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Managing Staff Who Complain Too Much

Published February 08, 2019 (last updated March 9, 2023) - Face2Face Field Service Manager

The office door opens and you see one of your valued team members coming towards you – at that moment, all you feel is dread. Sure, they are a valued staffer, but you also know they are here for one reason – and one reason only. To complain.

Whether you’re with a group of your friends, or you’re at work, there is often one chronic complainer. You know, the person who has to whine about everything. In the workplace their behaviour can stem from a sense of entitlement, or perhaps they’re resentful about others who are progressing above them. Sometimes it’s an inherent personality trait. And while complainers can sometimes be great employees, they do have a way of robbing morale from the workplace.

So how should you handle “the complainer”?

Remember Who the Boss is

A large part of the issue can come down to how the employees are managed. As a manager of a business, you can play a major role in reducing negativity in the workplace. In doing so, it’s important that you find a balance between being assertive and approachable. Staff should feel comfortable enough to talk to you if they have problems knowing that you will work to resolve them where warranted. However, they should be reminded where necessary that constant whining, disparaging remarks or fighting amongst team members is not a culture you endorse nor tolerate.

Don’t Rationalise the Behaviour

One of the biggest problems with complainers is when their behaviour is simply brushed under the carpet and rationalised. “Don’t worry about him, he’s harmless. He just doesn’t like …” Don’t brush off the behaviour as being normal for your workplace. This could create a culture where other staff begin to replicate the behaviour, or they become disinterested in working for you.

Enforce Procedures, but Don’t Allow it to Be an Obsession

Teach your team to follow the right procedures if they have a complaint (do they need to go to HR, directly to you, or someone else; do they put it in writing; and so on), and ensure you address it right away. Make sure you tell “the complainer” that you will address the issue, but you’re not going to do this day in and day out. You have a business to run, and you can be as nice as you want – but you have to set limits as well. Make notes of everything that is done to rectify the problem so that if “the complainer” comes back to you again, you can show them you’ve done what you need to do and it’s time to move on. Keeping records of any discussions or resolutions of complaints is essential if the employee later raises a grievance.

Stop it From Spreading

If you know someone on the team is being negative, and trying to share this negativity with workmates, nip it in the bud now! You don’t want to have them crushing the morale amongst the workforce – negativity can be contagious. And if they complain enough, eventually your other staff members will start to believe the complaints to be true themselves.

Be Supportive, but Honest

More often than not, “the complainer” may simply be seeking attention and reinforcement. Stay calm when discussing the problem, but also make sure you talk to them about their own behaviour. If they are badmouthing aspects of the business to other team members, address it. Tell them how this is affecting team morale, and also their own work. Guide them on proactive steps they could be taking to rectify the problem themselves.

Got a chronic complainer in the workplace? Contact us to learn more about some clever employee management strategies, as well as your rights and responsibilities as an employer.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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