Top Five Workplace Complaints & How to Conquer Them

After 25+ years of working in and observing organizations of every type and size, I have noticed a common theme among all the successful ones; they consist of a group of enthusiastic, confident, positive people who work together on behalf of a future to which they have all committed.

In most organizations, the above definition of what a “successful organization” is simply does not exist. In fact, rarely will you find a group of professional people dedicated to the healthy pursuit of common future goals.

Why is this? Is it because people don’t want to be enthusiastic, confident, and positive? Would they rather be resigned, fearful, and negative? Do people not want to be part of a team? Would they rather be selfish and loners? Of course not.

In my experience working with hundreds of companies, I have found that most people want, more than anything else, to work in an organization where their daily activities nurture them, where they can experience and express their creativity, and where management supports their commitments. In essence, people want to realize their full potential, experience a sense of accomplishment, achieve personal satisfaction, attain their goals and ambitions, and receive recognition and rewards for their contributions.

Unfortunately, the majority of people don’t come close to realizing those goals. A recent survey reveals that only six percent of American workers love their jobs. It’s a startling statistic, but just look at the culture we live in today. Monday is blue Monday; Wednesday is hump day; then comes TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday). Workers trade their lives, and a bit of their souls, for a paycheck.

This mindset not only robs people of the aliveness that’s possible at work, but also it robs the company of the productivity and creativity that is possible in a nurturing work environment. It doesn’t have to be this way, and the power to change this situation is within each of us.

Let’s look together at the top five workplace complaints we hear from workers around the country and what you can do to conquer them:

1. Bosses who don’t recognize, respect, or reward your efforts.

Many bosses don’t understand the need human beings have to be acknowledged and appreciated. In his groundbreaking book The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard suggest that bosses should catch people in the act of doing something right and acknowledge them. Why? Because people need to be acknowledged! Remember the last time you saw a child in a playground saying “watch me, watch me.” We never outgrow that need to be watched and acknowledged.

But too many bosses are either too busy to bother to acknowledge their workers, don’t realize how important it is, think that a yearly review is sufficient, are too embarrassed to let you know that they really do appreciate you, or, worst of all, think you should be happy and satisfied just because you have a job.

The antidote: ASK! Take a risk and just ask. Tell your boss that you are committed to doing a great job (or however you want to say it) and that it’s really important that you have feedback as to whether or not you are fulfilling your commitment. Tell them that you really want to know exactly how they feel about your performance, the good, the bad and the ugly. Be straight, but be compassionate and don’t make your boss wrong for not giving you the feedback previously. And, when you finally do get the feedback, listen with appreciation, don’t argue, don’t justify your behavior. Thank them for their input, and, if anything, ask what suggestions or requests they have for improvement in those areas where they feel improvement is called for.

2. Personality conflicts with co-workers.

Everyone, sooner or later, will have personality conflicts with someone they work with. Whether its perpetrating office politics, being argumentative, being uncooperative, etc., someone will get under your skin. Welcome to life.

Can I suggest another way of tackling this problem that may be difficult for you to accept, but one that I promise will help you minimize if not eliminate this problem?

Consider that the root cause of this situation is the reality that we want people to be how we want them to be and act the way we want them to act. And, to make matters worse, we have little compassion for what may be going on in the other person’s life that causes them to act in what we consider to be unacceptable ways.

I’m suggesting that we have to learn to accept people just the way they are and just the way they are not. I promise you, if you had spent your whole life with this other person, you’d understand exactly why they are the way they are and why they act the way they do. But you don’t have to do that. Just accept them. Instead of trying to change them or complaining that they are the way they are, learn to be compassionate, understanding and forgiving. In the long run, you will grow and become a better person and what now appears as unacceptable behavior will have no impact on you whatsoever.

3. Overly stressful working conditions.

This seems to be one of the biggest complaints today. Downsizing, rightsizing, layoffs, demanding more efficiency, has placed greater and greater responsibilities on today’s workers and increased the “stress” associated with many jobs. A recent article in USA Today said that a significant number of employees, especially high performers, are just waiting for the economy to turn around so they can quit their jobs and find something less stressful.

Again, let me suggest another way of looking at this issue. Let’s first take a look at stress by looking at interruptions. What is an interruption? Most people define an interruption as something that interferes with what you happen to be doing at the moment.

But by that definition, notice that a phone ringing is not an interruption when you are waiting to receive certain news, and that the minute after you get the news and are working with it, the same phone ringing is now an interruption. The same event (a ringing phone) is an interruption in one moment and not in the next.

See if you can see the joke in the following story: When I first got started as a lawyer, I had very little work and so I actively promoted myself. I went to many Bar Association functions. I would come back from the functions waiting for the phone to ring. When it rang and it was with some work, I was elated. My strategy worked and after a while I got busier and busier. One day I found myself working hard on a case and the phone would ring and I would say, “Damn, I can’t get any work done around here – there are too many interruptions”.

Of course there are times when you want to make yourself unavailable for certain kinds of events. But we live like there are really these things called interruptions and some days there are lots of them and some days there are not. We don’t see that an interruption is always an interpretation that we choose to give to some event. There is no such thing as an interruption.

In the same way we relate to interruptions, we live like everything made up by us in language really exists out there independent of our interpretation. We live like there really is a tangible thing called leadership, and motivation and charisma. A broken toe is real; leadership, motivation, charisma, and even stress are simply behavior intepretations.

What’s the point? We live like stress is an unavoidable accident in the middle of the road. This is NOT true. There are just events and circumstances and the way we choose to respond, no stress. Certain events happen and we say there are stressful. But we don’t see that it’s all in the way we are interpreting the events. There is no such “thing” as stress.

Don’t worry, we know this doesn’t solve anything for you. Just so you know, the punch line here is not some Pollyanna idea like calling stress an opportunity. What we are doing here is not positive thinking.

Stress occurs whenever we compare what “is” to what we think should be and conclude that what is is not what should be. We couple this with the conclusion that something is wrong with what is. This is the phenomenon that causes stress.

So if you want to minimize or eliminate the stress you are experiencing, stop resisting what is. Stop wanting things to be different from the way they are. They are the way they are and if you can learn to accept that, you won’t have any stress.

4. Office Gossip.

I’m fond of saying that there are three critically important lessons that human beings need to learn to dramatically improve the quality of their relationships. The first is that we have to talk about everything with the person the subject relates to. The second is that we have to learn to talk appropriately. Third, we have to learn to listen when people speak to us about whatever is on their mind.

The consequence of not learning these lessons is that the prevalent model of communication is confrontation. One person has an upset or disappointment with another, communicates inappropriately as an accusation or an attack (didn’t learn the second lesson), resulting in the listener becoming defensive and attacking back (didn’t learn the third lesson). Haven’t you experienced this hundreds of times?

So what do people do? Learn to talk about everything? Learn to communicate appropriately? Learn to listen with compassion? Sometimes, but rarely.

The only acceptable alternative for many is to gossip. My definition of gossip is saying something to a first person that diminishes a second person in the eyes of the first. Obviously, who the communication should have been directed to was the second person. But when the only model of communication is confrontation, and most people don’t like confrontations, this seems to be the course of last resort.

But the real problem is that at work, gossip is a killer. It sucks the life out of people. It creates an undercurrent of hostility and disrespect. So it really isn’t a very viable alternative to straight communication.

Simply don’t participate in gossip! And when you hear it, remind people that it’s debilitating. Instead, speak openly and honestly about your feelings and speak with compassion and respect. Keep your comments “on your side,” meaning have them be about you and not the other. Speak about your disappointments, not the others behavior.

And when people communicate to you, listen with compassion. Don’t take their comments personally, don’t react. Just “get” their communication and thank them for communicating. This isn’t always easy to do but it’s far better than gossiping.

5. Dictatorially-imposed unilateral change.

The reasons for this are similar to the discussion above about bosses who don’t recognize, respect, or reward your efforts. Many bosses don’t understand the need human beings have to be included in decisions that affect them. We live in a very individualistic culture. Our country is the birthplace of the entrepreneur. We are the rugged individualists. Our folk heroes are John Wayne, the Lone Ranger, Amelia Erhard and Superman.

Entrepreneurs in particular are individual decision makers. If something needs to be done, they make a decision and do it. Might others be adversely affected by the decision? Yes, naturally, but they will be dealt with later. Right now, someone has got to make a decision.

Our entrepreneurial, bottom line quality is both our strength and our weakness. It works to produce results, but it doesn’t work to build solid and deep relationships, and that’s what’s missing.

“Partnership” is the highest form of human interaction. When people experience “partnership” at work, life really works. In a true partnership, people do not make decisions which affect their partners without fully discussing the decision with them. When an issue needs to be resolved, partners work to build consensus. Every point of view is listened to and considered. Every possible attempt is made to reach a conclusion that works for everyone, with nobody left out. People’s feelings and strong points of view are considered.

But too many bosses are either too busy to bother to consult their workers, don’t realize how important it is, or, worst of all, think you should be happy and satisfied just because you have a job.

If you’re not in charge, there really isn’t much you can do about this, except, as before, accept that it is the way it is, and stop suffering about it, or, again take a risk and tell your boss how you feel about not being included. My belief is that most managers don’t do what they do with ill will, they are just unconscious. So wake them up by sharing your feelings. Here’s one instance where it’s critically important to limit what you say to a discussion of your feelings. Say things like, “when I heard about the decision about XYZ and had no previous notice that decision was going to be made, I felt sad that I didn’t have an opportunity to express my feelings about XYZ. I didn’t feel like my opinion was important and that made me feel …,” you get the idea.


None of these specific steps are particularly easy. They all require clear awareness of your own emotional state and behavioral patterns; they require a rigorous commitment to the possibility of real dignity and satisfaction in human interaction, and they require a practical discipline in their implementation as they all run counter to many of our typical reactions as human beings. With practice though, these steps do offer the real possibility of a work environment characterized by genuine satisfaction, smooth productivity and authentic enthusiasm. Our lives in the workplace can continue to be spent in anger and frustration; they can remain devoted to faulting others and justifying ourselves, or they can be dedicated to creating a profession of genuine human interaction, partnership and peace.

Author's Bio: 

Scott Hunter, author, speaker and industry leader, helps people GET UNSTUCK.
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