How to Handle a Complaining Employee

by Greg Skloot
Management   |   3 Min Read
employee complaining

If you have an employee that’s always complaining, the first step is to identify:

A) Is there a real problem that needs to be addressed?

OR

B) Is the person just a complainer overreacting?

If the answer is A, you should dive in and really understand what the issues are and see how you can go about fixing them. In some cases “being a complainer” means someone who raises a red flag when there are issues, which is immensely valuable for your team.

If the answer is B, you have a different problem. People who constantly complain and overreact can be a serious drain on the company’s culture. Here are some tips to coach them accordingly:

1. Make anti-complaining part of your culture code

Complaining should be something you document as negative in your culture code. Remember, the goal of writing down your cultural values is because you should “recruit, reward and release” people based on those values. If someone is complaining all the time, they are not aligned with the culture and are likely not a good fit for the team.

2. Create processes to share feedback and concerns

Often people complain because they feel like they aren’t being heard. To help alleviate this, create processes for employees to share feedback and have their concerns addressed. I use my own tool so my team can share written status updates on their top objectives, concerns and plans. Each week when a team member shares an update, I reply to it and give feedback.

3. Be transparent with what you are prioritizing

Sometimes an employee will complain about something that actually needs to be addressed. As a manager, you should be transparent on what is a priority and what isn’t. Some complaints may be relevant to a problem you’ve elected to solve now, in which case you should gather feedback from that employee. Otherwise, you should tell them “I acknowledge that this isn’t ideal, but that isn’t an issue we can tackle right now and just need to make due with how it is.” This isn’t the answer they want to hear, but acknowledgement is always better then sweeping the issue under the rug.

Shorter meetings. Real accountability.
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