my coworker won’t stop complaining

A reader writes:

We’ve recently had a lot of budget cuts at work, leading to a staff restructuring … translation: everyone was made redundant and forced to re-apply for the jobs that were left. Some people lost their jobs, some people ended up with reduced hours/pay, and some actually did well out of it, getting a better job than the one they had before. I’m lucky enough to be in the third camp – although I’ve only been working there for a couple of years, I interviewed very well and was promoted from a part-time position to full-time.

Things have settled down again now after what was obviously a difficult and stressful time for everyone, but I’m having a problem with a certain colleague, “Bob.”

Bob has worked at this place for over 20 years, was in a full-time position and went down to a part-time one, also losing his former senior job title and being reduced to the same level as me. Bob was understandably NOT happy about this. Of course I can sympathize with how hard it must be for him, but now all Bob does, day in and day out, is complain. He complains about how the whole restructure wasn’t fair (not exactly something I’m thrilled to hear, given that I actually did well out of it on what I believe to be my own merit), he complains about how all his years of expertise are being wasted, and he complains how management don’t listen to him (when from what I’ve seen, they’ve been incredibly supportive of everyone and made the best of a terrible situation).

Most of all, he complains to ME, because we’re friends and he sees me as a sympathetic ear. The problem is that my sympathy is fast running out. It’s been MONTHS now, and everyone else has settled in to make the best of their situation, but Bob just can’t seem to let it go and accept what’s happened. The moment he’s alone with me he starts moaning about how awful everything is for him. I can’t get through a single day without him reminding me repeatedly just how long he’s worked here and how much he knows about every aspect of the company (points that feel particularly barbed to me as the workplace’s most recent employee) and how he feels personally insulted by his new role (again, not really what I want to hear given it’s the same job that I have!).

I like Bob. I’ve known him since I’ve worked here as a smart, capable and friendly guy, and I hate to see him so upset over this. But his constant bitching and moaning is really starting to get me down, especially when it often comes across (unintentionally, I’m sure) as implicit contempt for my own success and usefulness as an employee when compared to him.

It’s turned into his one and only topic of conversation, and I’m starting to dread working with him. From hints he’s dropped, I think management might already have had a quiet word with him about this attitude, but all that’s done is given him one more thing to complain about! His long monologues are now usually capped with “…but of course I’m not allowed to say that” or “…but you didn’t hear that from me.”

I don’t want to go to management myself about it because I really don’t want to get him into trouble. As a friend, I like him and I feel sorry for the blow to his pride he’s suffered. As a colleague, I really just want him to shut up already and get on with our work. I was hoping his bitterness would naturally die down after a while, but it only seems to be getting worse. Any ideas for how to cope with this, or at least try and make it more bearable?

I wrote back and asked: “What do you normally say/do when he’s complaining?”

I have to admit usually I just kind of nod along sympathetically and try not to say too much. He supplies a good 90% of the conversation himself, and I really don’t know what TO say. I don’t want to offend or upset him by telling him outright to just get over it already and accept that things have changed, but I don’t really agree with most of what he says either. So I end up making a lot of “mmhmm” kind of noises.

Mostly I try to avoid the subject of work-related anything when I engage with him, and when we’re talking about other stuff we get along just fine. But it seems like every day some new thing happens to set him off on a rant again. He’s really still finding it impossible to adjust to his new role and the way the workplace has changed, and — short of having a word with our manager, which seems really harsh and also kind of pointless since I’m pretty sure she’s already more than aware of his attitude — I don’t know how to help him?

Well, the nodding sympathetically and the “mmhmm” noises have probably signaled to him that you’re a sympathetic audience.

I totally get the impulse that’s led you there — you want to be kind, and it’s awkward to say what you’re really thinking while he rants.

And really, whether you’re sympathetic or not, he does need to wrap this up and get back to work. Even with 100% legitimate complaints, there’s only so long that you can expect people around you — including friends — to listen sympathetically. At some point, even people who have been legitimately wronged need to figure out if they can live reasonably contentedly with the situation or if they’re going to do something about it, and at some point it’s no longer cool to keep venting to friends about it.

And whatever that timeframe is, it’s shorter when you’re venting to coworkers, because they’re much more of a captive audience.

But Bob is apparently not realizing this on his own, so it’s going to fall to you to set boundaries.

Some things you can try in the moment:

* “You’ve seemed really unhappy for a while. What are you going to do about it?” (This can sometimes be useful in nudging people away from venting and toward action. And if it doesn’t nudge them toward action, it can at least make you an unsatisfying person to vent to if you say it a lot.)

* “I know you feel like you got a raw deal, and I’m sorry that happened. At this point, how do you want to move forward?” (Same here.)

* “Hmmm. From my perspective, management has actually been pretty good about making the best of a hard situation. I think we just see this differently.” (If you say this a couple of times, you may become a lot less appealing to vent to.)

But you also might need to have a bigger-picture conversation with him. For example:

* “Can I be honest with you? You seem really unhappy, and I understand why. But at this point, it’s been months and I think you need to figure out if you can stay here reasonably happily or if you need to make a change. I support you in whatever you decide. But I can’t keep rehashing it anymore— it’s making work harder for me to be staying so mired in these issues. For my own mental health, I can’t be the person you vent to anymore.”

Even after that conversation, he might keep venting to you, just out of habit, so you’ll need to be prepared to hold firm on that boundary. If it starts up again after this conversation, say something like, “Hey, I’m sorry — like I said before, I can’t be your sounding board on this stuff anymore. Thanks for understanding.”

Beyond that, you ended your note by asking how to help him. I actually think this approach is the most helpful thing you can do for him. He may not realize how bad his complaining has become, and by setting boundaries like this, you might nudge him toward realizing that it’s gone way beyond a useful point. But even if he doesn’t find this particularly helpful, that’s okay. It’s not your job to solve this for him. You’ve already gone way beyond the call of friendship duty in listening sympathetically for months. It’s okay to draw a line and insist on getting back to work.

{ 242 comments… read them below }

  1. Kimberly R*

    Oh complaint fatigue is the worst! We all vent or complain a bit to our coworkers here and there, but to have to constantly hear the same complaints from the same person over and over is exhausting. I have a coworker who does something similar (although on a smaller scale). I think Alison is right that you need to make it to where he doesn’t want to complain to you anymore. He probably won’t go anywhere or do anything about it-he probably would’ve done so by now. But you can’t be friendly with someone who saps your mental energy and brings you down in your job everyday. That’s not a sign of a friend (on his part).

  2. AlwhoisthatAl*

    I worked with a person with a similar attitude, although for him it was that the company were not doing enough and he felt frustrated. After a couple of months of moaning I asked him when he was leaving, he then said “well I’ve been sort of looking” in a sulky kind of way. I then sent him various headhunting agency numbers and contacts (we work in the same field) and whenever we were alone asked him how the hunt was going for a new job and even offered to ring the headhunter guy I knew.
    The moaning to me stopped….

      1. Snark (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻*

        Of course they don’t. They get pleasure and validation from complaining.

          1. Kyrielle*

            …thank you for saying that. I was trying to figure out what that was and wasn’t even sure I was seeing the intended characters. I am no longer confused!

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I’d be pretty pissed if I was Bob too.

    But, yeah, trying to redirect him to think about what he’s going to do moving forward is your best bet.

