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3 Ways to Deal with Whiny and Complaining Employees

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Whiny Employees – Complaining Employees

Want to stop Whiny and Complaining Employees?

Ugh! You know them, you don’t like them and it’s hard not to do the very thing you hate  about them – whine about them. If you are like me you have had your share of whiny, negative and complaining employees. The type that roll their eyes every time a change comes. The kind that have wrinkles around their mouth that show years of continual frowns. The person who has exhibited amazing creativity around finding the negative in everything. Ugh!

Well, here are my top 3 ways to put the whining to a halt for once. One of these should work for you. But remember, it does take time to put it to rest since it has been a life long habit for some.

1. Ask questions. Put it back on them. Ask, “What are you going to about it?” Simple question, but effective. Instead of allowing them to complain and whine, this question shifts the responsibility back on the employee. It’s also one I have used as a parent with great success.

2. Help the employee see the bigger picture. For example the employee might say: “I am so tired of dealing with so and so.” Your response might be: “I agree it can be difficult, but have you taken a moment to put yourself in so and so shoes to see where they are coming from?” or “Yep that can be tough, but isn’t it nice to have a customer like so and so that helps us pay our bills?”

3. Create team do’s and don’ts. For me this has been one of the most effective ways to deal with whining on a team. Every team ought to have a list of do’s and don’ts that they agree to abide by. No whining can be at the top of the list. You can have fun with this as well. You could create a “No Whining Jar,” and any time an employee is caught whining they have to contribute a quarter to it. Some will find that they are cleaning their pockets and purses of change very quick initially, but they will learn. As a result you might be able to do a few team lunches with the change or donate it to an agreed upon charity.

How do you deal with whining? I would love hear your personal stories and tips. Please take the time to comment below.

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Leave a Comment

  • Gary Ogden February 2, 2012, 5:37 pm

    First thing I do is take them aside: what is the complaint, why the whinning. This type of person can take down your whole department/crew/what ever. Some negatives can be turned into positive thinking, it may be personal problems, fellow workers. You just have to get to the core of such and get it corrected “Fast”, don’t let it stew inside people like this. Second- If it’s disruptive to others, I’d write them up following the above first method. Third-If I thought they were worthy of keeping and being productive, I’d move to another department-crew and if the problem still existed…Terminate under just cause “at will employment” with proper written documentation. Some whinners/complainer’s do have a reason- you just need to listen !

  • Vivek Tuljapurkar February 2, 2012, 5:41 pm

    One of the well known paradoxes in organizational behavior is that employers see employee behavior as who they are; employees see their behavior as a reaction to their environment.

  • Brian Downes February 2, 2012, 5:46 pm

    Interesting article. In my opinion we need to look at why a person is “whiny”. Generally you will find that one or more of their “needs” are not being met and they are most likely bored and not engaged in their job. We need to take a little more time to first understand the behaviour before we can change the behaviour. I believe that attitude reflects leadership so this type of behaviour is reflective of something bigger than the individual that is having an effect on the individual. Working with the individual and taking it as an opportunity for organisational development is key.

  • Denise A. Romano February 2, 2012, 5:55 pm

    Seriously? Have you ever heard of Employee Relations and Open systems? If employees have complaints, they should be looked into and taken seriously, not characterized as “whining”.

  • Sarah Kellerman February 2, 2012, 5:57 pm

    Creating a “Working Together” agreement up front with the team can help create the foundation for functional, solution-focused conversation. This item make the team responsible for themselves and they tend to ‘police’ each other so that it isn’t the PM always doing the ‘policing’. The chronic complainer is a rotten apple to the team so it is necessary for teaming to find a position solution while ensuring he/she still gives input.

  • Joseph Mullin February 2, 2012, 5:57 pm

    I will take a different view on this problem.
    Leadership top down.
    If the culture isn’t in place that values and recognizes the employees talents they have a right to wine. No one ;likes to see their ideas stifled to the point that you just stop giving.
    It is the leadership at all levels that creates this problem. It is leadership at all levels that can solve it.
    I have led highly effective teams by letting them use the exact reason why they were hired. The ability to get the job done using their own intelligence. I also empowered them to resolve certain issues which freed up my time to address issues that effected the team i.e. budgets, tools and supplies.
    I listened to their ideas and discussed how it fit into the business plan. Some ideas were mutually agreed to not fitting others were implemented right away and other on the next project.
    I had no winers just talented employees working together in harmony.

  • judi camerano February 2, 2012, 6:00 pm

    Good blog. I would also recommend putting that employee in charge of something that they are whining about so that they can try to develop solutions.

  • Barry Jackson February 2, 2012, 6:03 pm

    I don’t think I can improve on your tactics Mike. I have worked in teams where we agreed what our dos and don’ts should be and this approach definitely works; but we never thought of having a “no whining” clause. Great idea.

  • Karma Topor February 2, 2012, 6:08 pm

    Good read. I like the first way in dealing with constant complainers. Asking them questions in a way that seeks out their solutions in handling a situation. This puts them in a place to own their comments and be accountable for finding solutions.

  • Twon Vlahos February 2, 2012, 6:09 pm

    Interesting. I had a manager once who used a similar tactic. If someone came to him to complain about something, they had to have at least one solution in mind or he would not address the complaint. This taught the employees to bring solutions as well as issues to him.

  • Mike Rogers February 2, 2012, 6:13 pm

    Thanks for your comments Karma and Twon. I like that technique as well. If they have a better solution, then what are they waiting for, right?
    Excellent suggestion Judi! That might help them understand their whining isn’t all that valid.
    Thanks Barry. Let me know how the “no whining” clause works out 🙂

  • Mike Rogers February 2, 2012, 5:45 pm

    Gary, it is really true, they can take down an entire department. Unfortunately I have seen that. And you are right, some times it is just a matter of listening, but if they are chronic whiners then action has to be taken immediately to stop it.

  • Mike Rogers February 2, 2012, 5:58 pm

    Denise, those are great solutions for people who have legitimate gripes, but it isn’t going to change the behavior of a chronic whiner. I am coming from a perspective of trying to help that person change, not just send them to ER.
    Sarah, I love that concept and the team development I have done in my past that is exactly what we do. If you can get teams to hold each other accountable, it will usually stop. They truly are a rotten apple.
    Joseph, I hear you. But I am referring to the chronic type. But I do believe some of your suggestions are good here as well. I like your thoughts on empowering them to resolve certain issues.

  • Carla Havlin February 5, 2012, 1:39 pm

    Loved the article.. I am dealing with this situation at the moment and this is really helpful.

  • Mike Rogers February 5, 2012, 1:40 pm

    Awesome, I am glad it is useful Carla. Good luck!


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