Misery Loves Company

We can probably all admit to doing some complaining over the past year, whether it’s canceled events, masks, working from home, or back-to-back virtual meetings. Complaining or griping about things is a natural human reaction to less than desirable activities or responsibilities.

There is even some evidence to suggest that venting at/about work can be a good thing. A study published in Organization Studies indicates that complaining about work can help to improve relationships within a team and make workers feel better, especially if there is an element of humor present. That being said, complaining too much or creating a work atmosphere where it is normalized can be toxic and severely damaging to the culture of a company or team.

On sales teams, we all know – or have known – the “complainers.” These people usually say things like: "If we just lowered our prices by 2% I would be closing more deals," “My territory is terrible," or, “I wish we had the same marketing materials/product features/pricing structure/sales tools as our competition."

These gripes and complaints are inevitable, but as leaders, we need to make sure that one complainer or complaint does not turn into a team of complainers, or a litany of complaints. As the saying goes, “There are no bad teams, just bad leaders.”

Understanding that a little therapeutic job complaining is okay, but too much can become counter-productive, here are some ways for bosses to keep things at an acceptable level:

  1. Over Communicate – In tough times, if you don’t go to great lengths to explain your actions as a manager, people will interpret them on their own. One thing is for sure; no matter how bad something is, people will imagine something even worse if you don’t clearly communicate your actions and your plan. Tell your team members why they are being asked todo certain things and allow them to appropriately challenge why they are doing it.  
  2. Have Regular “State of the Business” Meetings – Give your team a chance to ask questions about the company, the economy, and the financial health of your organization.
  3. Humor Helps – Joking allows people to turn problematic situations into a source of humor, and humor helps to create a safe format for discussing important issues at work. Allow humor to serve as light entertainment, distraction, and a bit of fun within your organization. Joking also helps your team to bond and process any incidents in a positive way.
  4. Be Honest – There is nothing worse than lying to your people, under any circumstances. Especially when employees may be working remotely and communication can be fragmented or easily misinterpreted, honesty and transparency are key. People deserve to know the truth and they are more likely to support any required change if you are forthright about it.
  5. Set a Positive Example – Your team will take their cues from you, their leader. Try to stay positive and upbeat in the office or during virtual team meetings and don’t let things drag you down. If you stay positive, it is much more likely your employees will too.
  6. Keep Your Office Door Open – Employees tend to start imagining terrible things when the boss has their door shut. Make areal effort to keep yours open unless you absolutely need privacy for a specific reason.
  7. Don’t Overreact – There is a lot more tension in our lives these days. Understand that complaining is a healthy and necessary means of relieving tension in the workplace. If you keep a healthy perspective on the whining and maintain focus on your goals and opportunities, your team will follow suit. Additionally, as difficult as it may be to admit, sometimes complaints are founded in hard truths. If we can understand why the complaint is happening, we can determine whether or not it is something we need to address as leaders.

Keeping spirits high in an organization is always critical, but during tough or changing times, letting people blow off a little complaint steam can be good for morale. Just don’t let it go too far – leaders need to make sure that any issues stemming from over-complaining are dealt with appropriately and quickly. Follow these seven tips to minimize the negative impact of complaining at work.