    1. Anon Anon*

      I would be more than pretty pissed. Especially if I was a good performer. If some place that I’d worked for years came along and basically told me that my skills and experience were on par with someone with potentially lesser skills and experience, I’d be beyond furious.

      However, I do agree with Alison that the constant negative venting just makes this situation worse. At some point you have to make a decision to accept and get over what happened or move on.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Yup. I put in 20 years and then you knock me from full time to part time at a much lower level? I would definitely be looking elsewhere.

        OP – you are at the beginning of your career and this was a step up for you. Bob is nearing the end of his and has just been forced to take a step backwards. That doesn’t give him the right to complain incessantly, but don’t take said complaints as some kind of personal affront.

        1. IvyGirl*

          Bob could have 20+ more years of working even if he’s been at this company 20 years.

          For example, I’ve been working full-time in the professional world for 22 years, and I have at least another 25 left to go before I could most likely retire (I’m 43).

          Regardless, the way to get Bob to move on is to (kindly) shut down the complaining.

        2. Snark (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻*

          If it is endless, happens every time you’re alone together, and affects your perception of the job, I think it’s a personal affront even if it’s justified. At some point, like the coworker I quoted below said, quit or cope. Yeah, it was a raw deal, but either he needs to find a job commensurate with his skill and experience, or he needs to stop inflicting his obsessive rumination on everyone around him.

        3. Tau*

          I think Alison’s script is very wise in that it dodges the personal affront issue completely. OP doesn’t need to bring that up in order to say she is no longer available as a venting receptacle, and doing it seems like it would have the potential to go Very Bad Places because both sides have intense feelings about the restructure (for good reasons). E.g. OP says she feels hurt when Bob goes on about how unfair the restructure was because she wants to think she got this job by her own merits and Bob interprets that as “I think the decision to downgrade you was justified and correct”. Just don’t risk it.

      2. Sfigato*

        Bob needs to get a new job. He’s basically been told by the person he was married to that they just want to be roommates and he can sleep on the couch, but only three nights a week. There is a misalignment with how the company sees him and how he sees himself. He needs to get a new job where he’ll be exciting new guy rather than guy who has been here forever and keeps harping about how things used to be done. Longevity isn’t always an asset, and once your employer has made it clear to you that your tenure is making you a liability rather than asset, you gotta move on.

        1. Argh!*

          I bet the company made him half-time to avoid having to pay out severence or unemployment benefits and make him want to leave. That’s such a dirty tactic they kind of deserve to have some dysfunction in the workplace, but OP writer doesn’t deserve it.

          1. Snark*

            Or they did what they could to retain a probably very highly paid, experienced employee without just tossing him on the street.

            1. Wayne K*

              I totally disagree Snark. This was in no way shape or form a benevolent decision on the part of the company. In fact it was deviant. The business might very well have done him a bigger favor had they just released him. Also the atmosphere in such a business that would have all current employees reapply would have been poisonous. My experience is that people who are employees accept way too much from their employers. No matter how comfortable one is where they work the job search should end only upon retirement. Nobody should ever be caught flat-footed when a power play such as this occurs. Had any employer of mine ever done anything like that to me I’d have started looking to move on ASAP. I’m an old man and speak from experience.

              1. Snark*

                In point of fact, they did release him, and he re-applied for the position knowing it was at reduced pay and hours. Does that change your response?

                1. Wayne K*

                  Not whatsoever. In fact I don’t understand the use of the term “redundant” in the original post. Was the company bought out or merged? I don’t get it. At any rate I feel you are mistaken when you stated he knew that he’d be hired back at reduced hours and pay.

                  The first two lines read “we’ve recently had a lot of budget cuts at work, leading to a staff restructuring … translation: everyone was made redundant and forced to re-apply for the jobs that were left. Some people lost their jobs, some people ended up with reduced hours/pay, and some actually did well out of it, getting a better job than the one they had before.”

                  He (Bob)) reapplied not having a clue whether or not he’d be offered his old job back, not offered a job at all or as it turns out offered his job back with a reduction of hours and thereby pay. If it were me I’d much prefer to be let go of altogether and collect unemployment as I feverishly searched for another job which becomes horrible for those in their late 40s on up. I speak again from experience.

                  I caution what goes around comes around. Agree to disagree.

                2. "*

                  “If it were me I’d much prefer to be let go of altogether and collect unemployment as I feverishly searched for another job which becomes horrible for those in their late 40s on up. I speak again from experience.”

                  Well, that’s not what Bob chose. For the record, I agree that it was a poor choice, and he should have walked. But chose to stay with the company, even with the reduction. He had agency, he had a choice to accept or reject what he was offered, he made his choice. Don’t project too much of your own experience into this situation, because this isn’t actually about you.

          2. Natalie*

            This seems really unlikely. Laying off one employee doesn’t generally affect a business’s unemployment tax rate all that much, and anyway you can usually get partial unemployment for salary/hour reductions anyway. And unless their usual severance is incredibly generous, I fail to see how they’d save much money – he’s not working for free, after all, so within a few weeks it would be a complete wash.

          3. JessaB*

            If this were the case then Bob might have a decent cause of action. But I doubt a company this big did this restructure without their lawyers, because at least in the US (I’m 50/5o on whether this is in the US, redundant is a pretty British phrase, but so are work contracts, so that this wouldn’t have happened exactly as described.) there are protections for workers over 40, and given Bob was there 20 years unless he started as a minor, he’s probably over 40. If this restructure took down all their long term people, it could be a pension dodge or some other kind of age discrimination.

            If it’s not that, and he’s the only one complaining, I think I’d get on the “I can’t any more Bob,” bandwagon with a side order of “Okay you hate it, what are you going to do about it? And can I help with the actually concrete doing of things. I can’t be the sounding board any more.”

      3. eplawyer*

        He’s been ther 20 years and the company re-interviewed him and moved him from ful to part time. Something tells me he did his 20 years but was not a good performer, just not bad enough to let go. You don’t demote good performers. There was obviously a full time position available at that level and they gave it to someone else. Perhaps, he did a lot more “venting” to the company prior to the restructure.

        1. kittymommy*

          See and I was wondering if they were wanting someone younger, but I tend to be cynical.

        2. Anon Anon*

          “You don’t demote good performers.”

          I’ve seen more than one good performer get demoted. If they were expensive enough, and the company knew that they had the employee over a barrel, then it happens. Heck it’s a win for the company at least in the short-term. They get to keep this great experience performer and they get to cut costs.

          1. kms1025*

            Actually you might demote good performers. If job has changed and skills required are significantly different, and top performer of past cannot or will not learn and master new skills…you might demote them in lieu of letting them go altogether.

        3. Anonymous 40*

          It makes me wonder if he was coasting by on his seniority a bit, even before they restructuring. Not intentionally, necessarily. Maybe he’d gotten comfortable with his place in the company after so long and had a little more relaxed approach to work than he used to. I’ve seen that happen with people with way less than 20 years experience.

        4. Specialk9*

          My company is notorious for demoting or laying off the top performers: the hardworking positive knowledge centers who get things done. It’s incredibly pernicious and morale has plummeted.

