Why employees complaining at work isn’t always a bad thing

Here’s an example of why people complain at work, justifiably so.

And yet, employees are often told to: “STOP complaining at work! It makes you unproductive at work, and worse yet, it makes you dumber,” according to some writers.

Further, some companies, even have a “no complaining” policy.

Sound familiar? Not surprisingly, most articles say it’s NOT a good idea to complain at work. However, other writers offer a slightly different perspective.

Maurie Backman writes about using complaints to “establish stronger connections with your peers.” Barbara Neal Varma says complaining can be healthy to the extent it enables someone to release their emotions.

My perspective is, you CAN COMPLAIN at work, if and when, you’ve:

1. Identified the interpersonal triggers that annoy you the most

2. You’ve communicated the triggers to those with whom you have the most

3. You complain directly to the person that is familiar with your workplace triggers

In fairness, everything can’t be a trigger.

Identifying Your Work-related Interpersonal Triggers

I spoke with some of my friends, and I am sure you can agree that at least one or more of these examples is a workplace trigger.

1. A coworker that arrives late to a meeting you are hosting–even better, the person pretends to be surprised the meeting is in progress!

2. Working near a coworker that speaks too loudly

3. People that can’t say your full name because “it’s just too much”

4. Coworkers that always work on stuff at the last minute; but they always want you

to share materials WAY in advance

5. Coworkers that take credit for your ideas

6. ANYONE looking over your shoulders at your computer screen

7. Leaving wrappers, food and other disposables in the person’s trash, or worse yet, on their desk when the person isn’t around

8. Coworkers that reply all (to every email)

9. People that complain about the smell of your lunch/snacks

10. Coworkers that need to be right about everything

11. People that send countless texts, instant messages or emails instead of talking to you in person

12. When you ask someone why and they respond, “that’s how we’ve always done it”

13. People that see you’re working hard and interrupt you anyhow

14. People that change something you’ve submitted (slide, document, project plan/charter) without your knowledge

15. Coworkers that throw you under the bus and embarrass you

16. People that don’t share important information. My best friend shared one of my personal favorites. Specifically, “if you see me on the
phone, don’t come into my office and just sit down.”

The list of annoying behaviors is not meant to be exhaustive (there are countless examples). However, hopefully, reading it gave you a few laughs and relatable examples!

Most people at work operate with good intentions. However, you will run across coworkers that do annoying things. The catch is, how do you know when to ignore them, and when you should complain?

When CAN you complain at work? You can complain at work if you’ve communicated your triggers, and the person doesn’t change their behaviors or actions.

So, what are work-related, interpersonal triggers?

The reality is, people at work do annoying things; in fairness, you will also do things that bother your coworkers. It is expected. However, work-related, interpersonal triggers are repeated (maybe even in the same day)!

For a trigger to warrant a complaint, it should meet the following criteria:

1. Frequency. You can’t ignore it because it occurs frequently
2. Performance. It impacts your productivity – if it happens, it lessens your ability to do your job
3. Awareness. The person engaging in the behavior is aware of your triggers

Okay, I know my work-related interpersonal triggers, now what?

Once you’ve identified your top 2-3 triggers, it’s critical to communicate with your coworkers. Reach out to those with whom you have the most frequent interactions (e.g., manager, the person sitting closest to you, people on your team).

Start the conversation by saying something like “I enjoy working with you. Are you open to hearing some suggestions that I believe will help us build a stronger workplace relationship?”

Next, let them know that you’ve been thinking about interactions at work, and you’ve figured out 2-3 disruptive things. Show a willingness to make yourself vulnerable and
openly share your interpersonal triggers.

Finally, ask them if they have any triggers. If they share any triggers, make a mental note, or jot it down. Why? Because you can’t hold others to a standard that you can’t meet.

LAST STEP: When should you complain at work?

The next time you think about complaining at work, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Is this behavior related to my top two to three triggers?
  • Is the behavior occurring, regularly?
  • Is the problematic behavior/action negatively impacting my performance? If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions, it’s fine to complain. However, make sure
    you address the person directly. It’s not a good practice to complain, just for the sake of complaining.