Most everyone has come into contact with a complainer or a whiner. You likely know a person who has something negative to say about almost everything. It’s even worse when it’s a day-in and day-out occurrence at work. Complaints can poison a workplace, decrease morale and create a toxic environment in which to work.
Workplace negativity is becoming even more commonplace. A Gallup State of the Global Workplace report showed 67 percent of employees were not engaged and 18 percent were actively disengaged at work. The 18 percent are the ones who are most likely to complain about your workplace, Gallup says.
American Express reports that small businesses can be even more negatively affected by an employee who complains. Such businesses have smaller staffs, meaning a larger percentage of people are affected by the complaining employee’s negativity, and productivity and even retention can suffer. Once this occurs, its effects can begin to be felt at the customer level and could decrease sales.
It’s up to you, the boss, to handle employees who complain, whether it be about their work, their coworkers or customers. It’s your responsibility to set the proper tone and clear expectations for your workplace and your employees. Make sure you and your managers are comfortable with authority to respond in a calm, matter-of-fact manner to complainers.
First things first; don’t ignore the complainers, Gallup advises. Invite this person or people in for a sit-down. Listen once to all complaints. Determine whether they are legitimate complaints. Do other employees have these same complaints? Has the employee’s supervisor attempted to resolve the issue?
Express empathy and show appreciation for the person bringing the issue to your attention. As tempting as it might be, don’t add fuel to the fire by complaining with the complainer or talking about him or her. Once the person is done sharing the concerns, ask questions that bring the responsibility back on the employee. The simplest one is “What are you going to do about this?”
Anthony “Tony” D’Angelo, the founder of Collegiate EmPowerment, says: “If you have time to whine or complain about it, then you likely have time to do something about it.”
Another alternative is to spin the complaint into a positive or show the complainer the opposite point of view. Ask the employee if he or she wants your opinion on how to solve the issue. Most habitual complainers will likely find a way to shrug off your ideas to resolve the issue and simply want to vent their frustrations.
If it’s a repeat complaint that has no merit, be firm. Tell the person you won’t listen to repeated complaints about the same thing. Explain how constant complaining affects the workplace and other colleagues’ enthusiasm and makes it difficult for the complaining employee to build relationships with others at work. ♦