          1. Wayne K*

            Thanks. I’ve seen this first hand myself over my lifetime. Years ago a huge and struggling tech company starting letting people go. The most brilliant of the technicians that I knew was the first to go. The bean-counters started with the highest paid regardless of talents. They would be replaced with recent college grads. It’s a horrible atmosphere to not only work for but to do business with. The corporate board was clueless and the company went bankrupt anyway.

  4. Hills to Die on*

    Well, I can see why he got demoted, if this level of complaining is his idea of professionalism.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      So, what? In America are people who get screwed over by their companies are just supposed to shut up and take it without a peep?
      Probably the guy was fine before the company screwed him royally, and especially after 20 years. Likely he’s well in his 50’s and it’s not so easy to find another job.

      1. Snark (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻*

        It’s not too hard these days for a professional in their 50s to move past something like this, though. It’s not the Recession anymore, there’s jobs that need filled.

        1. Suzy Q*

          If you are not an over-50 professional looking for a job, you have no idea what it’s like.

          1. Snark (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻*

            If you’d like, I’d welcome you to rebut my comment, rather than simply negate it. In general, comments like “if you are not [X] you are not allowed to comment or have an opinion on [experience of X]” are neither true nor productive.

            1. Dulf*

              She didn’t say you aren’t allowed to comment or have an opinion. She said that your understanding of what it’s like to look for a job at 50+ is incorrect, an assessment with which I am inclined to agree, given the treatment I have seen qualified applicants receive in my industry.

              1. Snark*

                And I’ve seen qualified applicants in my sector get different treatment, and I can read the employment stats just as well as anybody, so again: if there’s a substantive and thoughtful retort, I’m willing to consider it, but I’m not going to get shut down simply because I am not personally in that position.

                1. Dulf*

                  “It’s not the Recession anymore, there’s jobs that need filled” is not, frankly, the kind of statement that is likely to produce substantive, thoughtful replies. You seem to expect much better from others than you yourself are willing to give.

                2. Snark*

                  Are we really doing this again, where you passive-aggressively nitpick my word choice? No, no we are not.

                1. Wayne K*

                  Thanks. Some people think they know everything and argue with everybody. When I was in my teens and 20s I knew it all. Now that I’m in my 60s I have come to realize that I’m an idiot. I come to this site because I am still capable of learning and who knows, I might even have a few good observations that an old fool such as myself can pass on.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I’m going to strongly disagree with you on this based on my personal experiences with a family member and my professional contacts. There are a lot of 50+ year old workers in professions that are being outsourced and struggling to make it until they reach retirement age.

          1. Snark*

            Sure, but the bigger picture is that we’re under 5% unemployment nationally – and well under that in a lot of places – and the job market is a lot more favorable to the unemployed of any demographic than it was 5-7 years ago. And, focusing on older workers, their labor force participation is up lately, as is their employment rate. It’s not a guaranteed career death sentence to get laid off in your 50s the way it was in the Recession.

            Yes, it’s very difficult in some professions, but since we have no idea what profession Bob and OP are in, it doesn’t strike me as productive to assume they’re in one of those.

            1. Anonymous 40*

              It seems a little callous to assume that they’re not, though. Your comment comes across as pretty dismissive of the possibility when we don’t know either way.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              It’s a little difficult to draw conclusions about Bob’s condition, though, because national statistics often don’t reflect economic conditions at the local or sector levels, and they don’t capture underemployment.

              I live in an area where seasonal unemployment was in the 60-70% range during the Recession, with annual unemployment rates of 14–22% (and once as high as 27%). Today, seasonal unemployment is in the 40–50% range, despite a labor shortage, and annual unemployment ranges from 8.8–10%, and very young workers and older workers have higher unemployment rates. Statewide unemployment is 4.8%. Poverty rates have held steady or increased. In many parts of the country, the Recession has not really ended.

        3. Argh!*

          It’s not hard to move past that? HA! I was jettisoned at age 50 and it took almost 5 months for me to find a job with 2/3 the salary in a crappy small town 600 miles from home. Sure, easy-peasy!

          1. Artemesia*

            And it is in their 50s that a lot of people reach the point where they can aggressively save for retirement and these are generally the high earning years. It is a catastrophe to suddenly be living hand to mouth at this point and even more so if unemployed since health insurance is so expensive and apparently about to become more so. Almost no one who gets pushed out in their 50s is able to find work at the same level.

            1. Argh!*

              Seriously! Even if I don’t sock away a lot, my social security payout is calculated on the last 30 years of my working life. Since I went to grad school in my 20s that means some of my assistantship “income” is part of the calculation!

        1. Hills to Die on*

          ^^ that. Maybe the guy was a stellar employee before this, and maybe he wasn’t. Even if he was, raw deals happen and life isn’t fair. You have to stop complaining non-stop because it puts you in a worse position. Then, you can accept where you are and decide what you are going to do about it.

          But right now, if I were Bob’s manager, he would be affirming that I definitely made the right choice in demoting him.

          1. JessaB*

            Especially when it’s to a person moved into a title similar to yours. What does he want the OP to do? Quit so he can have the job? It’s not like the company wanted him for it, they didn’t HAVE to promote OP.

      2. Natalie*

        That’s rather a false dichotomy. For one, there are people he can complain to that are not his co-workers. And for two, it sounds like he’s been complaining at basically every opportunity and that this has been going on for months. Both of those aspects of it are what make it seem like he might not be the most effective or professional co-worker.

      3. Clever Name*

        No, if you get screwed by your company, you take your 20+ years of experience elsewhere. “At will” employment works both ways.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        You get to complain, but not at work to your junior coworker, and not for months. Honestly, that’s just not professional. If he feels so screwed/aggrieved (which could be totally justified!) that he can’t filter when he’s at work, then he really needs to search for other opportunities. That may take time or be difficult, but part of being professional at work is being able to access and fully deploy your internal filter. Complaining all day, every day, for months on end is not sustainable for Bob or for his employer, and OP certainly shouldn’t be forced to carry the burden of Bob’s frustrations/anger with or for Bob.

  5. Snark (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻*

    After hearing this for months, I’d probably blurt out something like “GOD DAMMIT BOB I CANNOT LISTEN TO YOU COMPLAIN ABOUT THIS EVERY DAY FOR MONTHS WILL YOU SHUT UP NOW PLEASE.” So basically, listen to Alison, for she is wise.

    That said, you may need to skip right to the big picture talk, because someone who’s worn this deep a groove into their thinking is – at least in my experience – likely to mistake the gentle “You’ve seemed really unhappy for a while. What are you going to do about it?” as “I am fascinated by your issue and wish to discuss it at even greater length with you today.” I think you’re in good stead saying something like the big picture script Alison provided, or even just simply, “Bob, I realize this has frustrated you a lot, and I think you’re a good guy, but I can’t take the constant negativity and complaining, and I cannot be the person you vent to about this moving forward.”

    And, just as an aside, those of you who really like to vent at length to friends and coworkers about various issues that upset you need to carefully read this letter and meditate upon it, because this is how it makes us feel.

    1. Snark (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻*

      The last office complainer I worked with finally pissed their cubemate off so badly they just said “Jane! Quit or cope.” And then the next day she started up again. “Quit or cope.” “But-” “QUIT. OR. COPE.”

      Kind of a mean thing to say, of course, but that’s what it boils down to, usually.

      1. Stuff*

        Fuzzy pickles! That’s fabulous! I have been saying the “not my circus” phrase internally to push myself through my own mess but I’m switching. I needed something faster and a bit punchier and “quit or cope” will do that quite nicely. Thanks for sharing!

