can. Eventually, no one on the team pitches new ideas, knowing they will be met with immediate resistance.
  • Pessimism is bad for your health. Multiple studies show optimistic people live longer than those who focus on the negative. Optimists also have more friends and better social lives, are generally healthier and are more successful at work.
  • Whiners stick together. Cliques form when complaining co-workers can be negative and suspicious together, creating relationships based on shared negativity. Optimists may be excluded as unrealistic Pollyannas.

Fixing the Problem

  • Create accountability. Dumping problems without solutions is what the Harvard Business Review refers to unleashing monkeys onto someone else’s back. Thus, create systems of accountability: if someone complains, charge them with finding a solution to the problem so the monkey is theirs and not yours.
  • Reward positivity. Utilize operant conditioning techniques by rewarding proactive solutions and positive attitudes. When your colleagues see the benefit of constructive action, whiners become marginalized and less attractive to be with.
  • Confront it head-on. Nothing beats speaking directly: have a one-on-one with your problem whiner, preferably away from the office, which is fraught with baggage. Over a cup of coffee, talk to them empathetically. Perhaps they aren’t even aware of how much they whine or how their negativity affects their colleagues. They may be coping with issues outside the office that affect their attitude and bring their stress to the office.
  • Set limits. When talking with a whiner, acknowledge their frustrations, but clearly limit the amount of time you spend on their complaints. Endless complaining solves nothing and can drag down even the most positive listener.

Finally, as hard as it may be, realize not every whiner can be fixed. When you ’ve tried empathy, accountability, and even isolating the complainer from others, removal may be your final step. Firing an employee is always tough, but none of us can afford to let one toxic person poison our workplace culture.