Throughout my career in small companies and large, I’ve always been appalled by the number of people who seem to complain all of the time. These people don’t seem to realize that they are hurting themselves, as well as other people’s productivity, and the company they are working for.
I’ve always thought that I might be overly sensitive, but recently I saw an old survey that claimed that a majority of employees spend 10 hours or more a month complaining or listening to others complain, and nearly one third spend 20 or more hours. No startup can afford that huge cost in emotional capital, as well as productivity!
In the survey, negativity is seen as an indictment of bad managers, but I believe it is also an indictment of whiners. Ten to twenty hours a month is a lot of time to waste, not to mention the indirect time lost of the listeners and the impact on team morale.
What does all this mean, and how do you correct it, or prevent it in your startup? Here are some recommendations from experts for proactive and recovery actions by all parties to minimize the problem in both employee and management ranks:
- Executives have to be the role model. If you as the founder, or other members your executive team are chronic complainers, the disease will spread rapidly through the rest of the organization. Don’t play the blame game, give negatively charged emotional speeches, berate employees in public, or wear an angry face at the office.
- Use the hiring process effectively. Too many startups give short shrift to the hiring process, because they are too busy, don’t want to pay market prices, or have no experience. It’s actually easy to spot whiners during the interview process, by listening to them run down previous employers and not accepting accountability. Don’t hire them.
- Encourage regular self-assessment. Encourage your management team and employees to always check themselves before making unsolicited comments against the following criteria: “Will this comment add value to our company, our customers, the person I am talking to, or the one I am talking about? If not, don’t say it.”
- Openly reward positive suggestions. Maybe it’s time to establish or re-activate the old-fashioned “suggestion box.” Make it work by regularly handing out real accolades, as well as real money, to people who add value or reduce costs in your business. A positive can-do attitude should also be recognized in job performance feedback.
- Quietly deal with people who won’t change. Some whiners have been that way all their life, and don’t know how to change their stripes. With proper counseling, they need to be moved out of your business before they do more damage. How quickly and quietly you deal with these problems will be the loudest message you can send to others.
Some people will use “honesty” as the excuse for negative and insensitive comments. In fact, the most honest and productive comments are always positive recommendations on how to fix a problem, rather than the complaint that someone or something is a problem. Even if some of your co-workers are jerks, you have no moral, ethical or legal obligation to broadcast this view.
Everyone needs to understand that complaining about salary or pay, criticizing colleagues and bosses, or vendors and customers, will generally just reflect negatively on the whiner, rather than accomplish any positive results.
The truth is that optimists lead better lives, and startups with positive teams are more successful, simply because they believe that what they are doing is going to work. Negativity also is a self-fulfilling prophecy, with an outcome that can be the demise of your startup.