        1. Snark (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻*

          It works better as a mantra than it does as an actual thing to say to someone whose feelings you don’t want to hurt, I think.

    2. JulieBulie*

      Someone did that to me (told me to stop whining). At first it stung, but then I realized that she was right. Honestly, it was the best thing she could have said to me.

      I don’t blame Bob for being pissed off, but stewing over something that’s over and done with will make him sick and hold him back.

      1. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend*

        Same. My “quit or cope” conversation came from my boss at my last job. It was really embarrassing at the time, but like you said, she wasn’t wrong. I gave my notice the next day, and we worked together pretty well through my notice period.

  6. Laura Ingalls*

    I like the options you discuss Alison. Debbie downers really become an energy black hole in an office.

      1. Snark (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻*

        I’m imagining it tatooed, prison style, across someone’s knuckles. Hard af.

    1. AfterBurner313*

      I need that as a poster in my office. Non stop whining is soul sucking.

      Also, I want a poster that says, “I’m NOT your therapist. Don’t overshare.”

      1. Anonymous 40*

        In the style of those motivational posters. Wide black frame, picture of something like an iceberg, and below the picture in large block letters QUIT OR COPE.

          1. JessaB*

            Sorry, I tried your link and got a “do not hotlink to this, save a copy,” instruction.

        1. Snark*

          I’m picturing a photo of a watering hole at dawn, with a cheetah beelining for a herd of wildebeest.

      2. Hope*

        Can I get that last phrase in thousand point font on a banner that someone has to walk through before approaching my cubicle?

    2. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      Me too. The only bad thing about it is that I’d struggle not to passive-aggressively leave it on the desk of a certain co-worker of mine. Laura Ingalls hit it on the head – the person is absolutely an “energy black hole” and has been for the entire two year period she’s been there. Unfortunately our management didn’t shut it down early on and now she just figures it’s an okay way to behave.

  7. Delta Delta*

    Once I was so tired of people complaining that I sort of cheerily declared my office a “no complaint zone” for a week. When people came in and complained I said, “I’m trying to not have complaints this week!” and if they persisted I said, “come back next week!” After a day or two people didn’t complain to me any more that week. Eventually it started again, but after a little while I tried the “no complaints week” thing again. Short term fixes, but also a cheery way to not have to deal with downers. And since I framed it in terms of my own happiness, I wasn’t pointing fingers at other people.

    1. UK Dotty*

      Me too! I think it’d raise a few eyebrows in my place! its actually the senior managers who are among the worst for it

      1. JessaB*

        OMG you have Breaking Cat News for your icon. Hi fellow fan.

        I would totally have a picture printed of Lucy vanPelt and her psychiatric booth, but saying “complaints,” and “five cents please.”

  8. Tau*

    Ohhh man flashbacks to senior coworker at my last workplace. He got bonus points for complaining about how little he was paid to me, earning less than him. I could never tell him “dude, if you hate it this much, QUIT” (possibly worded a little more politely than that) because he was the senior full-time employee and I was a junior contractor. He eventually quit, but it was over a year of complaining until he did. Alison’s advice is excellent, and if you follow it I will live vicariously through you.

    A word of warning: keep an eye on how you feel and talk about your job. In my case, the whole culture of the place was very negative, and despite my best intentions I found it impossible to be around such constant negativity without it affecting how I thought and talked about the job myself. If you find your morale slipping for no apparent reason or telling people about your work-day turning into griping every time, *definitely* get yourself out of complaint range stat.

    1. Snark (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻*

      Well, in the case of people who complain endlessly about pay to coworkers, there’s a cosmic symmetry at work, becuase they’re usually getting paid a fantastic hourly rate for the small amount of time they spend actually working.

    2. Not a Real Giraffe*

      It is amazing how much impact one person’s negativity can have on your perception of your job. In my last role, a colleague was extremely unhappy and would spend all day, every day complaining to me and one other coworker. In turn, this made me and the other coworker continue the complaining amongst ourselves. After about 4 months of this, both of my coworkers left the company for new jobs.

      Almost lightning-quick, my perception of my job changed when my coworkers left. I no longer hated any of the things I had complained about for the last several months; nor had limited tolerance for other coworkers who were often the target of the complaints.

      1. Tau*

        There’s this thing about cynicism in the workplace, I find, where it leaves you feeling like you can’t offer any positive counterpoints without getting mocked or shunned as a silly optimist shutting their eyes to reality. But then if you’re not saying anything positive, you start believing there’s nothing positive…

        In my case, the pattern was pretty wide-spread so even after the main culprits left it stuck (I have the terrible feeling *I* was then one of the main culprits, ugh). I quit and am starting a new job in a week’s time where I sincerely hope the culture will be more upbeat!

        1. Not a Real Giraffe*

          It’s definitely a cycle. At one point, my coworker complained about how he kept getting passed over for promotions and never got offered the more interesting projects, and I remarked to him something along the lines of “well you spend most of your day talking (read: complaining) with coworkers, so it’s no wonder!” And his response was simply that he only talked so much because he didn’t have enough work to do. He wasn’t interested in helping himself or hearing that there might be a solution to his problem; he really just wanted to complain.

          Good luck with the new role! Head into with positivity and you’ll be great!

    3. Anon today...and tomorrow*

      “A word of warning: keep an eye on how you feel and talk about your job. In my case, the whole culture of the place was very negative, and despite my best intentions I found it impossible to be around such constant negativity without it affecting how I thought and talked about the job myself. If you find your morale slipping for no apparent reason or telling people about your work-day turning into griping every time, *definitely* get yourself out of complaint range stat.”

      THIS!^^^^ I worked for a company that wasn’t bad. It wasn’t a great job, but I didn’t hate it and it paid decent. We underwent some staffing changes and suddenly the complaining started and just would not stop. Every day they complained and even if I was making a concerted effort to keep out of it, I couldn’t help hearing the complaints. It made my okay job turn into a nightmare. I used to go home and cry. I ended up leaving the company for a cross country move, but I’ve taken the lessons I learned there to heart. I now work for a small branch of a bigger company. The people here have been here for 10+ years and often complain about how things were better back in the day. I just walk away. I will not be made to hate my job (which I love!) because of their griping.

  9. Jedi5779*

    I work in social services and I run into these types of coworkers often. The ones who complain about the perils of the job and clients yet wonder why they aren’t getting promoted. Life’s to short to be miserable at work.

    1. AMT*

      I work in an inpatient psych unit and certain people are a constant drag. Most of their complaints are just the realities of working in a psych ward, period. It’s what they signed up for. Our unit is actually quite cohesive and our hospital system is generally recognized as a terrific place to work — so I don’t get the constant, draining negativity.

  10. saffytaffy*

    When my dad lost his job during the recession, it was kind of the first time he’d ever “failed” at anything. It would be hard for any 58-year-old breadwinner to lose the job they’ve been winning awards for doing for 20+ years, but he really couldn’t bounce back from it and move on. After a certain period of time, when he would start complaining, I would say, “hey, that was 5 years ago- can you believe time moves so fast?” or “Aren’t you glad you don’t have to deal with that anymore?” And I do think it helped. It DEFINITELY made him stop complaining to me as frequently.

