Managing employees can be a challenge, especially if one of them is a chronic complainer. Most of us know the type: employees who always see the glass as half empty. Nonstop gripers disrupt their colleagues and create a toxic environment for everyone. At the same time, these employees may be good at their jobs or have special skills you need, which makes the situation even trickier to handle.
Workplace malcontents are more than just annoying; they can affect productivity and morale. Fortunately, you can keep constant complainers in check with a few simple but effective strategies.
1. Keep employees in the loop.
Adopt a management style that helps prevent the problem from sprouting in the first place. Engage with your team on a regular basis so they feel they are part of the process. Keeping employees in the dark can lead to chronic complaining.
2. Publicize your grievance procedure.
Familiarize everyone with your organization’s employee grievance procedure. Remind your team of the procedure at meetings, or send around a copy in an email.
3. Listen and provide background.
After taking the steps listed above, you may find you have a chronic complainer on your hands. In that case, try simply listening to the employee. Sometimes people just want to be heard. If you don’t agree with his or her complaints, however, be careful not to give the impression that you do. You’ll only create more problems for yourself if the complainer reports to your team or boss that you see things his way. To avoid this, respond with neutral language such as “I see” or “I hear what you’re saying.” In your meeting, give the person as much background as you can on the issue behind the complaint. A little information goes a long way toward common understanding.
4. Invite input from complainer.
Another strategy is asking the complainer how he or she would solve the problem. Inviting input can turn the negative confrontation into a positive collaboration. The employee may even have helpful suggestions. If not, it’s still a win; you’ve changed the tone of the interaction to be proactive and solution oriented.
5. Address it directly
Recognize when an employee’s constant complaining becomes a job performance issue, and address it directly. If the behavior violates policy, affects performance, or harms morale, it is the manager’s responsibility to ask the employee to change. This can take the form of informal counseling, a written warning, and progressive discipline or performance improvement plans if necessary.
In closing, if you find yourself in this situation, don’t take it personally. We all have our own experiences, personalities, and worldviews; unfortunately, some employees seem to be perpetually dissatisfied. Your job is not to persuade them to see things differently. Instead, focus on finding solutions and fostering a productive workplace.