Complaining At Work Makes You Feel Worse
Not every day on the job is going to be great.
Someone always steals your lunch. Your boss doesn’t have a clue. Or maybe it’s that annoying co-worker in the cubicle next to you.
When you’re having a bad day, you might feel the need to call up a friend or fellow worker for a good ‘ol venting session and complain about what’s wrong with your job.
In the moment, airing it out can feel good. But recent research says that complaining at work could actually make you feel worse and affect work performance.
The Consequences of Venting In the Workplace
The newly published study followed workers over several days. Individuals kept track of good and bad events, but also rate how severe they were.
Researchers also had them report on how much they complained, if they focused on the negative situation, and how well they reacted to it. Lastly they recorded their moods and how engaged they were with their work.
The data found that people were affected in 2 ways when workers complained about negative events:
1. They reported lower moods and less satisfaction with their work the day they complained, and
2. They also experienced lower moods the next morning, and lower pride in the next day’s accomplishments.
But if individuals didn’t vent, escalate the situation, or ruminate, those bad events (even when rated severe) didn’t impact their mood or work engagement that day. It also didn’t negatively impact mood or engagement the following day either.
The Psychological Explanation
From a psychological perspective, the authors believe there are a couple of reasons why venting was affecting job satisfaction and mood that day and the next.
1. You re-experience the emotions of the event. It also reinforces those negative feelings. The researchers say that:
Discussing events immediately during or after they occur, forces the brain to re-live or ‘rehearse’ the negative emotional response.
2. You could be making making a small problem worse, or a “mountain out of a mole hill”. If the complaint is poorly expressed or the situation is blamed on the wrong person, you could be causing more drama than the situation originally warranted.
So Just Keep It Bottled Up?
The authors don’t endorse the extreme view that you should never say anything, especially if it’s bothering you. But there is a difference between minor annoyances and large, organizational issues.
Other research has shown that constructive feedback, or complaining with a purpose in mind can be helpful. However, venting for the simple act of venting can make negative feelings linger. And probably isn’t good for your mood or mental health.
And a bit of stoicism can go a long ways. There’s nothing wrong with letting things cool off for a day. The authors hint that complaining at work, when emotions are still hot, may make you feel more like a victim of circumstance. Which is a sure way to stress yourself out.
Instead, tolerating small discomforts, inconveniences, and annoyances can give you a better sense of control. Making your mood, and job satisfaction, more resilient to further negative emotions.