How the Habit of Complaining Affects your Team?

We have all been there.
Complaining about things and people at work has been quite the agenda for those watercooler meets and smoke breaks. ‘Venting out’, the politer way of putting it, apparently makes one feel light and is considered just as harmless as gossiping.
But this is actually not the case.

Complaining isn’t as harmless as it seems. It is a toxic habit and spreads like a contagious disease leading to no productive outcome, rather deteriorates the work environment.

This blog deals with complaining, how it affects your team while working and what is the better way to deal with situations that do not meet our expectations.


Corporate workplaces are the hub of chronic complaining. Among teams, it spreads like a competitive sport.
In a research, it was found out that a majority of employees spend 10 or more hours per month complaining — or listening to others complain — about their bosses or upper management, and this doesn’t even include the time spent complaining about their peers and employees.
So the real number could be a lot higher than this.

10 hours of pure negativity and nothing else.

But why do people complain in the first place?

There could be not one but many reasons why someone indulges in this futile practice and gives themselves the false assurance of being relieved of the steam.

One major reason, I believe is to dispose themselves of any responsibility.
You will often find people cribbing about the tiniest of things, that would not need a lot of effort to better. But the complainers will never take enough responsibility for it and would give themselves and others around them the temporary comfort of critiquing like it would lead to some solution.

This reason for complaining is also sort of an excuse for poor performance. Because you want to ideally absolve yourself of any responsibility and hence do not want to put in a lot of effort for great results.

Another reason why complaining sticks in the working environment is to get attention. In my career, and personally, I have encountered a number of people who like to complain as a form of humble bragging in order to gather attention. As an example, A would always complain about how unprofessional the culture of her new workplace was but actually emphasizing how she acts very professional. This humblebrag method of complaining is a concealed attempt that screams ‘give me attention’. This also correlates to how complaining is also used by people to invoke jealousy.

How complaining affects your culture?

By getting our emotions out, we tend to feel better. But its actually the way those emotions come out that determines its consequences.
A Stanford Research found out that complaining or even being complained to for more than 30 minutes can physically damage the neurons in the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain responsible for problem solving and cognitive function.
In simple words, complaining hampers the normal functioning of the brain.
Also, being inherently negative in nature, complaining tends to repeat itself over and over again, till it becomes unconscious and a habit.
That is because repeated negative thoughts make it easier to think yet more negative thoughts, they also make it more likely that negative thoughts will occur to you at any point in time without an underlying reason, pushing you into a vicious circle.

Now, this is within the complainer’s brain.

How complaining affects the people around?
There is a wonderful analogy to look at it by psychologist Jeffrey Lohr. He says, “Venting anger is…similar to emotional farting in a closed area. It sounds like a good idea, but it’s dead wrong”.
Not only does it spoil the other person’s mood but being competitive and catchy in nature, complaining spreads. And spreads wide.
Becoming the agenda of post-work chill, watercooler meets and pantry, this vicious habit contributes to bringing the collective happiness of the organization down.
And in the simplest words, when people are not happy, their productivity takes a beating. Thus, complaining is not just harmless banter employees get drawn into, it is an attitude that is affecting the overall culture of your workplace.

What to do instead?

Now, that we realize complaining hampers the environment and not just an individual, what can we do about it?
Stop complaining at all?
I wish that was a practical solution and that would be the end of this blog. But we are only human and we sort of have the right to complain about things that are not satisfactory. After all, that is how things improve. But there is always a better way to find a way out of the underlying reason.

Here are a few pointers to check yourself when you find yourself tempted to ‘let the steam off’

  • State facts rather than complain about it. The tone is everything. For example,” The stupid electricity department has decided to repair its tower today of all days when I have an important task to do” is very different from “ There is no electricity due to some repair going on at the moment, so I will have the task done but with a delay”.


  • Is there a way you could get across your complaint to the person who is equipped with the authority to deal with it? If yes, do that.


  • Talk directly and only to the person who can resolve the grievance.


  • Be conscious of every word that you utter. If it is in the form of a complain, check it there and then. Will Bowen’s 21 Days of Being Complaint Free is a great method to stop yourself from complaining unconsciously. He encourages to wear a purple band on your wrist and whenever you find yourself complaining, you switch the band to the other wrist.


If you are surrounded by people who are constantly complaining, this is what you can do:

  • Make them solution-driven: Maneuver the conversation that inspires a solution to their problem rather than futile ranting. Ask them, if it were possible, how might they do it?


  • For situations that do not have a positive way out, you could get your team to focus on what is going well and work towards getting the maximum out of it.


  • If they complain about something from the past, something that cannot be changed now, take notes and prepare for the future and push them to do the same.


To manage complaining in a workplace is a tricky situation. As a leader, and more importantly a team member, it would be necessary to recognize what is vicious complaining and what is not. With the above pointers in mind, you can be one step closer to creating a culture which is solution-oriented and pauses the blame game habit that mars the corporate environment.

Snigdha Sachar is an engineer by qualification, policy-enthu by passion and chai-advocate as a freelancer. She is a part of the Management team at Applify.

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