How to Deal With Workplace Whiners

Imagine this:
You are just trying to complete the quarterly report for your boss peacefully, with a coffee and croissant at your side. Suddenly, Debbie is standing next to your cubicle, griping about how she has been working long hours and hasn’t take leave in a long time. You know how painful it is to hear her whine all the time.

Anyone who has worked with chronic complainers will know that such behaviours over the long haul irritates everyone at work. Whiners whine to form relationships and receive empathy from others.

How can we deal with workplace whiners?

Let’s start with some actions that will not work with whiners:

1. Join them in venting

Whining with the whiners will only encourage more complaining. If you try to provide a solution or offer your opinion, the whiners will reject your idea or make excuses. If they do accept and act on your suggestion, they will blame you if the outcome is bad.

2. Telling them their reaction is irrational

Whiners are not bothered about rationality or inconsistency of their actions. They crave for empathy over logic.

3. Forcing them to adopt a problem-solving approach

Whiners need to release their emotions and make themselves feel heard by others before they are open to solutions or suggestions to improve the current situation.


Now, let us take a look at 2 types of common whining behaviour in the workplace and how to deal with them.

Example 1:

Julia is a chronic complainer. For the last 2 weeks, she has been complaining about the sheer number of internal meetings and how she has to spend so much time creating meeting slides. She would whine about this every time she saw her boss approaching her desk. By the 2nd week, Eric, her manager, was ready for her. “Julia, I know you have been working on our meeting slides and we really appreciate your efforts”. Julia looked a little taken aback. She says “I have not had enough time to keep up with the deadlines of my normal work duties.” Eric smiles, but when he looks at Julia, he realised that she wasn’t smiling at all.

What’s the harm?

1. Chronic whiners are seldom the “go to” person in the office and colleagues lose respect for a whiner.

2. During tough times, the constant whiner adds fuel to the fire. The already sombre mood may be peppered with their intense negativity and employee morale sinks to new lows.

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Whiners may be dramatic but they frequently highlight things that may be overlooked. 

While we may be expected to take on additional responsibilities in our job scope occasionally, it is also important not to neglect our main work tasks. Julia has brought up an important point and shared that she may be overwhelmed by the current workload. Hence Eric may need to understand that she has too much on her plate and distribute her non-urgent work to other employees. Overworked staff may feel burnout, leaving them feeling unhappy with the company and eventually affecting staff morale.

Do not be obliged to make a comment.

A conversation is a 2-way street, hence a whiner will get bored if no one responds to him. Julia will move on if Eric doesn’t reply to her further comments.

Example 2:

Megan corners her colleagues at the office lounge after lunch. “I can’t believe how demanding these clients are nowadays! They don’t understand how much responsibility we have but how little we get paid!” She whines, hoping that someone would agree with her. When no one answers, she turns to one of her colleagues Daphne and asks “Daphne, don’t you agree that these clients are fussy?” Daphne replied that her encounters have been fairly manageable. Megan takes her complaints up one notch “Well, if I was given a chance, I certainly won’t want to deal with ABC company again!”

What’s the harm?

The whiner can be too self-focused and doesn’t view matters with objectivity. He or she may lack the skills to empathize with customers or colleagues.


Make it the whiner’s responsibility. 

In the case scenario, when Megan complains that the clients she handles are being fussy, the manager could ask Megan “What do you suggest then?” listen carefully to the suggestions and get Megan to put it into writing and request it to be sent to you via email. As the manager, you will bear the responsibility of replying to Megan’s concerns, but Megan may not be so quick to approach you with complaints if it leads to work on her part. She may also think carefully next time before she speaks.

Agree with the whiner and move on.
When Megan complains about her clients, you could just agree with her and change to another topic. “So how is the report for XYZ Company coming along?” Megan might just get the message that she doesn’t get any sympathy from you and spend less time complaining.

We hope that this article is helpful. Do you have any tips you would like to add?

Let us know in the comments and please share this post with a friend/colleague if you enjoyed it!

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