Co-worker negativity

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Q:  I went to a conference recently with a few colleagues.  It seems like many are very angry about their careers.  They have always been like this, even before COVID.  They complain about their boss, the cafeteria food, the commute, the company, the company’s benefits and on and on.  Two of them would be considered “job hoppers,” changing jobs every few years, or even every few months.  It seems like they are skilled engineers, I am not sure I would want to work on their team.  It seems like they are contributing to a lot of negativity in their workplaces.  I am almost ashamed of enjoying my job, other co-workers and my company.  Should I even try to steer them in the right direction?  What is an acquaintance to do?  Honestly, I want to avoid them! 

A: Negativity and complaining seem to be contagious.  Few of us want to work with colleagues who are excessively critical.  Sometimes people don’t see it in themselves.

I repeat a simple message frequently when I talk with job seekers.  When I present information on job hunting to a group of job seekers, my recommendation usually goes something like this: “It may come as a great surprise to many of you but no one wants to work with angry, bitter or hostile people.”  I follow up with a simple recommendation: air your concerns to your dog, your cat, your spouse or your therapist, but other than that you need to limit badmouthing your company, your colleagues and your boss.  No one really wants to hear it.  Most of us will try to avoid people like that in our friend groups, families and in our workplaces.

Your friends may have legitimate job-related concerns.  Perhaps they thought that was an acceptable forum to share their complains.  However, you raise a valid point, which often interferes with a candidate landing a new role – a negative and complaining attitude about their work.  This negativity can become a new norm, and it is easy to jump on the bandwagon and find all the downsides of a colleague, a manager or a company.  It is usually not productive and can be perceived as unprofessional, especially if shared in the workplace or while working on a project with others.  I am shocked to hear candidates bash their company, manager or colleagues.  Sometimes these negative statements remove them from further consideration.

If you share your observations, I would share it with one of your colleagues, not all.  Groupthink is real.  Groupthink occurs when individuals are focused on conformity, fitting in, and group loyalty.  Differing perspectives are ignored, squashed or scorned.

Conversely, it may not be worth the risk to share your observations.  However, the next time you are talking with them, it might be worth mentioning, “I hope things improve for you at our company.  It was overwhelming to hear how unhappy you are at ABC company.”

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.