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How to Cut Down on Complaining Employees

Complaining at work is ubiquitous. One survey quoted in the Harvard Business Review, in fact, claims that the majority of employees spend roughly 10 hours per month engaged in unproductive complaints about someone in a supervisory or management position in the organization — either actively complaining or listening to someone else in the workplace do it.

Even more surprising, one-third of all employees spend 20 hours per month engaged in complaining about higher-ups.  (Mind you, we’re talking about garden variety complaints, not about issues with serious breaches of organizational or personal conduct.)

Complaint May Take the Place of Action

When you add that to the likely mix of complaining about colleagues on an equal level and employees under them in the organizational hierarchy…it adds up to a lot of complaint.

More importantly, complaining, even if understandable, often replaces productive action. Are people complaining because one department also seems slow to respond, or teamwork is more honored in theory than in practice? Are they complaining because systems are inefficient, or staff meetings are bloody combat rather than informative sessions?

These situations need to be fixed, not simply complained about.

Organizations in which there are a lot of complaints, moreover, run the risk of institutionalizing a culture of complaint. Complaint becomes a method, a backdrop, and perhaps even a workplace recreational activity.

Cultures of complaint may not even be invested in fixing areas around which complaints center. If so, they may become unproductive, and drive out more positive, talented employees.

Try to suggest positive solutions.

How to Reduce Complaints

How can you cut down on complaining at work?

If you do complain, try to supplant the impulse with a plan for productive action. Do you complain because work from another department isn’t ever completed before multiple reminders take place? Document the problem. Assess how you can fix it.

Importantly, phrase any suggestion for a fix with the better situation that will result from making it better.

If the challenging area is one in which you really have little control, can you change your perceptions about it? Can you change your own situation, perhaps by moving to another department, or even another organization?

If a direct complaint to you, exercise business leadership by turning the situation into a potentially productive one. Ask the complainers for suggestions to solve the problem.

First, this validates that you accept that a problem is occurring. Sometimes, that is all any complainant is asking for.

Second, it provides possibilities for a solution. If the solution would work, implement it! Give the employee credit. That does a lot to reward production action rather than complaints.

Third, if the solution needs more development, or would create challenges in another area, at least you are closer to a solution. You can solicit solutions from the department, or strategize some of your own.

You can implement provisional solutions to get data on whether they work to fully resolve the problem.

Finally, if you are someone who listens frequently to complaints, try to gracefully disengage. It will make your life more productive, and likely more rewarding. Gently suggest that the complainant take the issue to someone who has the organizational clout to fix the problem. Turn the conversation to a neutral and pleasant topic, like baseball, or what’s streaming this weekend.

Fewer complaints equal more equanimity in the workplace, and likely more happiness as well. These strategies should help reduce complaints in the workplace.