How to Manage Employees Who Complain Too Much

  • HR Policies
How to Manage Employees Who Complain Too Much
Andrew Caldwell

Andrew Caldwell, HR Advisory Manager

(Last updated )

As the employer, you play a major role in shaping your workplace culture. A healthy working environment improves team productivity, employee engagement and job satisfaction.

To build a thriving work culture, it is important that you keep negativity out of your workplace. If you have employees who are in the habit of complaining without cause or are perpetually dissatisfied with their jobs, you should take steps to address this issue.

How do chronic complainers affect the work environment?

Every job has its attractions and challenges. By constantly focusing on the downside, chronic complainers erode the workplace morale. Whether it is a new policy they are unhappy with or a new method of completing tasks, they find a problem in every solution.

Having a Negative Ned or Nelly on your team can also affect team productivity. Other workers may not want to collaborate with the complainer on team projects. Or their behaviour may encourage others, especially new staff, to act the same way and be overly critical of the management.

The chronic complainer could also be a supervisor. Their negative attitude may be demotivating your staff and causing a high turnover.

Chronic complaining in the workplace, if unchecked, can lead to a toxic work environment. It is important that you know how to manage employees with negative attitudes.

Isn’t it best to ignore them?

No. Doing so sends the message to the rest of your staff that such behaviour is acceptable. In the long-term, it’ll be damaging to your authority, your credibility with your staff, and your team’s productivity and morale.

Should I try to appease them?

By doing so you’ll set a bad precedent. You’ll only end up legitimizing their negative behaviour by trying to win them over.

So, how do I manage the chronic complainers in my workplace?

You can check negativity in the workplace with effective people management strategies. You should build your workplace culture on certain best practices. We recommend that you:

Include behavioral questions in job interviews

Unlike traditional interview questions, behavioral questions help you learn more about a candidate’s personality. For instance, answers to questions on handling disagreements with co-workers, or identifying and resolving issues at work, may help you figure out whether the candidate is a good fit for your workplace.

Set down clear guidelines on workplace performance and behaviour

Make sure you set down clear policies on workplace behaviour, performance, and discipline. It is a good practice to develop an employee handbook.  You can share company policies, values, and work culture with your employees through your handbook.

Have a grievance redressal system in place

Let your staff know of the proper procedure in case they have a complaint. Encourage them to approach you to discuss any issue they may be experiencing at work.

An honest discussion will check build-up of negative emotions or resentment. It will also help your employees feel valued and heard. If an employee has a complaint that is valid or if they come to you with an effective solution, make sure you act on it right away.

When you bring in new policies or procedures affecting your staff, ask for their feedback as well. Act on the feedback if the concerns that come up are reasonable.

Balance being approachable with being assertive

It is good to have a rapport with your staff. They should know they can speak to you if they have a problem at work and trust you to resolve the matter. But they should also know that negative behaviours, like gossiping, bullying, complaining, fighting with colleagues, bad-mouthing the management, will not be tolerated.

Talk to the employee

It is best to have a constructive discussion with the habitually complaining employee. When you talk to them, be specific about negative behaviours (eg. instances of whining or complaining without cause) that need to change.

Explain how it affects workplace morale and is unacceptable. A general discussion on their bad attitude may come across as a personal attack.

During the discussion, also bring up their positive traits you value. Help them understand how their career would benefit if they worked on their attitude. Suggest ways in which they could correct their behaviour.

However, depending on how serious and recurring the problem has been, you may want to issue (written) warnings to such employees. It may also be that in their previous jobs, such behaviours may have gone unchecked. It’ll be helpful to inform such an employee of the outcome of continuing negative behaviours in the workplace.

Do you have questions related to HR and employee management?

Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HRhealth and safety, or employment advice you need. See how we have helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation.

Related articles

  • drugs weighing on a scale


    Olivia CicchiniEmployment Law Expert
    • HR Policies
  • Woman on vacation road trip


    Kiljon ShukullariHR Advisory Manager
    • HR Policies
  • cyber security


    Ming LeeVice President - IT
    • HR Policies
Back to resource hub

Try Peninsula Canada today

Find out what 6500+ businesses across Canada have already discovered. Get round-the-clock HR and health & safety support with Peninsula.

Speak to an expert 24/7

Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest news & tips that matter most to your business in our monthly newsletter.