4 Ways to Deal with Constant Complainers at Work

March 17, 20202:31 pm404 views
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It was a quiet and calm afternoon in the office until Samantha heard someone shouting from the manager’s room. In a second, she saw Alex stepping out of the door with a long face. Wondering what was wrong, she asked Alex what happened. Only later, Samantha found herself regretting her curiosity – because from that day on, she became Alex’s favourite place to complain. After some painful weeks of bearing with his constant complaints, Samantha finally told Alex to consult with the HR department.


Complaint in the workplace is unavoidable. Nearly every employee in workplaces has a kind of dissatisfaction, be it about workplace setting, bosses, company policy, or coworkers. Marshall Goldsmith said in an interview that a majority of employees spend 10 or more hours per month complaining – or listening to other complaints – about their bosses or upper management. Even more, almost a third spend 20 hours or more per month doing so. This indicates that workplace complainers are inexorable. 

The cost of having constant complainers at work  

The 10 to 20 hours or more that employees spent complaining equals to 20 more hours of lost productivity. Thought-leader Linda Swindling in her book explained that complainers and draining situations take up to 3 to 6 hours of their workweek. Within these numbers, 2.1 percent of respondents actually reported that complainers and energy drains consume more than 20 hours of their time during their workweek, meaning that over 77 percent of the survey respondents reported a minimum of 3 to 6 hours per week is wasted. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the average salary for private industry company workers is $28.80 per hour, for state and local government workers is $41.10 per hour, for service workers is $14.01 per hour, and for management and professional workers is $51.23 per hour, with benefits are approximately 30 percent of these costs. Thus, if calculated in detail, there is approximately a total of $10 billion wasted time per week and $507 million wasted time per year. 

See also: How to Get Your Employees Speak Their Minds?

How to stop employees from complaining, then? 

Having a complainer at work is not always a misery – despite the fact that it might affect productivity. Complainers can show that there is something wrong with the organisation’s management while other people might choose to stay silent about it. In this case, having complainers on board can help leaders reflect and address office’s problems immediately. Yet, how can HR handle workplace complainers tactfully without decreasing everyone’s morale? Here’s some advice you can adopt. 

1. File the complaints immediately 

One thing HR should always do is to document every misconduct or misbehaviour, be it from upper managers or junior employees. That said, HR should also document a complaint. This documentation could help HR and line managers discuss the right action to take if the same problem or complaint occurs for some time. 

2. Listen to the complainer & help address it in the right manner 

Telling or interrupting someone when they are angry will make them angrier, even frustrated because they might feel that no one listens to their opinion. This might result in chronic dissatisfaction and the said complainer might choose to quit to a better organisation with a better management system – and losing top talents hurt the company’s bottomline. 

That said, whoever comes to you to complain about something, you must listen. Don’t ignore or interrupt. Understand why they are being so uneasy about something. It is probably that their boss is micromanaging, their co-workers are too loud when talking during work hours, or their boss is not open to ideas and innovation. When you understand the issue, have a conversation and encourage them to talk with the person who is the cause of the complaints. This needs emotional courage but it is always the right manner to address a problem, Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, advised

3. Bridge the courage 

If, however, the cause of the complaint is upper managers, employees might feel discouraged to talk directly to the manager. Therefore, HR could help by setting a meeting between them and become a third party. Let the complainer share, how they feel and what impact it might cause to the bottomline, to the one causing the complaint. This might not change anything in immediate response – not most of the time – but it is worth the risk. While being the third party, HR leaders could understand emotionally and psychologically how everyone (or at least, the complainer) feel about the management, thus, HR could better build a new policy to avoid the same issue from happening. 

4. Keep it confidential 

To avoid gossip within the workplace, it is always necessary for HR leaders to keep every information confidential unless there is approval from both parties to reveal it to the public. Keeping information confidential also helps maintain workplace harmony as well as maintain workplace productivity.

Read also: How Should HR Deal with Discrimination and Harassment Complaints?