Grumbling About Work? Get Over It!

It’s become a pastime, a bit of on-the-job sport. Grumbling starts out innocently but can become all-consuming, taking on many forms like: 

  • Harping about the boss’s annoying habits
  • Whining about boring work
  • Complaining about your cubicle location
  • Obsessing over how long it might take to get promoted 

The more we grumble, the more we grumble. It’s not a cure for anything, but a perpetuator. 

Who’s guilty? 

All of us. Grumbling per se isn’t the issue. It’s whether or not we take it to extremes, letting it interfere with our path to success. Here’s how it can play out: 

Bosses complain about their employees: “Every quarter I fall short of my goals because my employees don’t care, especially Alyssa and Adam. I could tell them a hundred times how our production process works, and they’d still find a way to screw it up.”

Employees whine about their bosses: “My boss is a creep. Every time I say anything s/he cuts me off, acting like a pure know-it-all. I try to explain my idea or report on my work and get a snarky comment or a bored look. I’ll never get anywhere working for him/her.”

Employees grumble about each other: “I hate being on teams with Eric and Paula. They never contribute anything, making the meetings drag on with all their stupid comments and annoying questions. They’re nothing but a load, and I end up having to do their stuff so we wouldn’t miss the deadline.” 

Why do we do it? 

  1. We do it to vent our frustrations, believing that we’ll feel better afterward. Do we? Maybe for a short time, but serial venting doesn’t create lasting relief.
  2. Grumbling builds on-the-job community. Oh, the joy of shared grumbling! We enjoy a kind of validation when others are complaining about the same stuff that aggravates us.
  3. Complaining becomes habit. We can easily wire ourselves to see the downside of any situation, making our first reaction negative—the easy road.
  4. We just join in. When everyone is complaining, it’s a snap to pile on. Chances are we have our own tale of woe to add to the mix. When we do, we’ve become part of the chorus. 

Truth is: None of this is good for you.

 Where does it get you? 

Nowhere, actually. At first, it may seem like all this noise is somehow revealing useful insights about the workings of the company. That may be true for a bit, but after a time, it can actually blur reality. 

Grumbling can lead to career damaging behaviors like: 

  • Excuse making
  • Defeatism
  • Anger and anxiety
  • Declining self-image
  • Inaction 

The more you stay connected to negative perspectives about your boss, your coworkers, and the company, the more de-energized you become and the more inclined you are to under-produce. 

Get over it! 

If you’re in this pattern, it’s time to break it. If you’re not, here’s how to avoid it. 

You don’t need to crawl under your desk and avoid your colleagues. The solution is about managing your involvement. 

Believe me, I engaged in my share of grumbling about some of my bosses and company decisions I thought were ill-conceived. You just need to know when to “get over it” and move forward. 

Here are some suggestions when the grumbling starts: 

  • Weigh in, if you feel the need, but don’t belabor it (hey, you have work to do)
  • Articulate positive remedies like ways to deal with that boss who won’t listen and those teammates who don’t deliver
  • Mobilize the grumblers in an effort to affect a change that you’ll lead
  • Avoid complainers and seek out can-do colleagues as often as you can
  • Develop a serious career action plan for yourself and stay focused on it, positioning yourself to navigate around negativity and into solutions environments 

The business world is full of chronic complainers. You don’t need to be one of them. When you’re the one with the ever-present, can-do attitude, you’ll be reaping well-earned rewards.

Photo from VanessaO via Flickr

The “Aggravating” Supervisor Problem | What’s an Employee to Do?

There’s a lot of talk about “attitude” in the workplace:

  • “That employee is giving me a lot of ‘attitude.’”
  • “If s/he had a better attitude, the work would get done on time.”
  • “Good performance is about attitude.”

Our attitude speaks to our disposition and/or our frame of mind. That’s the platform we start from when we come to work. Built into our attitudes is our sense of fair play, honesty, respect, and authenticity.  When we don’t get that from our supervisors, it’s aggravating.

The “supervisor effect” on attitude 

We expect our supervisors to do right by us and our coworkers, to be principled, and to consider the good of the team over self. When they don’t, it affects our attitude. 

When supervisors aggravate us, we:

  • Become uncooperative, pushing back on direction and/or slacking off
  • Resist requests to change the way we perform work
  • Stop communicating, withholding ideas
  • Won’t engage in new initiatives, our development, and/or stretch goals

We become “negative” because we see no upside to aligning with the boss.

Assertiveness is our friend 

The more we shrink from the aggravating heavy-handedness and insensitivities of our supervisors, the more we reinforce their behavior.

Remember: We own our careers, so we need to ensure that we can perform fully and satisfactorily in them.

When supervisors don’t listen to our ideas, provide for adequate communication, enable us to do our work, or reward us fairly, we need to take action.

Okay, I know you don’t want to get in your boss’s face and risk losing your job. But there are things you can do and say respectfully.

Here are six ways an aggravating supervisor may behave and how you can counter him/her assertively (in italics) when s/he:

  • Plays the command and control card—“I expect you to follow my instructions as given without question. Understood?”
    • “What would you like me to do if the process breaks down? Shall I just continue? Or would you like me to contact you? I’ll follow your instructions.”
  • Thinks s/he’s the smartest—“I know the best way to solve this problem, so there’s no need for a meeting on it.”
    • “We have two people in the department who dealt with a similar situation before you took over. Does your idea include their input? I mention this because I know how important the result is to you.”
  • Doesn’t listen or acknowledge—“Yes, I heard you. I’m so busy. I’ll get back to you later if I have time.”
    • “I can’t proceed with this project without your input. I’d like to schedule a specific time to meet later today. When are you available?
  • Finds a way to make you wrong—“You could have gotten that project completed a day before deadline if you had only used the newly installed software.
    • “I was gratified to meet the demanding deadline. Using the newly installed software would have cost us a day because users were unfamiliar with it.”
  • Provides no rewards—“Well, team, the largest project we’ve ever been assigned was successfully completed. There will be no compensation or recognition for your extra hours. That’s just they way things are these days.”
    • “Even though the company can’t compensate us for extra work, there are other ways we can celebrate our achievement. I have a few ideas or would you like to start?”
  • Runs over you—“I don’t have time to wait until you get up to speed on these new regulations. I’ll assign it to someone else or do it myself.”
    • “With all due respect, this is my job responsibility. I am fully committed to doing what is needed to learn this material. What specifically must I do and how would you like me to proceed?”

Turn the tables

Most supervisors don’t want to aggravate us, but just do. And, yes, we also aggravate them. Instead of complaining, we need to help to turn an aggravating supervisor into an engaging one? Ready to try?

Photo from jean-louis zimmermann via Flickr