Friday, March 24, 2017

Stop Complaining! Do Your Work!

Vindication is sweet. Often have I counseled a no-drama approach to the workplace. And to everyday life too. I have often suggested that it is better to see life as a game than as a drama. It's better to see yourself as a player than as a thespian.

Now, a  study from the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology has demonstrated that I was correct. It tells us that it is best not to complain and not to dramatize issues that arise in the workplace. Instead of complaining you should show what the authors call sportsmanship. Yes, indeed.

Their abstract tells the story; with apologies for quoting academese:

We explicitly focused on good sportsmanship or abstaining from unnecessary complaints and criticism as a possible moderator of the effects of daily negative work events on daily work engagement and positive affect. 

We tested this possibility with a 3-day diary study among 112 employees. As expected, we found that daily negative events lowered daily engagement and momentary positive affect for two consecutive days. However, this effect only held on days that people exhibited low sportsmanship. For days that people exhibited high sportsmanship, there were no significant effects. Creating a resource rich work environment that enhances individuals’ sportsmanship behaviour can help to minimize the unfavourable impact of daily negative events.

Negative work events are inevitable. How you handle them is not. If you follow the lame advice offered by the denizens of the therapy culture you will feel compelled to confront the person who offended you or even the person who did not do his job very. You might want to vent your deepest feelings, because you have been told that bottling them up will give you cancer. And you might even choose to lean in, the better to show them how tough and strong and assertive you are. The research suggests that such is a bad approach. It is posturing, not gamesmanship.

You should not see yourself as a human monad trying to regulate the pressure of your emotional gasses but as a team member whose goal should be to advance the best interests of the team.

Alex Fradera explains the research in the Research Digest of the British Psychological Society:

But when sportsmanship was high – meaning that participants hadn’t complained, escalated minor issues, or stewed over things too much – bad events, even if rated as severe, didn’t impact mood or work engagement, that day or the next. Demeroutia and Cropanzano think there may be two reasons for this. Firstly, revisiting the event gives it a second wind, further reinforcing the association between it and the normally transient negative emotions that were initially provoked, turning a bad experience into That Bad Experience. Secondly, if complaints are poorly expressed or directed at the wrong person, they can exacerbate the situation, and that’s all too possible when you are still caught up in a drama.

As for a better alternative when problems need to be solved, Fradera offers this advice, from the research:

When a problem keeps manifesting in an organisation or relationship you need to resolve it, and that begins by putting it into words. But purposeless complaining can just as easily be a way to avoid moving on, the out-loud version of mental rumination keeping us in its undertow. Demeroutia and Cropanzano point to more constructive methods like expressive writing, which have an evidence base showing success in making sense of negative experience. This form of reflection, or attentive conversation focused on straightening out a knotty problem, are vastly preferred to unconstructive venting.

Negotiate your differences. Don't dramatize them. The first can solve a problem. The second cannot. One is amused to note that the out-loud version of mental rumination corresponds well to what used to be called Freudian free association.

The moral of the story comes from director Lee Daniels. In his words: “Stop complaining.” “Do your work.”


Shaun F said...

It's easy to say stop complaining and do your work. But when you work in an atmosphere where everyone complains and gossips all day, and it's a dog eat dog world of backstabbing (faking evidence to destroy people), political correctness and incompetence - your only alternatives are to be on sick leave or meds. That is the work atmosphere where I am, and our organization is across the country. Nothing to complain about. Those are just facts.

Ares Olympus said...

I've been lucky, but there was one "passionate" guy who joined my Engineering/software company in a merger when we bought his software, and he was often too insistent about how he saw we were going wrong, and sometimes he was right I think (our software is too hard to use), and other ways wrong (he wanted to expand our software modeling outside of our consulting expertise).

He ended up being the highest level guy in a first time multiple layoff last year. I didn't see that coming at all but I did notice he was advocating for me to help his agenda when I'd ask him about something else, and so I got a chance to practice saying no a couple times, and not as kindly as I wanted.

There's still one conflict remaining. I like to talk to people one-on-one and when Mr. X says to my suggestion "Don't suggest this to Mr. Y", I don't listen, and repeat the quote to Mr. Y, and find out what's really going on, i.e. a basic "turf war".

That sounds like drama and there's real fear on both sides, if we take a wrong path, over invest in things that won't pay off.

And we had some cash flow problems in the last few years, and really I think we let hiring and salaries go up too high when sales were good. There were also passionate discussions by engineers who wanted to be able select their own consulting projects rather than just where the highest or longest term contract income is, while no one actually offered to lower their salary for that freedom.

And like Shaun F mentioned, there are always degrees of competence and efficiency, and some employees clearly are more vital than others.

Now I understand what "bad times" are for - that's when you can justify layoffs while when cash flow is strong, its better to keep hoping everyone will find a place they can contibute.

Overall it does seem a miracle that companies function at all at times, and how things happen in a smaller company fail when it grows, and that's drama no matter what you want.

Dennis said...

I have to admit that the people I watched the most were the people who did not complain. It has been my experience that many times the people who complain, gripe and bitch are the ones who actually care. As a senior NCO I would select the person who complained as the person to be responsible for the detail they bitched about the most. In most cases it brought about a change in thought about what needs to take place and why it needs to take place. I have been thanked on occasion for the lessons they learned by having to take responsibility and be responsible for others.
Conversely a significant number of non complainers were the people I could trust the least to do their jobs let alone lead when I was out of the area. One has to understand the wants and needs of those who work for them and make decisions on those qualities one needs to inculcate. It is not so easy to stereotype individuals.

Anonymous said...

This work world would be a lot better if people understood it as a two-way street: don't complain, yes, BUT, the others need to be a bit less sloppy in generating complain able conditions. The complainant is always held responsible in this society, thus letting the f-ups off the hook- in practice you all know this is true. Make the effort to not f-up and there should be minimal complaints.