Ellen Warden, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
WorkPlace Synergy, LLC
Of course, you say you want winners. It’s critical to your success and to your company’s success. You probably do your best to hire them: the people who know what they have to do and are willing to meet every obstacle as an opportunity.
But I bet you have a few whiners on your team right now, just the same. They are happy only when they’re unhappy. They are not receptive to constructive criticism. Nothing is ever good enough. They are relentlessly complaining and sucking the joy and energy from the office.
If that whiny employee has slipped through the cracks of your ace recruiting efforts or if you have inherited one, don’t let them spread their malaise.
To be clear, you want your staff to come to you with concerns, and you should hear them out with an open mind. If you find their complaints are reasonable and legitimate, it’s essential to do what you can to resolve the issues. But if one of your employees is a chronic whiner, it may turn out to be a cycle that never ends.
Constant complaining is unproductive and contagious. Whiners don’t waste just their time, but all the other people (including you) who end up listening to their complaints. Worse, they spread toxic negativity, making it more difficult for everyone to get their jobs done and passing their complaining habits on to other employees.
Chronic complaining is emotionally draining; it can tempt you to relegate the whiner’s steady cadence of complaints to background noise. But by ignoring the behavior, you implicitly accept it. “Tuning out” or “being nice” can’t trump your fundamental duties as a manager. You are responsible for creating a culture of accountability, laying out clear standards of behavior, expecting people to meet those standards, warning them when they’re falling short, and taking action when warnings don’t work.
Instead of rationalizing, excusing, or turning your back on the whiner’s disruptive behavior, focus on eliminating it. Here’s how:
- Don’t stop what you are doing when the whiner comes to you with a complaint. Schedule a time not too far out. Show respect for the complainer and a willingness to listen – at the appropriate time.
At the planned meeting…
- Listen and nod. Acknowledge the complaint. Reply, “I hear you,” or “That must be tough,” even though you are thinking, “I don’t care. Get out of my office”. Above all, complainers need to feel heard.
- Ask for a solution, “How do you suggest we solve this problem?” “What would you do so this doesn’t happen again?” Do not offer solutions. Chronic complainers are wired to whine out of any situation and will disagree with your ideas. Make them come up with their answers.
- Call it out. If there is no realistic solution, explain the bigger picture and let the employee know that things aren’t going to change.
- Counsel them about their behavior. Focus initially on coaching the person by providing insights about constant complaining, eroding the working environment, how the behavior affects performance and morale. Demonstrate positive ways to offer critical input on policies and programs. Set clear expectations and accountability standards for negative behavior.
- Follow up. Provide feedback if behaviors continue to be unacceptable and identify the implications of failing to change them. Make it clear that things aren’t going to change if they continue to indulge in chronic complaining. Ask them if they’d be happier working somewhere else. They need to decide whether they can be happy in their jobs because simply complaining about everything is not a solution. Be sure to document everything.
- Fire the whiner. If people are genuinely unhappy and annoyed at working in your company, then it might be time to let them go. It’s unfortunate, but it’s best to rid your workplace of a toxic employee sooner than later.
Chronic complainers directly impact your company’s performance. They can ultimately hurt your bottom line, lower productivity, damage employee morale, and increase employee turnover. The subtle but aggressive behavior of the whiner gets in the way of driving positive change.
Building an environment where motivated employees are encouraged and given the freedom to do their best work, creating a culture of accountability, identifying and remedying problems are keys to success. It starts with hiring the winners and firing the whiners who infect the company culture. There’s no room for chronic complainers in a healthy workplace.
Do you need help creating a culture of accountability? Ellen Warden works with BV/LS practices around the country to align their HR solutions with long-term objectives. You can reach Ellen at WorkPlace Synergy.