What’s a huge workplace landmine? Whiney co-workers! 

Studies show that listening to negative co-workers is destructive to a work environment. For example, a recent study found that companies with a high number of negative workers are much less productive and have drastically higher rates of absenteeism across the board.

So, why do cranky co-workers affect you on-the-job? Stanford University neurology professor Dr. Robert Sapolsky says, our brain can only handle so much activity at once. So listening to a co-worker gripe about everything from their expense report, to bad coffee, makes it harder to focus on your own pile of work. In fact, brain scans show that exposure to chronic complainers damages the part of your brain in charge of memory, attention span, and judgment.

It’s so bad in some places that company execs are acknowledging it, and trying to turn it around. 

For example, PaceButler is a company that buys and sells old cell phones. Well, their CEO started offering cash rewards to any of their 70 employees who could stop complaining or gossiping for at least seven days. 

Employees who took him up in the challenge wore rubber wristbands that they moved from one arm to the other if they slipped up. They monitored themselves, and each other. And workers who went a week without whining were entered to win a $500 drawing. 

But if that kind of incentive isn’t available to you – I’ll have advice coming up to help you deal with workplace whiners. 

According to Jim Harter, Gallup Polls’ chief scientist for workplace management and well-being, 18 percent of employees are chronically negative and bring down those around them. So, here’s how to handle the complainer in the next cube: 

  • First: Don’t grin and bear it, that only encourages them to keep ranting. And word may get back that you were part of the complaint-party, even if you said nothing. Instead, walk away, or ask what they’re happy about. They’ll either switch the conversation into positive mode, or they’ll find someone else to complain to.

  • Another way to deal with a workplace whiner: Ask them what they’re going to do to fix the problem. Complaining can become a bad habit, and a lot of people don’t even realize how much they whine. So, asking what their solution is will probably push them to be more proactive.

  • And, if you're stuck listening to a non-stop whiner, literally tune them out! Put on headphones and listen to your favorite music or relaxing ocean waves. In a recent study, volunteers who listened to ocean sounds had less stress and anxiety than people who didn’t.