Complain, Complain Complain: The Top 5 Reasons Your Employees Are Complaining.

You know who I am talking about. You already have a picture in your head of the worst offender at the office. Why does he complain so much?

Here are the Top 5 Reasons:

1. You.  There. I said it. It may be that if you have treated him poorly, he is reacting to you. Often employees and their managers get trapped in a vicious cycle where one negative interaction prompts another.  Sometimes managers continue to unintentionally inflame the issue. As a leader, you must be very careful. Your attitude leaks. Others pick up on your attitude even when you believe it is carefully concealed. But for the sake of argument, let’s say you are not to blame…

2. Them.  The Arbinger Institute put out a great book a few years ago entitled Leadership and Self Deception: Getting out of the box.  It is a leadership fable like those written by Ken Blanchard or Patrick Lencioni.  I have used this book in an organizational behavior class for years because it gets right down to the heart of the matter.

Sometimes the complainer is the problem. But the fascinating thing is that he never thinks that he is the problem. Everybody else in the office knows that he is the problem, but the problem person–the self-deceived person–is blind to this reality (Jeremiah 17:9).

3. You. If the last point is true, it also means that you are vulnerable. You too may be unaware that you are the problem. Let’s circle back to the first point. I tell my MBA students that as a manager, if you are not hearing negative feedback, one of two things is happening: either you are leading perfectly or your people do not trust you. The statistics are not in your favor.

4. Them. Or, then again, Maybe your problem employee is just a chronic complainer. Some people just complain about everything. So, maybe it is them or…
5. Them. You thought I was going to say “you” for the sake of symmetry, didn’t you? It might really be them, but for an entirely different reason.  There are two types of complainers. We already discussed the chronic complainer, but the second type complain even more loudly about select critical issues. These people complain because they care. They are trying to protect the organization from difficulties you may not be able to see. Unfortunately, most managers never distinguish between the two and they treat these complainers as problems.

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Chronic complainers (#4) are like cholesterol. Over time, they destroy the organization by limiting capacity and destroying morale.  Acute complainers (#5) are like white blood cells. When these complainers complain, listen. What you are experiencing is loyal opposition. They see danger and if you are willing to listen, this complainer may save you from disaster.

What kind of complainer do you have and what is causing the complaining?

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

November 21, 2012


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University


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Filed under Books, Interdisciplinary, Leadership, Management, Organizational Behavior, Trust

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