Dealing with Employees Who Complain About the Workload

Author: Karolina Matyska

If you’re a manager or are in any position of leadership in a team, colleagues or employees who complain about the workload aren’t a new scenario for you.

When dealing with people in this context, especially when they’re showing toxic or destructive behavior, there are a few different ways to handle the situation.

Lighten your team’s workload

Track time assigned to each client, project and activity to ease the workload of your team

As a person in a position of leadership dealing with team members who complain about their workload, you shouldn’t ignore the signs.

The effects that chronic complainers have on the business culture and general mood can be quite harmful, and it’s incredibly important to work on figuring things out as soon as possible.

How to deal with employees who complain about the workload

Your main goal as a good manager that you want to be is to ensure that every single employee has the tools and resources they need to get the job done effectively and efficiently while promoting a healthy work/life balance, and a good relationship between colleagues.

When dealing with employees who complain about the workload or employees who don’t like their working environment, and are not shy about vocalizing their dislike, there are a few things you and the company can do to handle the issue.

1. Listen to the unhappy employees and register the complaints

Addressing these issues as soon as they start to be noticeable is the golden rule. By doing this, you’re showing your team that you’re aware of the situation and taking the worries or allegations they share seriously.

It’s during these times, more than ever, that the company culture needs to be nurtured, but also reevaluated.

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Some people turn into chronic complainers because they believe they’re not being heard or taken into consideration. There is the possibility that the negative commentary is repeated until someone listens and validates what they’re saying.

Usually, it’s exactly what the complainers are looking for. Listening to the complaining employees also includes demonstrating empathy for what they’re handling.

A simple “I understand what you’re feeling” can work wonders for the health of the work environment and is a way to motivate your employees to be more productive again.

If it doesn’t work, analyze employee workload and see if they are work overloaded.

2. Be approachable and welcome input from the employee(s)

You want to avoid those hushed and hidden conversations by the coffee maker, and by making yourself approachable to your team, you’re telling them that open feedback is welcomed and they don’t need to worry about retaliation.

It’s important to fight the toxic work environment state of mind that, unfortunately, a lot of companies still cater to these days.

A lot of people are afraid to discuss their issues “out loud” or through the proper channels. So, they choose to spread their negativity around. Sometimes these feelings are valid, but in other instances, the talk can be as bad as the flu, infecting everyone else.

Lighten your team’s workload

Track time assigned to each client, project and activity to ease the workload of your team

Again, showing empathy and understanding is crucial to open a constructive discussion. When you talk to the complaining party, be specific about their negative behaviors and how they affect workplace morale and the team’s productivity.

Help this team member understand how their career would benefit if they worked on their attitude and suggest ways in which they could correct their behavior.

What are the areas that need improvement, for this person? Do they feel overwhelmed by the heavy workload or hypothetical additional work that has come up? Does the employee understand that maybe these extra tasks are temporary and result from non-frequent situations?

The way they’ll answer these questions will be revealing. Toxic workers should not be allowed to ruin everyone else’s day or work experience.

Related article: Ways to improve employee productivity

3. Keep an open line of communication with the complaining employee

This line of communication has to exist in a perfect balance of not ignoring this person but also not appeasing them completely, as this sets a bad precedent.

Once the negative comments start having their inevitable negative consequences, don’t ignore them, and don’t leave the conversations only for the annual employee performance reviews.

Free eBook: How to best manage your team’s time?

Get your free copy and discover how to leverage the power of time tracking in your team.

These conversations are also an opportunity to let the employee know that they’re harming the overall mood and culture of the workplace and that their negative behavior should be “controlled” while the issue is being worked out.

However, keep in mind that some people simply communicate in a negative and toxic way. It’s important to realize that this doesn’t necessarily mean the employee is unhappy or you have to change something in the company values to appease him or her. Unfortunately, this temperament can be a symptom of a bigger problem for them.

Another important point, that may sometimes be overlooked, is letting your staff know what the proper procedure is and the proper channels, in case they have a complaint to make.

An honest discussion about this matter will help your employees feel valued and heard. Again, empathy is key. When new policies or procedures that affect your staff need to be put in place, ask for their feedback as well.

4. Attempt to find a solution

There are a lot of cases when the employees who complain about the workload might have a legitimate concern about their workload and might also be able to present a feasible solution.

Once again, we return to the importance of an open communication channel. Maybe the complaining employee is handling the workload of a colleague who left, and even though that’s a temporary situation, it may be too much for their daily or weekly routine.

Lighten your team’s workload

Track time assigned to each client, project and activity to ease the workload of your team

The myriad of reasons that can explain the workload complaints might also be the source of solutions to the problem. Ask questions like: “How would you solve this?”, “How do you think things could be better?” or “What would you do differently?”. The truth is that if the person is serious about their complaint, they may have some good ideas and solutions.

Time tracking becomes handy to discover if and how employees are experiencing an imbalanced workload. We can unravel bottlenecks and any potential time-wasting tasks by tracking time dedicated to each client, project, and activity.

In an open dialogue attempt to find solutions, you, as a manager, might also be able to offer a different perspective on the situation.

There are instances where the issue might be bigger than what you can handle. For example, a company policy.

If the employee’s problem is related to something of the kind, you can help them figure out the situation from a different point of view. If they maintain that stance, you can forward their worries to the appropriate channels, and probably the workplace mood will improve after that conversation.

5. Understand when enough is enough, and it’s time to escalate the issue

From your team leadership position, you have to face that it might be time to escalate the issue to the human resources department when the dialogue is not enough, or you can’t work out a solution.

When this happens, you should have a record of when you spoke to the employee, what triggered that conversation, what they said, what you said, and the attempts that were made to find a solution. 

The human resources department or team will be able to take things a little further in an attempt to find out the core of the grievance and then work with the manager to find the solution if this is at all possible. The key is knowing how to properly address each situation in the right way. 


Dealing with employees who complain about the workload demands a nuanced performance of the team leader or/and manager and human resources. These steps or tips should be a basis for developing a working system that helps prevent these types of situations from happening in the workplace.

Having a fair workplace, based on equality, teamwork, and performance is always the ideal scenario. The goal should always be a deep consideration and understanding of the employees and their abilities so that complaints and their possible toxicity don’t take root in the office. Either physical or virtual.

As a manager, don’t take a backseat to these types of events, and don’t dismiss what the complaining employee is saying or feeling. A condescending attitude towards the problem will only lower morale and increase employee turnover.

However, the fact is, that a lot of these situations can be curtailed during the recruitment phase, or at least during the first couple of weeks of onboarding a new employee. 

Make good use of the employee handbook and company manual. Every employee should receive one when being hired, and this should also be a part of ongoing training. Not only is it a fundamental guide for the new worker, but it also gives the company some leverage.

If the employee must be reprimanded, warned, or terminated due to disruptive behavior, the handbook features clearly what is allowed, not allowed, and recommended. Company policies and values must be clearly stated in these documents. Make sure that clear policies on workplace behavior, performance, and discipline are set.

Another interesting strategy can be set during the interview process. Adding to the traditional questions, some behavioral-focused ones can help you learn more about a candidate’s personality.

Why not include questions on handling problems or disagreements with co-workers, on solving issues, or on how they would respond in a crisis moment? The answers to these questions can help you realize if a candidate is well suited for the job.

People-managing issues can be solved with good people-managing skills.

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