    You could translate that into your own situation by saying “gosh, we’ve been in this new layout for 6 months- time flies” or “you must have had to deal with X frustration even more before the restructure.”

  11. Complainer*

    I want to float the idea that it’s likely he’s already doing something about it (looking for a new job) but hasn’t been successful yet. And is complaining in the meantime. Not necessarily the best way to handle it, but I wouldn’t assume he’s just complaining without taking direct action. Most people at my current job who complained a lot were actively looking and hadn’t found anything yet.

    Also, this was a hugely shitty thing to happen and I would be furious. I’m not sure I’d handle myself much better, but would likely be quietly stewing and wishing ill upon the company. They obviously don’t value him. I don’t really want people to conflate “people who complain about work” with someone who devoted 20 years to a company and was demoted to part-time (and is likely paid less, I’m assuming). If I was him, I’d be doing the best I can to get out of there.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I don’t think any of us disagree that his feelings are justified, and even OP acknowledges that he got a raw deal.

      1. Complainer*

        There’s not a lot of that sentiment above and there’s a lot of assuming he’s just complaining without taking direct action, even though there’s nothing that indicates that in the letter. There’s also a lot of assuming the complaining is related to his performance, but there’s nothing to indicate that either.

        And there’s a lot of comparing his situation with coworkers who complain at work, but this situation seems a lot more frustrating than someone who might be complaining about standard frustrations of a working environment. I can’t necessarily say I would react much better, even though I’d like to imagine I would! Anyway, it’s not justified but this seems like an extreme situation.

        1. Complainer*

          Sorry – none of this justifies complaining for months, but I think this is a pretty extreme situation. I like Alison’s advice which is a little more empathetic than the comments section.

      2. Anon Anon*

        I think my perception of the letter was a little different. While the OP acknowledges that the situation stinks, he/she didn’t seem particularly sympathetic about Bob’s situation. Not that the OP needs to be sympathetic, and/or the OP could be and I just didn’t pick it up much in her letter, but I feel so bad for Bob. I can understand why this would be a very painful chapter and why it would be very difficult for him to move past this, even if he should move past it.

        1. kittymommy*

          I actually thought that myself. This is a hugely crappy thing for the company to do and it would actually make me reevaluate wanting to work for them for very long.

          1. Lala*

            Seriously–even if I came out of it on the more positive side like OP, I’d start looking for something else. They didn’t just do this to Bob, they did it to *all* their employees. A company that treats long-time employees like that–even one that needed to restructure to stay afloat, which of course is better than not restructuring and everyone losing their jobs when the business implodes–is not one you want to stay with for more than a couple of years.

        2. OP*

          Hello – OP here! Sorry, I’m usually a lurker on this site so I hope I’m doing the commenting thing correctly! I just wanted to say that although maybe it didn’t come across very well, I absolutely DO feel sympathetic to Bob – as I mentioned, I consider him a friend and he didn’t at all deserve such an awful thing to happen to him. His demotion was very much NOT due to poor performance; it was clearly and unequivocally a money-saving thing. I was genuinely furious on his behalf at the time, as I was for the several other people who had their jobs taken from them in a similar way after years of loyal service.

          It’s just that it’s…been a while now. I’m not saying he should just get over it, but there’s only so long I can hear about it before it really starts to grind me down, especially since there’s really nothing I can do about the situation. Other people in the company who were also screwed over have done exactly as commenters above have suggested – Quit or Cope! Some have quit, some have coped. Bob’s done neither, and it’s really having a negative effect on the workplace.

          As for leaving the company – I love my job. I don’t love that our team is so badly funded that we’re hemorrhaging staff, but I really truly care about my job, and even if I end with the same fate as poor Bob in a few years time, this is still the best job I’ve ever had for as long as I can hang onto it! Maybe it’s awful of me, but I just don’t have the moral fortitude (or the financial security) to quit just because they screwed my friend over.

          1. JanetInSC*

            The complaining would also wear me down, and you’re allowed to love your job. But, please, see the writing on the wall. This company does not value expertise–it values cheap labor. This is a company that might not succeed, and some would call that Karma. Keep your eyes open for other opportunities. You never know where the ax may fall next.

          2. Wayne K*

            First, thanks for your original post and this reply. May I ask how old is Bob? Once you’re in your late 40s and older it becomes increasingly more difficult to find new opportunities. I’m lucky but I know how it is (61). It’s quite okay to love your job even if inadvertently it may have come your way inadvertently to your co-worker’s detriment. I get the feeling that many of the people who post on this site are relatively young with their lives in front of them. Time will change perception of many of them as they get older. One piece of unasked for advice, don’t feel guilty. You’ve done nothing wrong. Good luck to you in your working endeavors.

            1. Wayne K*

              Ugh. Correction:

              It’s quite okay to love your job even if inadvertently it may have come your way to your co-worker’s detriment.

              I wish I could edit my posts.

    2. Augusta Sugarbean*

      I’m in a terrible job and I’m sure I complain too much. But I’ve been job hunting for nearly a year now. I still haven’t gotten any offers so I’m stuck where I am. I’m sure I complain too much as well (right along with many of my coworkers) but it doesn’t change anything. I hereby try to do better – for me and for them. The Quit or Cope comment above sounds good but most people can’t just quit, of course. So maybe Job Hunt and Cope is a better approach.

      1. High Score!*

        When I’m stuck like that I tell myself “not my monkeys not my circus” and focus on making my life outside off work happier. Good luck!

      2. Snark (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻*

        I’m genuinely delighted that Quit or Cope is resonating with this many people. It’s probably overly blunt when directed at someone else, but it’s kind of a good mantra.

      3. Complainer*

        If it makes you feel any better, I’ve done the same though I quit the complaining once new employees joined the team, since it’s incredibly shitty to join a job and realize it’s a negative environment.

        I quietly stew a lot, though! And put on a happy face for the newer employees. :)

        1. Argh!*

          I used to work with someone who had it pretty good but complained constantly about management. He would get to work early, browse the web for information on other organizations that were doing such fabulous things why can’t we? blah blah and other coworkers would gather in his workspace to listen to his venting. He came across as very knowledgeable but really was kind of lazy and his complaints were always about what other people should be doing. He never looked for ideas on the web of things that he could do. Probably the most annoying coworker I’ve ever had, and a very unhappy person. Fortunately he had his friends to complain to so he never tried it with me, but in cubeville you can’t avoid that kind of thing if it’s next door.

      4. Anon Anon*

        I think when you are job hunting and not finding anything it can feel like you are stuck and have no options. I think it generally compounds the entire issue.

        1. Argh!*

          …and it’s hard to make a good impression in an interview when you’re psychologically damaged.

      5. nonymous*

        when I’m stuck in a situation that will resolve eventually, I refer to my plan of action, count all the stuff I’ve already done towards it and do at least one thing on my to-do list. Usually by then I can use the “not my monkeys” script and look forward to taking the dogs to the beach.

  12. Grumpy Mouse*

    This kind of complaining is partly what led me to quit my last job. Everyone on the team was the same sort of complainer as this guy. Everyone was hard done by, the company itself was crap, there was no recognition for anything, our department underwent a similar restructure to what the OP describes and there was a lot of fall out from that.. and whilst many of those complaints were true, hearing nothing else for months on end was just far too depressing. I quit, took a small paycut, but the job I’m in now is so much healthier. We all still have our complaints, but they’re measured, usually momentary, and on the whole we’re a positive team.

