Why we should whinge at work
Complaining on the job can help our mental health
SOMETIMES we need to vent about the place we work. Whether it’s the long hours you put in, an unreasonable boss, or lack of recognition for your efforts – every workplace has enough fuel to ignite that frustration. When I was a cop, all of the first response officers would complain that the detectives would never cope if they weren’t around. Funnily enough, on more than one occasion, I heard the detectives say the same thing. Good news is, this workplace complaining is actually beneficial to your mental wellbeing and to the productivity in the office. Dr Vanessa Pouthier, a researcher at the University of Melbourne, studied a team of nurses and other health professionals at a US hospital, finding there are benefits to these kinds of bitching sessions. She observed the joking (and complaining) that went on for over 12 months and realised “it helps people to process stress and frustration and you notice palpable changes when team members engaged in both activities,” Dr Pouthier told ABC Radio Perth. No matter what kind of environment you work in, there will always be a corner of the office or the lunch room where a small (or large) collective of employees are venting to some degree. “Generally, people don’t think there’s any value to it or they think it has no place in the workplace,” Dr Pouthier says. But this common activity in every workplace was so underresearched she had to look into other fields, such as linguistics, to better understand its functions. Whether it’s politely debating the effectiveness of how an office runs, or whingeing about the bosses, Dr Pouthier found gripes had a bonding function and could re-energise a workplace, helping staff work through their negative feelings. “It allows people to recognise how similar they are in the challenges they’re facing every day and how they feel about them,” she says. “One of the best things in the team I observed was that these griping rituals helped doctors and nurses realise they were feeling the same way about situations, and they weren’t that different.” This banter occurred on all levels of the hierarchy. Dr Pouthier believes managers are often nervous about staff expressing negative feelings about their work, but provided the workplace had not become seriously toxic and dysfunctional, they should probably relax. “Those gripes are not necessarily calls for change; they are calls for commiseration and bonding and just releasing the negative energy, especially when using humour,” she said. “We are in this together and we work in a system that is flawed but it is a good place to work for.” Complaining helps a team recalibrate their emotions, recognising similarities in how people are feeling when stressed out, and being able to move past it. Dr Pouthier does say that there are certain “rules” that should be adhered to. You should never target someone in a bullying campaign. “You can only gripe about people that are not in the room, and you need to externalise the gripe. So, the gripe’s target needs to be something everyone can agree on, like the structure in which the team is working, or difficult practitioners working in other services. Never individuals in the team,” Dr Pouthier says. Her study found that coming together to joke about problems can help staff work through them by “turning the problematic situation into a source of humour”. Dr Pouthier noticed in the team she was observing there was frustration that the organisation wasn’t embracing changes to the way patients were dealt with. “There was a feeling among some of the participants that there was too much weight given to a particular type of expertise at the expense of others. And they used griping and humour to challenge those existing political structures,” she says. So next time you feel someone is treading on your toes in the office, you should consider not boxing those feelings in. It rarely ends well taking that work baggage home to the family. A better option is sussing out who else at work feels the same way, inviting them to have lunch with you, then letting rip (following the above guidelines). You will feel less stressed, more energised and ultimately more work will get done as a result.
DON'T BOTTLE IT IN: Workplace complaining is actually beneficial to your mental wellbeing and to the productivity in the office.