Why Complaining Doesn’t Work

“I hate to be a kicker, I always long for peace, but the wheel that does the squeaking is the one that gets the grease.”

The above is the actual quote (often commonly stated as “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”) attributed to American humorist Josh Billings. It’s from his poem “The Kicker” describing his frustration with being polite and not getting his way with the authorities. A kicker, by the way, is also known by a more common name: a complainer.

Most of us have heard this saying before – and some of us have taken to living it as part of our credo whether at work, home or play. How many of us have seen pro athletes who seem to have it all (in terms of fame and money…who knows where things stand in other aspects of their lives) whine about some form of treatment they’re getting by the press or management? If you haven’t, check out the sports section of any popular news site or (gasp!) major print publications; you’ll find them in there if you look.

Sure, life is tough. Working for a living can make it tougher if you don’t enjoy what you do. But guess what? Complaining rarely makes it better. Often it makes it worse.

Before I delve into this further, understand that making yourself heard can be different than complaining. Like anything else, you have to be selective when you do this. In fact, I’d recommend making yourself heard when you can. Not too much, though. There’s a fine line between offering your opinions, suggestions and ideas and running your mouth off whenever you feel someone of authority is within earshot. Some things to keep in mind that make for a good barometer when comparing making yourself heard and complaining to consider include:

  1. How long have you been with the company? Longer term employees are often more influential with their suggestions and have the ear of management than newer ones.
  2. What is your position with the company? Your standing in the workplace plays an important role in determining how often you can offer up insight.
  3. What’s your performance record like? A good rule of thumb can be summed up like this:
  • Outstanding = Offer away!

  • Good = Gracefully give…

  • Average = Act accordingly and angle yourself first…

  • Poor = Put up first; shut up for now…

One thing to consider is that those who complain end up having to be compliant more often anyway. That’s because complaints rarely offer a solution when bringing up the problem. Offering up solutions brings more opportunities. You don’t have to acquiesce as much because you’re seen as a part of the effort as opposed to being, well, opposed to it. It’s always a good idea to bring a solution to the table when you bring up a problem. Doing so puts your offering in a better light. Sure, the offer may still get rejected, but your superiors will note that you at least have some foresight and initiative when coming to them with something you deem as an issue. That’s never a bad thing on both fronts…they’ve gained some insight on you and (hopefully) they’ve offered some insight into the operations of the company that will allow you to come forth with better and more realistic solutions the next go-round.

Steve Pavlina, widely known as one of the premier personal development bloggers on the web, says this about complaining:

People who complain trap themselves in a reality that constantly gives them more to complain about. Life keeps harshing on them. Their luck is below average. They never get any real breaks. Unfortunate circumstances, seemingly beyond their control, keep manifesting. It seems totally unfair, but it isn’t. The complainers are merely witnessing the fulfillment of their own requests. Every thought is an intention, and complainers habitually intend what they don’t want. So it makes perfect sense they live in a reality congruent with those thoughts. The complainer may tell you their reality is causing their complaints, but it’s more accurate to say their reality is reflecting their complaints.

He also goes on to say that complaining can be incredibly addictive – which is without question. You more often than not hear the term “constant complainer” than “occasional complainer” when talking about someone who complains – even just a bit. That’s because, as with many other things, perception can often be perceived as reality to some. This can be especially dangerous when looking at complaining. Even though you may only complain occasionally in your eyes, others may see it as a far more regular occurrence. Drawing attention to your dwelling on the negative is just going to bring you more negative. Oh, and it’ll bring it everywhere…professionally and personally. Isn’t that a “kick” in the teeth?

I’m not saying you need to be compliant.All in all, complaining is pretty much useless. What isn’t is how you phrase your suggestions, recommendations, ideas and thoughts that turn them into something useful for all involved. Leave the kicking to the athletes – it’s what many of them do best.

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Mike Vardy an editor on Work Awesome. We could tell you where his personal productivity parody site, Eventualism and all of his other projects reside on the web, but you'd be best served going to Vardy.me and following the trail of virtual bread crumbs from there.


  1. Rondal on the 16th March

    Complaining is also contagious, especially within smaller companies. I’m admittingly guilty of having both spread and caught this a few times and the above statement by Mr. Pavlina is very true indeed and though I seem able to balance both realities thanks to extracuricular activities/projects on the side, it hardly makes complaining at work ok.

    Thanks for opening our eyes a little bit today, Mike. Its much needed on this Monday morning.

  2. John Paul Aguiar on the 16th March

    Complaning sucks, since 1. no one cares as much as you. and 2. in the end whatever your complaining about either still needs to get done, or will happens whether you complain or not..lol

  3. Avery on the 16th March

    These people will also go home and complain about work again and then about you. I can’t really think of anything more unattractive.

  4. Thera on the 16th March

    “Complaining” can be productive when it’s polite and offers realistic solutions: after all if no one ever takes a stand, things rarely change and bad habits become the “we’ve always done that way” standard.

    However complaining just for the heck of it won’t make you feel better nor be useful however, unless you’re letting off steam off work, having a beer with buddies for example.

  5. The Simple Machine on the 16th March

    But the real question is that you have brought up your concerns in a positive manner (not complaining and whining) but you still do not see a change (in the situation or your bosses attitude).

    How do you deal with that? Also, I agree with the comment above that when you complain you are potentially creating negative air. However, if everyone happens to agree about the situation than it just means others are experiencing the same problem. Which means that its not a problem of a persons attitude towards the problem.

    Here is another question – how do you introduce a progressive change in a work environment that tries to stick to the “old” ways of doing things (e.g. not taking flex time)

    My thoughts are posted here @

  6. Julius on the 16th March

    When we see a problem, it is always better to offer a solution than to run our mouth and complain. I think most people like to use the excuse of having the right to express themselves while in fact they’re just complaining.

  7. Mike Grace on the 17th March

    Great reminder post. +1 for “Poor = Put up first; shut up for now…” : )

  8. ammar hassan on the 17th March

    yeah, you are right maan! i was one of the complainers in this company but will try from NOW to won’t complain rather than try to accomodate and then make my complaints as suggestions. Thanks for this article

  9. Pixil on the 17th March

    I’ll be the first one to admit to complaining but I make up for it by getting the job done. I agree it can be contagous, working on a unattrive projects or bad management is usually the culpret!

  10. john hill on the 18th March

    Interesting article. Discovered this just after discussing the situation of the endless complaining and unhappy coworker I work with with other staff.

    My coworker incessantly complains about work, about the country we live in ( in a living abroad situation ), the native people of the country, working conditions etc ect.

    I enjoy blowing a little steam off talking to him but after being around him for more than 20 minutes to an hour it gets very bleak and I feel the the world is a hopeless place. I try my best to avoid him. Reading this article really puts it into perspective.

    What I would like to know is what is the best way of dealing with a person like this. I do my best to avoid any people who complain. Living abroad you meet and endless amount of unhappy expatriates who love nothing than to complain about the situation they are in.

    Is there any solution? I guess I should just avoid such people and let them be miserable without dragging me into their black hole of complaints.

  11. Martyna Bizdra on the 12th August

    Arrrrrr I hate complaining!

    have I just made one?

    let me just be more specific:

    I love to be self- responsible!

    thank you for the message
    and ciao

  12. Erich Lagasse on the 30th December

    It’s interesting how complainers end up being more complaint than people who look for solutions. We recently posted an article http://academy.justjobs.com/stop-whining-take-ownership that describes the differences between people who take control of their lives and those that blame others for their problems. I hope it adds to the discussion. – Erich

  13. Batman on the 1st May

    complaining sux

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