Whiners get you down?

Stephanie Whittaker
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A new Angus Reid poll says you're not alone. Here are a few tips on how to deal with this, and other, workplace perturbations

There are plenty of irritants in the workplace. If it's not the body odour emanating from the guy in the next cubicle, it's the gossip mongers around the water cooler and the messniks who never wash their dirty coffee cups.

In a recent Angus Reid poll, Canadian workers cited the things that bug them most at work. Topping the list is incompetent managers, followed by co-workers with a negative attitude, hypocrisy, colleagues who whine without addressing their problems and poor office communication.

Montreal - There are plenty of irritants in the workplace. If it's not the body odour emanating from the guy in the next cubicle, it's the gossip mongers around the water cooler and the messniks who never wash their dirty coffee cups.

In a recent Angus Reid poll, Canadian workers cited the things that bug them most at work. Topping the list is incompetent managers, followed by co-workers with a negative attitude, hypocrisy, colleagues who whine without addressing their problems and poor office communication.

"We figured people would be more prone to complain about small things, such as people who eat at their desks or who show pictures of newborns around the office," said Mario Canseco, director of global studies at Angus Reid Strategies, a Canadian market research and polling company.

"We thought people would be unlikely to complain about the big things. But they did complain about the big things."

In fact, while Canadian workers have plenty of little beefs, according to the survey, the irritants that top the list focus on systemic problems in workplaces.

For instance, Canseco said, two of every five respondents told the pollsters they get irritated by having to "attend meetings that go nowhere." And one-third said they were bugged by what they perceived to be "uneven treatment of employees according to their rank."

The majority of complaints, however, focused on the peccadilloes of co-workers.

Here is a look at the top five complaints. We asked workplace experts to comment and offer advice on how to fix them.

1. Incompetent managers - 53 per cent of respondents cited this as a major irritant:

"There are no surprises here," said Fanny Korman, a workplace consultant with Montreal's Performance Solutions. "People like to think they're working for someone who's competent, and if you have an incompetent manager, it makes your work life much more difficult."

One reason for the high percentage, said Korman's husband, Roger Korman, also a workplace consultant and the chairman and CEO of Aptilon Inc., an e-sales and marketing company, is that "managing is a complex role that includes technical competence, career development, being the front-line spokesman of an organization, representing the organization to employees and evaluating performance and improvement.

"What we expect of managers requires a lot of different skills."

Companies should take note, he said, that dissatisfaction with a supervisor can translate into dissatisfaction with a job, leading to a loss of productivity.

Louis Verreault, vice-president and senior consultant at DBM, a global career management firm, says managers might demonstrate strength in one of two areas: people management or technical competence.

"No one can be totally good right across the board," he said.

Ideally, he said, organizations can compensate for managers who exhibit a strength in one area by providing personnel who complement those skills in other areas.

2. Co-workers with negative attitudes (52 per cent):

"There will always be people with negative attitudes," said Fanny Korman. "The question is how you manage that."

In fact, she said, the negative people are more likely to be an irritant in work environments where managers aren't doing enough to counteract negativity.

"You can decide as an individual to ignore them," Verreault said. "But you do that after you've tried to correct the situation by talking to the person."

3. Hypocrisy (49 per cent):

"Hypocrisy exists everywhere and there isn't an organization that doesn't have the politics that create it," Verreault said. "You can learn to detect it, but that takes experience.

"One way to deal with it is to confront individuals you deem are hypocrites and point out how detrimental their behaviour is."

"I'm always amazed when people say one thing and do another," said Roger Korman. "Management sets itself up for a loss of credibility when it believes it can whitewash or patch over problems."

One way for organizations to banish the perception of hypocrisy, he said, is to create transparency in how they deal with their workforces.

"You may not be able to be open about everything, but you should be open and honest about what you do disclose."

4. Co-workers who whine constantly and don't take action to address their problems (46 per cent):

"This comes about in environments where people feel uncomfortable about taking their problems higher," said Fanny Korman.

"The question here is: Why aren't people addressing their complaints openly?"

"It's a lot easier to complain about things than to do anything about them," Verreault said. "When someone does this, tell him you've had enough, because that kind of whining can be contagious."

5, Poor office communication (43 per cent):

"Good, well-established channels of communication will do a lot to improve an organization," said Fanny Korman, adding that a smooth communication flow starts at the top of organizations.

"Giving and receiving feedback about performance and expectation is one way to improve communication," she said. "And there needs to be a mechanism in place for lateral communication to take place.

"Organizations should ask themselves if they have a forum, for instance, in which people can bring up issues that interfere with their ability to work together."

Verreault suggests companies set aside designated time in which managers and employees can communicate face to face.

"I'm not talking about by e-mail or telephone," he said. "And it has to be constant. We should never assume that the people who work with us know. It's our job to communicate with each other."

Organizations: Angus Reid Strategies, Performance Solutions, Aptilon Inc. DBM

Geographic location: Montreal

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