  13. High Score!*

    I’ve been in bad spots and got whiney before and what helped me move on, i.e. accept what happened and find a better job were those who asked what was I going to do about it. Every bad spot I’ve ever been in, every unfair layoff and uncalled for kick in the butt have lead me to a far far better situation and made me a better person. Don’t hesitate to tell him That you’re finished listening to his complaints.

  14. Steve*

    If a company denotes someone and cuts their hours they are kind of a crappie company. If that is what you think of an employee then you should lay them off. Bob was treated crappy. Still it is not the letter writers fault and I like Allison’s advice.

    1. soupmonger*

      True, but Bob was kept on. His hours would have been cut for a reason (performance, budget), but he wasn’t made redundant. I know it’s scraps from the table, but at least he still has a job.

      1. Steve*

        They could have kicked hin in the **** when denoting him and he would have still had a job. The company created the problem. Still it is up to Bob and letter writer to deal with.

      2. Argh!*

        I suspect his hours were cut rather than being laid off completely because they could avoid paying severence or unemployment at the time, and having made him unhappy enough to leave, they will be able to avoid that expense when he finally does find a full-time job.

        1. JanetInSC*

          I’m betting his benefits–health insurance and pension–are gone, too. This is why companies go after older employees and it’s wrong.

          1. Wayne K*

            Yup to both you and Argh. Businesses are sociopathic. The “bottom line” is all that matters. They have no conscience. The current political and social climate also works against legislation to protect older workers from being “outsourced.” I suspect that many posters on this site will find this out in the years to come. Wisdom is knowledge gained through experience.

              1. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^*

                Note to the Moderator: I’m bugging out of here which disappoints me. I recently found your site and I thought I could add some insight and also take away from other people’s experiences. I like to encounter different perspectives other than my own. I try to be respectful to all including those I disagree with and expect the same in return. I don’t think I know everything. I don’t exaggerate my importance.

                I’ve seen you interject yourself in regards to back and forth arguments however I fail to understand why you have not done the same with the above poster. I am being stalked by a troll. I really don’t need the last word and will allow this individual to have it. Critical assessments of my posts do not phase me however this person’s commentary throughout this thread is that of smarmy and insulting comments not just towards me but others as well. I for one will not tolerate it. I learned long ago how to see things from other points of view. The above poster cannot. There are similar sites to yours which seem to attract a more mature crowd and where juveniles are removed. I’ll stick to there.

  15. soupmonger*

    Working with a serial complainer is exhausting, and although I have a lot of sympathy for Bob, at some point he has to face the situation he is in here and now. I really like Alison’s script starting ‘can I be honest with you?’ That, to me, sounds as if it fits perfectly with where you are right now. You need a summing-up and a moving-on sort of framework for what you need to say, and this script gets it over perfectly.

    Good luck! And well done on getting promoted as a result of the reshuffle.

  16. Menacia*

    Yes, as Alison has outlined very clearly, you need to speak up and let Bob know you can no longer hear his complaints. There is nothing you can do about it, and only he can determine the actions he needs to take to get him to a place where he’s happy. I think he’s really taking advantage of your relationship here, and his lack of awareness of how he’s making you feel regarding you ending up in a more lucrative position while he has been demoted might be part of that. I’m not surprised he’s so bitter, but it’s not your fault, so don’t feel bad about where you are, you worked for it.

    Some people rise to the challenge of this type of change, and others will just dwell on how unfair life is and expect everything and everyone to change but won’t make any changes themselves. I’ve been at my company for 13 years, we were just bought by a larger company, I have no idea what that will mean for my job but I know that no job is 100% secure so everyone needs a plan for when things (life) inevitably changes.

  17. Former Retail Manager*

    Nothing to really add advice-wise…Alison’s is great….do what she said.

    However, a question for other commenters….how common is this type of restructuring? Quite frankly, it strikes me as odd and total BS, for lack of better terminology at this point, and it’s something I’ve never heard of. Have I been living under a rock? I cannot imagine making people compete for jobs they already have. It strikes me as the company trying to shift responsibility onto the employees in a way of “well, if you didn’t get a promotion or get to keep the job you’ve been doing for 5+ years, it’s obviously because you didn’t interview well, have a good resume, etc.” If the company felt that Bob wasn’t performing to their standards or if they had other issues with him, they could have told him that he/his position had been flagged for layoff and give him the option to either leave or drop down to part time….not play this interview for your existing position game. Is this manner of restructuring a legit thing?

    1. UK Dotty*

      This is actually something I’ve come across a lot in UK companies- not directly- but my company has a number of former employees from another company nearby. The company is not in financial trouble (that I know of) but has had a lot of high level manager changes. Every time a new Director is brought in (3 times in 5 years) they want to make drastic changes to the strategic direction or key products (presumably to make their mark/impact??) and therefore make everyone re-interview for these *new* roles which have different titles but are essentially the same. It’s also something my friend has twice faced as a journalist working for newspapers which are struggling financially.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I’m not sure it is very common in UK companies generally, but it is common in public services such as education. I think that the intent is to have a fair and open way of determining who stays and who doesn’t, when cuts are being made, but it’s very difficult for those going through it.

        There are rules in the UK about when and how you can make someone redundant, and these require consultation and trying to find suitable alternative roles for those affected, and you also have to have a fair selection process . This doesn’t require that people reapply for their jobs, but it does mean that people may well have to advocate for themselves as to why they should retain their job.

    2. Kiki*

      It happened to me at my first job out of college (in 2010). The small company I worked for was bought by a much larger one, and all the people at my company had to apply for our jobs back. I declined to re-apply, since the job itself wasn’t great and I didn’t feel like competing against other people for the job I’d already been doing for 2 years.

    3. Jady*

      I don’t think it’s common, but it’s certainly something that does happen. I think it’s most likely to occur to companies being bought by other companies (which can create redundant positions), or big financial issues (aka downsizing).

      Having people reapply though I think is even less common and kind of weird. Just for example, a previous job of mine was downsizing. They told people that they could apply internally to open jobs in the main office – which was on the other side of the country – and they’d be preferred over external hires.

      So it made some sense having people go through an application process since it would be a huge move for any person. I don’t know how many people took them up on the offer, but it wasn’t something I heard people clamoring to do.

      Also I believe companies will take advantage of these situations to have an easy excuse to drop what they consider to be dead weight – low performers, political trouble makers, and/or quietly create salary cuts. From OP, it sounds like they did the salary cut part. As in: ‘We can hire a young inexperienced new guy to do this job for half of what we pay the experienced 20-year company-veteran. Let’s save that cash!’ Then they went and told Bob ‘hey, we’re going to cut this position, or we can make you part time to half the pay and no benefits!’

      Just my opinion/observations from my own experiences.

      1. JanetInSC*

        Agree! It was about saving money and kicking more expensive employees to the curb.

    4. Anon Anon*

      I haven’t experienced it myself, but I have a couple friends who have, and it’s pretty terrible.

      For one friend, the “restructuring” was basically outsourcing the function to a contractor, and then everyone had to apply for the jobs they were doing with the contractor, only at about half the wages of what they were earning. The whole point of a lot of restructuring is to cut costs, so it often means that the people who are the most experienced and often have some of the best skill sets are demoted and have to take significant pay cuts.

