Workplace Gripes: Why Leaders Should Listen to Them


You’re working away, minding your own business, trying to get something productive done, when suddenly an employee approaches — and the workplace gripes begin. Whether it’s a grumble, grouse, protest, whine or bellyache, the question remains the same: why should leaders have to listen to workplace gripes? Today, I’m going to help you with complainers, complaints and show you why leaders should listen carefully to them.


First, the answer to my question is an emphatic “yes!” workplace gripes are inevitable. Why? Most people are simply unwilling or unable to be satisfied with the status quo. Those same gripers, under different circumstances, may readily admit to having it better today than they did years, months, even weeks ago. But, that’s really immaterial to them as followers — and to us as leaders.


For followers, it’s just human nature to want and expect continual improvement and progress in their lives and work. Therefore, when progress doesn’t show itself quickly enough, the griping begins.


And who do they gripe to? Primarily, those whom they think might be able to help them — their leaders!


Workplace Gripes: An Important Form of Leader / Follower Communication

But for leaders, as frustrating and time consuming as it may be, workplace griping is still a form of internal leader / follower communication and therefore, should be recognized as having a significant benefit.


Though there may be little opportunity for you to make an immediate correction regarding a specific gripe, actually hearing that gripe allows you to keep your ear to the ground and your finger on the pulse of what’s happening with followers — be it good or bad.


As frustrating as they can be, workplace gripes are a form of leader / follower communication and have important benefits.


You certainly recognize that an individual’s attitude or state of mind, can directly impact their effort, output and quality of performance. So, how should leaders deal with employees who gripe?


Very carefully! Seriously, there is an irrefutable point to consider and keep in mind.


Once an issue has been brought forth and heard, the relationship between leader and follower changes forever. If the leader ignores, alienates, embarrasses or generally ticks off the griper, the problem has not been resolved — it’s been compounded.


Most leaders are quick to say, “If you have any problems, be sure to let me know about them — I care.” However, if a leader’s actions and attitudes following a complaint don’t align with these sentiments, the leader is little more than a professional hypocrite in the eyes of the one who complained. And that’s not good.


Symptoms Bigger Problems May Exist

So, here’s an idea to implement. Going forward, discipline yourself to think of workplace gripes and complaints not as petty nuisances. Instead, train yourself to think of them as “symptoms” that problems exist. Notice I stress the word symptoms.


I’m not suggesting that every gripe is a serious problem. However, I definitely am suggesting that every gripe be explored until it’s determined whether or not a legitimate problem exists.


The reasoning is simple. If you can take care of the little things, the big things tend to take care of themselves. However, if you don’t take the time to take care of the little things, they tend to grow, fester and become those big things that rob leaders of time, energy and overall effectiveness.


Now that would be something to gripe about!

Additional Resources

Phillip Van Hooser

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE, Founder & Chair, Van Hooser Leadership. A seasoned leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author, Phillip Van Hooser is passionate about developing intentional leaders who can effectively engage and empower their employees to deliver powerful results. His most recent book is “Earning The Right To Be Heard," a primer for creating greater influence and opportunities. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn.


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