Do you have a feeling of dread the moment you walk into the office in the morning? Do you sometimes come home from work exhausted and utterly drained of energy?
If it’s not the work load or the actual job that’s bringing you down, it could be one of your co-workers, or what I like to call “The Emotional Vampire”. Let’s be honest: All of us at one time or another have complained about work issues to anyone who will listen, but what about that one co-worker who just can’t stop complaining about everything?
This type of co-worker — one who is unhappy with his or her job and shows it in every way — cultivates an extremely negative work environment. The question then becomes: how do you deal with a pessimistic co-worker (aka Negative Nancy)? There numerous ways you can address this but here are the top five approaches:
1. Be the time keeper. Offer a moment of sympathy, truly just a moment. Unless you have borrowed the sign from Lucy of Peanuts, “Psychiatric Help 5¢” or “The Doctor is IN”, it’s not your responsibility to boost someone’s mood at work. You can offer to listen for a few minutes but that’s it. To help you not lose track of time, pull out a timer, lay it on the desk so you can both see it. When it chimes, say “I have to get back to work.”
2. Don’t engage. If you’re talking to a colleague who is dissatisfied with work, the other employees, or management, try not to engage and offer advice. This will only encourage them to keep talking, or worse, seeking you out to commiserate with. I know this can be hard, but try to refrain from this. And if that isn’t enough to keep you from engaging, think about this: if something was to go sideways with this employee, would you want to be associated with them?
3. Set Boundaries. If you must interact regularly because you work closely together, develop boundaries and stick with them. In a meeting, for example, set a clear agenda and have a hard stop for the meeting to end (keep an eye on the clock). Otherwise, you run the risk of having a gripe session. Stick to professional topics only. If it veers off the course, change the subject back to the work topic at hand. When the agenda is complete, end the meeting and walk directly back to your desk.
4. Be the optimist. When you are dealing with the perpetual pessimist, tell him or her why you like your job and why you are happy at the company. Eventually, he or she should get the hint that you’re not on his or her side and not the best person to complain to. If this doesn’t work, refer to point #2
5. Confront the problem head on. If you feel comfortable doing so, it may be worthwhile to tell the person you cannot listen to his or her issues anymore. Explain that because chatting a lot at work translates into longer hours, disruption of your concentration or missed deadlines, its best those conversations are saved for after hours. If after you have addressed the issue directly and it’s still a problem, you can address it again. If it still doesn’t work, you may want to talk to your supervisor to get their opinion on how to handle it going forward. They may already be aware of this particular employee.
You can take comfort in knowing you are not alone! These pessimistic co-workers are in every office in all professions, and we will probably never be able to escape them. However, there are ways to lessen and possibly eliminate the burden. Many people could be more productive during the workday and not work long hours if it weren’t for personal chats or complaint sessions. We all need to blow off steam every once in a while, but if you want to be at work to work and hightail it out of there on time, do your best to limit your interaction with these pessimistic co-workers. You have your own workload to get through each day, you shouldn’t have to deal with your co-workers’ job issues too.