Grumble while you work

One of my former colleagues, who belongs to the Millennial Generation, once spent a good part of his day complaining to anyone who’d listen.

This young man believed that whiners play a valuable role in the corporate world and can help America regain its lead in the global economy. Or something like that.

But this might not just be his opinion. He recently showed me a study that claims grumblers are more effective in their jobs. The research, which was probably paid for by the Department of Labor if not the CIA, was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois.

It concluded that so-called “haters” — who I assume are people who hate their jobs, their bosses, their coworkers and the cherry Jell-O in the company cafeteria — are better at their work because they don’t waste time on a lot of activities the way positive people do. They’re more focused.

And because these “haters” performed 15% fewer activities, they possessed a higher level of expertise, while the company cheerleaders were too overextended to be effective at their jobs. They were probably neglecting their duties so they could send memos praising one another and get their names engraved on Employee of the Month plaques.

For a good part of my career, I was surrounded by whiners who were happy being miserable. I often thought that if they spent less time whining and more time doing their jobs, the world would be a better place and we could all take off summer Fridays like civilized companies do so we could sit around the pool drinking margaritas.

One fellow who worked for me was always complaining and he started a petition to replace the junk food in the cafeteria vending machines with healthful selections like bananas and yogurt. So we took out the Cheetos and Three Musketeers, until people threatened to riot if we didn’t bring them back. Fruit just didn’t have the same appeal. In fact, I’m convinced that one particular apple stayed in the vending machine for several years until we got a new distributor.

During my time as a manager, I did earthly penance for every sin I committed, thereby assuring me a swift entry into heaven. (No, there’s no need to check my visa papers, I gave at the office ... I swear).

I had a sign on my desk that said, “NO WHINING!” but people ignored it and snuck off to the water cooler, the restrooms, and just about every secret place where grumblers gather to share their misery. The good news is they came away from their gripe sessions relieved after having experienced Shakespearean catharsis. The bad news is it never lasted long.

I lost count of the times I tried to rally my employees with inspirational words like, "Staff! Lend me your ears! If we all chip in, we can get this job done quickly and then it will be Miller time!" But nobody cared.

Getting people to work together like happy Communists was harder than getting them to give to the United Way. They’d rather sit around complaining about how we needed more personal days and office pizza parties to improve morale to actually improve morale.

So I was surprised when I saw this scientific research that says these people are assets to the company. All along I was wrong about the power of negative thinking.

I guess that means it’s time for the Human Resources Department to pull out the performance reviews of everyone who got a bad evaluation and give them surprise raises and a free slice of pepperoni pizza. I’ll even donate apples for the vending machines.

And, as we do that, maybe we should also give pay cuts to the positive employees who are always begging for more responsibilities because they can be as annoying as the kid in the front row of the classroom who is constantly raising his hand with the correct answers. A pay cut or two will teach them the importance of negative thinking.

After all, it’s the American way. It’s in the Constitution. At least I think it is. Actually, I haven’t read the Constitution in a while because I was too busy reading The Power of Positive Thinking.

Joe Pisani may be reached at