Having a culture of open communication where employees feel comfortable airing their grievances is important for any company's future. However, there's a fine line between healthy grievance discussions and a toxic environment of over-complaining.
Unfortunately, even high-performing employees are susceptible to creating unworkable conditions due to negative attitudes and constant complaining. Teana McDonald, founder of 3E Connections, dealt with this issue firsthand.
"I had an employee who did her job well, but always complained about the clients that she was working with and how they needed to provide more information to make her job easier," McDonald said.
The complaints went beyond a simple annoyance.
McDonald explained, "She came to work on a daily basis complaining about how boring and robotic her job had become. This made her co-workers feel extremely uncomfortable and several came and discussed these issues with me."
McDonald's employee went far beyond simply voicing concerns. This is why leaders need to maintain a balance between venting and over-complaining.
Here are four ways to keep employee venting from becoming unhealthy:
When employees' concerns go unheard, it can quickly build into deeper, more destructive frustrations.
"I told the half-dozen or so home-office executives that we were going to really listen. We weren't going to argue or push back. We were there to hear their concerns," Tim Arnold, president and CEO of Colonial Life, told his senior leaders before meeting with hundreds of their top sales leaders.
After opening with questions and concerns during each meeting, Arnold noticed the sales partners grew bolder in their problems, challenges, and ideas -- knowing the leaders would listen.
It wasn't easy, though.
"In some locations, the conversation was very direct, intense, emotional, and incredibly candid. It was difficult to hear people questioning your company's actions and leadership and not respond or argue when hearing things you weren't certain were accurate representations of the environment," Arnold said.
However, by opening the door for this communication, the company's leaders received a better understanding of their sales teams. When it was time to respond, they could be more insightful, helpful, and productive with solutions.
Even though it's challenging, listen to employees with no commentary. Giving them time to put their main concerns out there gives you the opportunity to provide concrete solutions and stops the problem from snowballing.
2. Proactively channel frustration
Frustration is a natural emotion and, when aired properly, is healthy for businesses. But without the proper tools or outlets to channel these frustrations, the results are destructive.
Laura MacLeod, LMSW and HR expert at From The Inside Out Project, saw the destructive nature of frustrations while working with a staff support group at a not-for-profit agency in New York City.
MacLeod explained, "These workers advocate for the homeless and have many complaints about supervision, resources, pay, and overall mission of the agency. They literally scream and curse at each other, avoid and/or openly argue with supervisors, and spread a toxic dissatisfaction around the office."
This type of behavior is unhealthy for employees and the negativity erodes the foundation of organizations. Rechannel employees' frustrations in a healthy and constructive way. Brainstorm in small groups to find the best ways to approach the issues causing frustrations.
3. Monitor performance
Leaders who are able to proactively face challenges before they get out of hand are most successful in stopping over-complainers from ruining company culture.
Actively tracking performance and feedback helps employees visualize concerns and see where the issues stem from. With tools like PerformYard, company leaders can work directly with employees to gauge performance and mood.
PerformYard's status reporting allows employees to give productive feedback and communication. This means you and your team can be on the same page, so issues are addressed before getting out of hand and affecting others' attitudes.
4. Get creative
Chad Billmyer, CEO of Panjo, knew something needed to be done when his head of product and head of design were butting heads more and more every day.
"Each came to me individually and shared their frustrations, struggles, and infuriation over the other person's poor performance and communication," said Billmyer.
After seeing a marriage counselor himself, he recognized basic communication issues and asked the two to see a therapist together.
"After one session with a marriage counselor, both associates communicated more effectively with one another and the quality of their work and satisfaction improved," Billmyer explained.
While sending distraught employees to a marriage counselor may not work for everyone, it's outside-of-the-box thinking like Billmyer's that helps individuals cope with issues.
As problems arise, think creatively and ask those involved to brainstorm solutions. You might be surprised what will help them reach a healthy form of venting and coping.