Natural-born whiner: When other employees have had enough

Will minor complaints escalate into something bigger?

Some folks are just natural-born whiners. It makes no difference how well things are going, they always find small, annoying things to complain about.

While most of it is harmless, it can wear on your patience. And if allowed to continue, it could fester into a wider morale problem.

That’s what worried manager Glenda Harkin after she heard that her two new employees were incessantly whining about things.

Two peas in a pod

“I’m beginning to think you made a mistake putting the two new hires, Tara and Kate, in the same cubicle,” assistant manager Marcus Thomas said.

“Really? They’re about the same age, similar backgrounds,” Glenda said. “I thought putting them together would make the adjustment to their new jobs a bit less traumatic.”

‘They’re both BMWs’

“Oh, they have a lot in common alright,” Marcus said. “They’re both BMWs – bitchers, moaners and whiners. And I hear it every day.”

“They just got here! What could they possibly be complaining about?” Glenda asked.

“You name it,” Marcus said. “Their cubicle’s dirty. Their chairs are old. Their computer monitors are fuzzy; their keyboards are sticky…”

‘Not thrilled with your pink shoes’

“Well, they kinda like the new microwave in the lunch room. Of course, it’d be better if it had one of those rotating bases.  But it’s ‘totally absurd’ the candy machine doesn’t have Snickers and the drink machine doesn’t carry Fresca,” Marcus said.

“I guess I’m thrilled they’re not complaining about me,” Glenda said.

“Well, since you mentioned it, they do seem to have a real fashion problem with that blue suit you’re wearing,” Marcus said. “And those pink shoes you’re so fond of…  So far, however, they do seem to like the work you’ve assigned them.”

The Big Question

Glenda was happy that Tara and Kate enjoyed the work, but she was concerned about all the complaining.

So far everything seemed pretty harmless, but if it continued it could affect their attitude and contaminate others.

If you were in Glenda’s situation, what would you do? One of the ideas below offered by our readers might provide you with some guidance.

Complain to me, I’m the person who can fix things

Some people always see the cup as half-empty, and we need to get them to see it half full. I’d tell them separately that I’d appreciate it if they would come to me directly if they have any real problems. We can’t put Snickers bars in the vending machine if they don’t come to me. I’d let them know that complaining about the workplace is inappropriate in the office. If they want to go to lunch offsite, then I cannot do anything about it, but professional behavior requires that they do not do that in the office. I understand that everyone whines and complains from time to time, but they need to understand that it needs to be held to a minimum and not everyone else wants to hear it

Sallie Dietz, HR/Office Manager, National Business Travel Association, Alexandria, VA

Help them see the positive things to talk about

What Tara and Kate are doing may be harmless on the surface, but I wouldn’t want it to poison the people around them. Since they are new to the company, I’d jump on it quickly to help them assimilate into the culture. I’d talk separately with each to get them to focus to focus on the positive things in the workplace. I’d make sure what they were complaining about were truly just minor things – and work with them to make sure they realized that’s all those things are.

Director of Corporate Training, St Petersburg, FL


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  1. says

    The two are bonding via their whining, which can have a negative effect on their colleagues and on their ability to get work done.

    I think a short dose of behavioural coaching is needed, the classic method is to describe the behaviour, describe the impact, and ask each of them what they will change. (In individual sessions, I’d prefer to do it over a cup of coffee and keep it informal as a first step).

    “When you complain so frequently about small things it sends a message that you don’t like working here and makes you seem unapproachable” and then ask “what will you do to change this?”

    Kate and Tara should be able to figure out that:
    1 they can ask for change that will help them get the job done – eg; if their workplace is dirty it could be cleaned for them or they could be provided with antiseptic wipes to clean their keyboards.
    2 no workplace is perfect; missing out on a snickers bar is not really that important having a sense of perspective is.
    3 they don’t have to like their manager’s fashion choices but it’s not really productive to discuss it at work.

    It might take more than one conversation to break them of the whining habit, but if it didn’t improve I’d probably look for an excuse to rearrange the seating so that they’re not sharing cubicle space.

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