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Is it okay to complain at work?

Is it okay to complain at work?

Let’s be honest - we all love a good rant every now and then. It’s a great way to let off some steam and get everything off your chest.

But is it okay to complain about work, at work? Well, that’s yet another topic that’s famous for polarising opinions – just like including pineapple on a pizza.

A confidential grumble between co-workers has proven to strengthen relationships, and can even have a positive impact on employee morale (especially if it’s funny). But then again, constantly complaining about anything and everything won’t do your career any favours – and it could earn you the reputation as the office whinger.

Here’s how – and how not to – complain on the job:


Be honest with others – it’s healthy.

If you work full-time in an office environment, you probably spend more time with your co-workers than you do your own family and friends – so establishing open and honest relationships is imperative.

As with most jobs, yours probably has its fair share of ups and downs. Difficult clients, troublesome team members, a lack of recognition for your work – these can all take their toll on your mood.

But instead of simply sweeping everything under the rug and writing “I’m fine” on your forehead with a permanent marker, sharing your frustrations with co-workers can be an effective way of forging a bond.

A recent study that analysed the behavioural traits of workers in a US hospital found complaining with colleagues allowed people to form closer connections with one another.

By showing your co-workers that you’re feeling the same emotions as them, you’re proving that you’re not so different. And while the feelings you’re sharing might be negative, the study also found people were able to feel more positive after sharing as a result.


But don’t complain too much.

While complaining in small doses won’t do your career any harm (provided that you don’t do so within earshot of the CEO), complaining too much at work will have a negative impact on how others perceive you.

Whether it’s complaining about other co-workers, continuously putting other people’s ideas down, or placing everything in the too-hard basket, there’s a limit to how much negativity people can endure before their opinion of you falters.

And while complaining might be no more than a bad habit, it can have a detrimental impact on your career. For instance, when you complain about something, you are mentally revisiting these thoughts and feelings, and forcing them to stick around in your brain for longer than they necessarily should.

So, rather than simply moving on, you’re cementing these injustices in your brain, which has a negative impact on your overall mood. On the other end of the stick, a study found that if negative events are taken in their stride, then the person can remain positive throughout the day.

As your mood has an obvious impact on your engagement and productivity levels, letting your negative thoughts get the better of you will undoubtedly have an impact on your job performance.

If something is really playing on your mind, try to take an objective, solutions-led approach to the problem. What is the real root of the issue, and what do you think is the best solution?

Schedule in a one-to-one meeting with your boss or line-manager, and present to them a range of solutions and ideas rather than fixating on the problem. Alternatively, look at staff forums to see if others within your organisation hold similar views, or participate in employee surveys to get your point across.


Try to bring out the funny side.

Rather than focusing solely on the negative, a good approach is to try and see the funny side of the situation. When you’re complaining to colleagues, inject an element of humour into it. Complaining may be fundamentally negative, but humour is a positive emotion, which will help you and your co-workers feel positive afterwards.

Putting the science of complaining aside, the most important factor to take into consideration is to empathise with other people. Revealing your thoughts to your co-workers may be a great way to forge a connection – provided that they feel the same way. But before you do so, make sure you consider the opposite point of view first, otherwise you could open yourself up to offending them if they feel differently.

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