Yesterday at work, a coworker posted an article in our company-wide Slack channel on why constant complaining is toxic in the workplace.
Basically the article (which I’m sure was posted with good intentions) says that complaining is pointlessly negative and you should either take action to solve a problem, or if you don’t have the agency to do that, you should shut up about it and put on a happy face.
So… allow me to complain. 🙂
I get how sometimes complaining can feel pointlessly negative, because I’ve known people who are persistently negative despite the circumstances: Got a free cupcake? It’s too dry. See a cute puppy? It probably has fleas. People like this who refuse to see the good in anything tempt me to turn on a deranged Mary Poppins spoonful-of-sugar attitude specifically to annoy them to pieces.
But let’s talk about work, since that’s what the article is about. Depending on your role at work, there are a lot of things you may not have the power to change. So you change what you can, vent about the rest with your work-spouse (this is necessary for survival, not toxic), and then move on if it gets to be too much.
The thing that annoyed me about this article is that it doesn’t acknowledge who benefits most when you adopt a “smile and persevere” attitude: those in a in a position of power over you. The idea that you as an individual should just change your attitude to better adapt to the existing system has been used since forever to shut people up and prevent change (aka: “lean in and you’ll rise up the corporate ladder”, “don’t laugh so loud and you won’t get kicked off the Napa Valley wine train”, “be more respectful to police and they won’t kill you”).
One of the first things that popped into my head when I started my complainery about this article was Liberation Theology, a movement that started in the 1950s in Latin America, when people within the Catholic Church started to rebel against the idea that the poor should suffer while on earth and be content to wait for their reward in heaven.
In Catholic school, we watched lots of movies on the subject, mostly focused on the activist priests and nuns who were murdered in Central America during the 1980s. The footage was pretty graphic. I still vividly remember seeing the re-enacted murder of Oscar Romero while saying mass, and the real footage of the bodies of Jean Donovan and her three fellow nuns being pulled out of a shallow grave.
[That combined with all the mid-90s partial-birth abortion movies and my mom’s Stephen King storytelling around the campfire explains a lot, right?]
Anyway, what I’m trying to get to is that the main reason the article on complaining irked me is that somebody’s ALWAYS saying there’s a reward in store if we just wait quietly and patiently and follow all the rules and stop complaining. Or that if we’re unhappy, it’s our own personal issue and we should fix our face.
What do you think? What did I miss? I would love to hear other perspectives on complaining, social change, musicals, Catholic school movie selections, etc.
Thanks for sharing my article. I like your take on this and my point is definitely NOT that we should always just adopt a positive attitude.
In fact, in the article I write that:
“I’m NOT saying that we should never complain at work – quite the contrary. If you see a problem in your workplace, complain to whoever can do something about it.”