Getting a grievance off your chest can feel good in the moment, but makes office strife harder to get over
Sometimes a disgruntled employee just needs to vent, sending impassioned IMs of vitriol to their colleagues or friends about a supposed slight in the workplace. But the bad news is that according to new research, while such declarations of disdain are immediately satisfying, they ultimately make you feel worse.
According to a study published in the European Journal of Work & Organisational Psychology, while venting creates a momentary sense of relief, surrounding yourself with negative energy actually takes a toll in the long run.
The study authors asked a group of 112 employed participants to keep a personal journal of their working week over a number of days, charting their day from first thing in the morning right up until the point they left the office; to begin with, the volunteers were asked to note their mood and how well they’d slept the previous night. On the second day, they were tasked with writing about a negative experience they’d had in work that day, reflecting on their current mood and how engaged they felt in their work.
Other questions explored their level of “sportsmanship” in the office, with those involved responding to prompts like “Today, I spent a lot of time complaining about trivial things at work,” and “Today, I focused on what is wrong at work rather than on the positive side.”
When analysing the responses received from the study participants, the researchers observed that the differences between those identifying as good sports and constant complainers were dramatic.
“When sportsmanship was low, worse negative events took a greater toll on participants – they not only reported lower momentary mood and less satisfaction and pride with the work they’d been doing that same day, but they also tended to experience lower mood the next morning,” wrote Alex Fradera for the British Psychological Society.
“But when sportsmanship was high – meaning that participants hadn’t complained, escalated minor issues, or stewed over things too much – bad events, even rated as severe, didn’t impact mood or work engagement, that day or the next.”
It is the researchers’ opinion that the reason was venting could prove problematic over time is that dwelling on a past bad experience could give it a second wind, reinforcing negative opinions and building them up further. Furthermore, if a personal complaint is poorly expressed or issued to the wrong person, it can act to exacerbate the situation.
But the study argues that it is also bad to bottle up workplace woe and hold back from letting it be known how you actually feel; when an employee keeps encountering a stressful professional relationship or organisational mishap, he or she needs to resolve it, and that can only be done by first expressing what it is. The pair of psychologists behind the project, Evangelia Demeroutia and Russell Cropanzano at Eindhoven University of Technology and the University of Colorado at Boulder, recommend expressive writing as the best for of reflection an employee can engage in.