Negativity about work is hard to hear

Q: I saw some friends I rarely see over the weekend. I listened in quiet horror as they spent hours complaining about their jobs and denigrating their employers, past and present. They’ve both had a tough time with employment. Even though they’re good at their jobs, I wouldn’t want to work with them. Is there any good way to let them know that their attitude is making them unhireable? Once you’ve gotten in the habit of being a toxic employee, is there a way back out? How can a friend help?

A: “Quiet horror.” This is a perfect description. Negativity, complaining and a toxic attitude. These are attributes of folks who we would all run from. 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 line is usually something like, “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.

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 contagious unfortunately 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 during an interview. I have heard feedback from interviewers that shocks me where candidates have bashed their company, manager or colleagues. These negative statements removed them from further consideration.

Since you only see this friends rarely, it may not be worth the risk to share your observations. However, the next time you are planning a get together with them, it might be worth mentioning, “I hope things are better with your job because that was a real bummer hearing you complain for hours about your job.”


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