Be careful! This behaviour is associated with lower success at work

Posted on September 24th, by Dr Rob Yeung . 1 Comment

Imagine for a moment that I’m going to have a secret conversation with your boss. I’m going to ask your boss to rate his or her agreement with three statements about you:

  • “This individual always focuses on what’s wrong, rather than the positive side.”
  • “This individual consumes a lot of time complaining about trivial matters.”
  • “This individual always finds fault in what the organization is doing.”

Remember that when each statement mentions “this individual”, we’re really referring to you. To what extent do you think that your boss would agree or disagree with those statements? Of course, you probably don’t think that your boss sees you that way. But how sure are you about that? Anyway, the more your boss might agree with them, the more likely you are to be seen as a complainer.

Writing in an academic journal, a research team led by Anita Konieczka Heck at Troy State University – Phenix City warned that: “By focusing on the negative, rather than on the positive side of workplace events, these employees are noted for causing dissension, destroying team spirit, and creating attitude problems.”

Do you want to be noted for causing dissension, destroying team spirit and creating attitude problems? Probably not.

Based on research studies into the topic of complaining, here are some do’s and don’ts of complaining:

  1. Do think about how you will be perceived. Anita Konieczka Heck’s research team found that people who complained a lot at work tended to have lower self-esteem. In other words, people who complained a lot were perhaps just less happy about themselves in general. So before you complain about anything, consider how your comment might reflect on you.
  2. Do choose carefully what you complain about. If you are dissatisfied with more than a few issues at work, think about which ones bother you the most. And perhaps try to ignore some of the less important issues. After all, you do not want to get a reputation as a complainer.
  3. Do complain to your good friends at least occasionally. Complaining isn’t all bad. Western Carolina University researcher Robin Kowalski noted that complaining can sometimes be beneficial. Firstly, having the occasional moan will help you to feel better. Secondly, complaining to a friend about workplace issues can often cement the relationship – in the same way that sharing a secret with a friend can deepen the relationship.
  4. However, don’t complain to colleagues that you know less well. Again, you don’t want people who don’t know you well to think only that you are a complainer.
  5. Do complain to your boss – but only if you can do it constructively. If you have spotted a problem, don’t just go to your boss pointing out the problem. At least spend a little bit of time trying to come up with solutions. Or even if you don’t know the solution, at least make a suggestion about how you or you colleagues could together look for the solution.
  6. Don’t keep all of your problems to yourself. Research shows that people who suppress or ignore too many of their problems and issues may suffer worse psychological and physical health. We all need an outlet for our frustrations and worries. But choose carefully who you talk to. If you don’t have close friends at work, then your outlet may need to be a friend outside of work or a loved one. Or learn to manage your emotions in other ways.
  7. Do look for opportunities to be positive too. If 50 per cent of what you bring up and talk about is negative, then of course you are going to be perceived as a complainer. So begin to look out for occasions when you can make genuinely positive comments about things. That way, you build up positive capital to offset against future occasions when you may need to be more negative. I’m not suggesting that you fake positivity; simply look out for times when your colleagues are genuinely helpful or come up with good ideas. Look out for ways to show that you can be grateful, appreciative, enthusiastic and supportive too.

One Response to “Be careful! This behaviour is associated with lower success at work”


    Thanks a lot.
    In Nigeria, attitude towards work is almost non existence in many areas. Its a swim against the tide.
    Your short note drove home some good points.

    Still have your complete series (5) on my shelf. 🙂

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