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Badmouthing work is seldom productive

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: “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. Other than that you need to limit badmouthing your company, your colleagues, and your boss. No one really wants to hear it.

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 about candidates who have bashed their company, manager, or colleagues. That shocks me. These negative statements removed them from further consideration.

Since you only see these friends rarely, it may not be worth the risk to share your observations. However, the next time you plan 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.”


Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton.