This week brings yet another Wall Street Journal article about stuff that annoys us in the workplace. The chronic complainer is perhaps one of the most insidious forces in any work environment. He or she has the potential to negatively impact everyone within hearing distance. Exposure to griping (especially if it triggers an emotional response) has been shown to:
- Inhibit learning and memory
- Disrupt focus and shorten attention span
- Impair judgment
- Lower productivity and quality of work for individuals and teams
- Increase absenteeism
- Decrease motivation
How can you protect yourself from this endless stream of negativity? The WSJ article suggests solutions such as simply walking away or moving to a workstation as far from the whiner as possible.
However, these options aren’t available to all employees at all times. Especially in today’s open office environments, people are expected to work in close proximity to each other. The assumption is that they will collaborate or at least learn to get along. Some employees have the social skills to deflect or even gracefully confront the “office mosquito” and create positive, solution-oriented change. But many coworkers simply don’t have the energy to be a little ray of sunshine all the time in the face of constant whinging. They need practical, concrete, immediate relief.
Management should take steps to help create a peaceful work environment. This obviously includes helping the griping employee get an attitude adjustment. It can also mean configuring the workspace to reduce the spread of negativity. For example, it may be possible to use cubicle wall extensions to:
- Cut down on direct interaction with whiners by putting up visual barriers
- Dampen the sound of their complaining, turning it into background noise
Simply having a higher panel in place can limit the amount of griping that takes place under the guise of socializing. It gives employees who want to simply work in peace the option to keep their head down and focus on the task at hand. This won’t necessarily stop a complainer from prattling on. But it may reduce the disruptive cycle of being drawn into negative discussions by eliminating the expectation for coworkers to verbally respond.