    5. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I haven’t heard of this happening much, but the phrase “made redundant” makes me think the LW is British, so it may be more common in the UK.

      1. Natalie*

        Huh, I’ve heard that phrase used in the US plenty. It doesn’t read as a geographic marker to me.

        1. Anonymous 40*

          Maybe it’s regional or more common in some industries. I work in IT in the southern US and have never heard the term used outside of a British context.

    6. Akcipitrokulo*

      Did wonder that… word redundancy made me think may be in UK… in which case, they may be on wrong legal side of argument. You can’t make a person redundant. You make the POSITION redundant… and if you immediately interview to refill it, that’s kind of not allowed. (Not a lawyer, layman understanding only.)

      1. Tam*

        Redundancy is a commonly used in Australia too, and your understanding of it accords with Australian law also. If it is not a genuine redundancy (i.e the position does not get made redundant and they hire someone else to fill it) the employee can file an unfair dismissal claim.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Yes, I’m in the UK and that’s broadly correct. You also generally have to consider whether there are any suitable alternative roles for the person whose post is being made redundant, so you can’t just change the job title and claim it’s a different role. You have to offer the person the new role (if it would be suitable for them)
        But it si not uncommon in the consultation period to com up with agreed variations – for instance, when we were hit hard by the recession, my firm had to make some redundancies. We had some staff members who offered to vary their contracts to reduce their hours, and as a result of that we had fewer actual redundancies. Basically we had 4 or 5 people who dropped to a 4 day week, instead of having one person go completely.
        It worked well for us, we were able to put people back to full time as things improved, if they wanted to go back, and in the mean time they’d had a drop in income rather than becoming unemployed. We also had an agreement that if things got worse and we had to make further cuts, those who had reduced their hours would be paid redundancy based on their full time salaries, if they were made redundant within 12 months of the change. Fortunately that wasn’t necessary.

    7. Argh!*

      It happened to me. It was horrible for all concerned, and I had PTSD for about five years afterward.

      1. Arya*

        I don’t doubt you suffered real and genuine anguish and trauma, and I don’t want to negate that or cause offense. But as someone who was raped and later clinically diagnosed with chronic PTSD including re-experiencing, avoidance, arousal and reactivity, and cognition and mood symptoms…if you were not also so diagnosed, I’d like to ask that we don’t colloquially conflate the experience of traumatic, scarring personal turmoil with PTSD. They’re not the same thing.

        1. Snark*

          This…isn’t a bad point, but it does verge on nitpicking other people’s word choice, and our hostess has requested we not do that so much.

    8. paul*

      Yeah. I mean, Bob’s handling it badly and needs to quit or cope…but if I followed the letter worker right (and goodness knows I get confused) it sounds like they were really dick-ish about the reorganization.

    9. Sue Wilson*

      Maybe I’m unsympathetic, but if a company is down-sizing aren’t they making you reapply for you job just secretly anyway? Like the only difference is if someone doesn’t want their new job, the company can ask one of the other applicants instead of letting people go, realizing they could afford 1 more position, and hiring someone new.

    10. Karen K*

      On a much smaller scale: A coworker received a small promotion (to leader of her team). After serving in this role for a while, she decided that she did not want the extra headaches involved in leading the team, and asked to resume her former role. My department 1) made her actually apply for her former job, which she was still doing along with the extra management stuff, and 2) cut her pay to less what she had been making before being promoted.

      I understand going through the administrative motions of having her reapply, but I thought cutting her pay was kind of low.

    11. Specialk9*

      My company is doing it in the dept that is already an utter cluster. Then they were surprised when too many of their people left, and nobody was left to work.

    12. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It’s not common, but it happens, and I suspect the number of times it happens will increase as time goes by. It’s a shitty way to treat people, and in most scenarios, it’s about downsizing costs and undermining workers’ bargaining ability by leveraging their current employment against them. I understand the (financial) business case for it, and there are some instances where I think it is a relatively humane effort at retaining people. But in other scenarios it’s a blood-thirsty cost-reduction strategy that is really distasteful. #capitalism

  18. UK Dotty*

    Totally agree with Alison’s suggestion. We had a company restructure that left my friend in a position she was deeply unhappy with, after a while I said “it’s doing you no good to be this unhappy at work, it’s 40 hours of your life every week, so find a way to let go and not get caught up in the situation or look for a new job that will make you happier” – Alison’s wording is better than mine of course, but in this case it worked – I don’t think she’d realised not only how much she’d been venting but also that it wasn’t actually making her feel any better. She had been job-hunting without success but had been quite narrow in her search, once we’d spoke she broadened her search – eventually taking a job which perhaps not as good as her original job, allowed her to get a foot in the door and out of an environment she was unhappy in which probably made her more appealing to employers (she’s now been promoted and much happier!)

    You said you knew him as a capable friendly guy – this restructure is bound to have knocked him for six – 20 years! and it’s perfectly possible that he’s already job-hunting but struggling to find work which is compounding the issue.

    Don’t take his comments to heart though – he’s upset and going to have tunnel vision right now, it doesn’t necessarily mean he begrudges your success with less experience but rather that he thought his many years there would count for more than it did.

  19. Jady*

    I’m a chronic complainer. (I’m sorry!) It’s a really awful habit I’m trying to break. I do have the benefit of being introverted, so as bad as I may be it’s only a fraction of what’s actually in my head.

    I feel awful for that guy. I can relate to him to a degree. I got “laid off” from a previous job for political reasons entirely. It’s been over 5 YEARS, and it turned out for the best since my husband and I both have better jobs paying 3x+ as much. But that doesn’t really matter to me – I’m still enraged about it. I hold grudges obviously. And obviously it was a very frequent topic for a very long time.

    It’s completely reasonable to eventually ask them to stop. I had no idea at the time how it affected people around me, and I mostly assumed they felt the same way, but they had moved passed it and I obviously hadn’t.

    My husband gives me the ‘stop complaining’ (justifiable for the record) at least once a year.

    So yeah, just lay it out there.

  20. Narise*

    I worked with a guy who was always negative and always had the attitude that you couldn’t change anything. Finally one day I said to him you’re not happy here you spend over 40 hours a week here I think you should look for something else. He ended up telling another co-worker that someone told him that he should quit. Sometimes you just can’t fix people like that that’s how they live their lives that’s how they see the world. However I would not sit there and listen to his negativity and if it continued more than a few times after you say something to him, you should go to the manager and at the very least asked to be moved.

  21. Argh!*

    I’ve worked with that person, been that person, and been a buttoned-up version of that person. From the perspective of having been that person, I can add that venting is okay for a little while but ruminating is psychologically damaging to the person doing the complaining. For every word you hear from his mouth there are probably a thousand in his head. That internal conversation is what needs to de-escalate or de-rail.

    If you want to continue being friends, you can come at this from a perspective of concern: “You seem to have a hard time moving on from this, and I’m afraid that I’ve been complicit in that. I would like to see you be happy again, so I’d rather not discuss this with you any more. I feel like I’ve done all I can to help you as a friend.” If you feel comfortable giving advice, you could add: “At this point if you really can’t move on, you may need professional help, like therapy or a career counselor. We became friends in the first place because of x, y, and z and I’d like to share those things again.”

