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Opinion: 5 tips to stop complaining at work

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Working my first summer job at 14 years old involved sorting pop bottles at grocers. I regularly complained to my boss about the cramped space of mechanical rooms and the abundance of broken glass – not to mention the spiders! On top of it all, I thought the sweltering heat was unbearable.

When Larry, my boss who worked for the pop company, had heard enough of my complaints about the job, he told me something wise: “Stop complaining about the heat; you’re only focusing on how uncomfortable things are which makes you feel even worse, and it affects your work.”

I initially resented his advice, but eventually I realized he was right. Complaining didn’t improve anything.

There’s too much complaining these days. Some studies say the average person complains 15-30 times daily. If that’s accurate, that’s about once every 30 minutes – and one could say we’ve turned into a nation of complainers.

We complain about the weather, the economy and politicians. We complain about work – grumbling about the pay, lack of information or how someone’s error caused us problems. We complain about shifting deadlines and difficult customers. Continual grumbling and complaining, though, can hurt us and our workplace.

Recently, I was doing communications and customer service training at a company out of state. The CEO said employees and supervisors complained nonstop about other departments, team members and customers. And all the complaining was hurting communications, morale and customer service.

As I sorted through the core problem, I realized their complaints were actually about the work itself, which involved continually working together. Since complaining will never solve the world of imperfect people and imperfect organizations, their complaints were mostly hollow and terribly damaging.

Chronic complaining at work also can lead to dissatisfaction with your life. If you’re constantly unhappy at work, that unhappiness often will carry over into other areas of your life, leading to an overall sense of gloom.

Enough with all the complaining. Here are five ways to minimize complaining about work and be more content with life:

  1. Be grateful for what you have learned or can learn from the job. Lacking an attitude of gratitude blisters our vision to see the good things, which can hinder us from imagining and implementing solutions to real problems. If you aren’t staying long term, at the very least, look at what you can learn from the job and gain everything you can.
  2. Look at the situation objectively. The managers and staff of my client mentioned earlier were able to figure out what was causing miscommunication problems by examining their situation objectively. Having a clear understanding of the problem, they discussed concrete ways to improve customer service and establish better habits among colleagues – ultimately boosting morale. By being objective, you can see your work more realistically and improve your attitude.
  3. Take time to appreciate what you have. Acknowledging that there are tasks you’re not particularly thrilled with is natural, but actively identifying opportunities for personal growth within those tasks is vital for future success. You have tenfold better chances to find fulfillment in life and success in whatever you pursue if you replace complaining with appreciation.
  4. Change “have to do” into “get to do.” Work becomes annoying when you see it as aggravating tasks that ruin your motivation: “I have to work for that boss” or “I’m always doing someone else’s work.” Instead say, “I get to work with my boss in this job” or “I get to learn tons.”
  5. Leaders set the pace – so stop complaining and griping so much. In my experience, leaders can be some of the worst complainers in the organization. Leaders can help everyone’s mental state by fostering a positive work environment and motivating people to bring their best to work each day. To do that, all layers of management must be a positive example to employees with the right attitude toward work.

The next time you are frustrated with a co-worker, your boss is driving you nuts or your customers are a pain to deal with and you’re moved to complain about work, think again.

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and He can be reached at


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