Ask LH: How Do I Stop My Moaning Colleague Bringing Us All Down?

Dear Lifehacker, I have worked with a guy for three-and-a-half years who reminds me and my fellow colleagues every day how much he hates his job. His negativity spreads like a cancer throughout the building. If he is so unhappy why doesn’t he leave? And what is the best way to stop this negative energy from spreading? Thanks, Someone Shut Him Up Please

Picture by Christopher Cornelius


As far as the first question goes — why doesn’t your colleague leave? — it’s hard to speculate without more detail. It is worth bearing in mind that for some people, displeasure is in itself a source of pleasure. Constantly complaining about his job might be his way of coping with the aspects he doesn’t like. It might be a way of stopping himself complaining to his partner about their dead-end relationship, or distracting himself from medical dramas. Whatever the cause, it’s obviously not something he’s going to stop of his own volition any time soon.

That leaves you with two possible strategies:

Confront him about his complaining. If he’s been doing this for three-and-a-half years, I’m guessing no-one’s challenged him about it. Confrontation in the workplace is rarely fun, but it’s usually the most effective method to resolve problems. Sometimes you need to start a fight in order to resolve an issue; sometimes actually communicating with annoying people makes them less annoying.

The key is not to be excessively angry or emotional. If he starts his usual complaint, just say “We all know you feel that way, but complaining won’t make it any better and it’s unpleasant for everyone else.” If you can’t get results by discussing it with him, take it up with your manager. Disruptive behaviour in the workplace doesn’t help anyone.

As you hint in your letter, the juicier way of running that confrontation would be to say “If you hate the job so much, why don’t you leave?” However, if that was your preferred strategy, I suspect you wouldn’t be writing to Lifehacker about the issue. More importantly, it’s a less effective approach. Firstly, it’s not as professional, focusing the issue on the individual rather than the office environment. Secondly, it opens up grounds for a whole series of additional complaints, which is exactly what you’re trying not to encourage.

Minimise his influence indirectly: If you can’t stomach directly addressing the issue, the best option is to minimise the impact of those complaints. Don’t spend more time with that colleague than you have to. Take time to emphasise the aspects of your own job that you like to others. Explain to new employees that his complaints are a habit and don’t reflect the way everyone else feels. (If they do reflect the way everyone else feels, then you might want to check our post on how to survive a toxic workplace. You might also want to ask yourself why you haven’t tried to find another job.)

Those are my initial thoughts, but I’ll admit that this isn’t an area I’ve had a lot of practice (virtually everyone who wants to work in journalism is dead keen on the job, and if they’re not they tend to take off fast). If readers have additional suggestions on how to deal with the kind of situation, we’d love to hear them in the comments. Good luck!


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