    Making a lifetime commitment to a company and then being cut off at the knees in middle age is one of the most insulting and hurtful things that can happen to a person. Being laid off might actually have been better for him. He’d be free to look for a new job, would have had unemployment benefits, and wouldn’t have to look at the people who did it to him every day. He probably gets triggered several times per hour. I know I would. If you think that cutting him off would turn him into a dangerous disgruntled employee, it might be worth asking his boss or HR for advice. If he has others to complain to, you probably don’t have to worry about that.

    Good luck to both of you!

    1. Snark*

      “Making a lifetime commitment to a company and then being cut off at the knees in middle age is one of the most insulting and hurtful things that can happen to a person.”

      So….I think this statement is really interesting, because I think it really highlights a generational divide in how people think about their jobs and working. I have literally never once met someone under 50 or so who has expressed this sentiment, and speaking as a 34 year old, the notion of making a lifetime commitment to a company is like making a lifetime commitment to a brand of paper towels. Not that it’s wrong! But I think Gen X and the Millennials have a much more mercenary, short-term, transactional attitude towards their employers, to the point that people raise an eyebrow and say “Wow.” when I say I’ve been here for five years. I really like and respect my bosses, but I’d be surprised if I worked for the same firm in three years, let alone 15 or 25. Whereas, I see my parents’ generation place vastly more emphasis and expectation on tenure and loyalty.

      1. Anonymous 40*

        I think you’re right on. I also think it’s situations like the OP’s coworker’s that led to the change in attitude. People have seen that employers often feel no personal loyalty to employees, so there’s no reason to be loyal to the employer. Millennials have grown up with that idea but some older workers still have a deeply ingrained expectation of mutual loyalty that’s hard to shake.

      2. JulieBulie*

        Yeah – I was raised to believe that you could be loyal to a company and work there for most of your life, because that’s what most of my older relatives did. But after being laid off a couple of times in the early 90s (very early in my career) due to “length of service” (i.e. most recently hired, first to be laid off; repeat at next company) I realized that I couldn’t make a lifetime commitment to any employer even if I wanted to.

        I’ll stay in one place for as long as is mutually beneficial, sure. But “lifetime commitment” isn’t a thing any more. Commitment is a two-way street, and there is no employer that I know of that “commits” for even its own lifetime, much less ours.

      3. Kiki*

        > I think Gen X and the Millennials have a much more mercenary, short-term, transactional attitude towards their employers

        Agreed. I think my generation (I’m a 30-something Millennial) approaches work from a stance of “I give the company [skills and labor they need] and in return they give me money, benefits, and [growth opportunities, free snacks, etc]. If the balance shifts out of my favor, I’m willing to leave.” Whereas older generations see work as providing them stability and financial security in exchange for both labor and loyalty.

        But in my experience, and that of close friends/family I have talked to, it’s rare for companies now to offer any stability or security. Even when I like my job and company (like now!) I don’t trust them to always be in the same position or for my job to be secure. I’m always prepared for that to change in an instant, as has happened to me numerous times already in my short career.

      4. Electric Hedgehog*

        Bounty paper towels for life! They’ll have to pry them out of my cold dead hands….

        1. Electric Hedgehog*

          In all seriousness, though, a company isn’t going to get a life commitment from me unless they offer (and remain financially good for) a true retirement package. My dad has one with 80% of his last salary (still six figures) for the rest of his life and gold plated medical insurance. I would sell my professional soul for that (especially because he got a better paying post retirement job and is raking in the dough).

      5. JanetInSC*

        It’s much easier to find another job when you’re younger…older employees are looking for security.

        1. Snark*

          I have a mortgage, a kid, and a credit card bill, and if I could go to sleep tonight knowing that I’d be employed here with good benefits and salary until age 65, I’d sleep better than I have in years. It’s whether we think we can expect that I’m talking about.

      6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Normally I’m not about generational stereotypes, but I do think the more mercenary approach is a reflection of major shifts in the national and global economy + the declining power/presence of unions in the private sector.

      7. Argh!*

        If you’ve worked someplace for 20 years that’s a significant commitment. You may not implicitly think “I’ll die here,” but after that many years and being very settled in your life, that’s kind of already happened. And if he didn’t up and leave after 5 years 15 years ago there was some reason for that.

  22. Stop That Goat*

    I feel pretty badly for Bob. He needs to stop complaining since it’s causing a bigger morale issue but still. He got a raw end of the stick. I hope he’s able to find a company that values him a bit more but that’s not the OP’s problem to handle. That being said, the OP needs to not take the complaining personally since she benefited from it. It’s not about her.

    There’s a lot of good scripts for handling this from Alison and others. Good luck!

  23. Artemesia*

    I went through a horrifying merger where people who had worked there 30 years and had very little likelihood of every finding similar work again were let go. Those that got over the bitching quickly and worked on a strategy to move on fared reasonably well; those who didn’t, didn’t. One friend who started his own eventually very successful consulting firm, told me about interviewing one of these people for a possible job; all the individual did was complain during the interview about how badly he had been treated. Guess who didn’t get hired.

    I was the only one of the 45 people let go (they cut by department) who actually figured out a way back in and with a combination of luck and gumption I ended up finishing my career there. I can assure you I didn’t manage this by complaining about the injustices (and there were some) imposed by the merger.

    The OP is a lot more graceful than I would be in her shoes and I urge her to take Alison’s good scripts to heart but move towards the end – the shut it down phase — as quickly as possible.

  24. Anonymous 40*

    I’ve been that guy and it led to four wasted years of my life. I took a “voluntary” demotion because my job was being moved to another location and I wasn’t able to move my family at that time. I turned bitter and complained constantly, criticized everything, and slacked off on my actual work. After three years of that, I was almost demoted again involuntarily. That was the wake up call that made me realize that my employer wasn’t going to regain my trust and that I wasn’t interested in putting in the work required to rebuild my reputation with them. It took another year to find a new job but the weekend I had off was the freest I had felt in a long time. That was ten years ago and I still cringe when I think about it.

  25. Jaybeetee*

    I have no advice, but just wanted to chime in that this is tough/annoying to deal with. I’m in gov’t, which means golden handcuffs, which means many people miserable in their positions for whatever reason but never leaving either, and job competitions can take up to a year (so even when “looking for a new job” you generally know you’re staying put for awhile). Most people try to make the best of it, but there are some chronic complainers who just count down til retirement…

  26. Orca*

    My company just went through a major restructure as well, laying off a lot of people and those of us left are all wearing many hats. I have to deal with some chronic complainers like this and I just can’t deal at all with it. It’s Struggling Olympics. I usually just deflect it with “yep we sure are ALL doing a lot of work anyway here’s that number you need” or whatever and not feeding into it seems to be sufficient, but ugh. Sympathy.

  27. kms1025*

    After all of this time, Allison’s phrasing here is perfect. “Can I be honest with you? You seem really unhappy, and I understand why. But at this point, it’s been months and I think you need to figure out if you can stay here reasonably happily or if you need to make a change. I support you in whatever you decide. But I can’t keep rehashing it anymore— it’s making work harder for me to be staying so mired in these issues. For my own mental health, I can’t be the person you vent to anymore.” Have this conversation as soon as possible OP. you’ll be much happier for it .

  28. Mischa*

    Totally worked with a Bob once. Except my organization — and myself — handled it very, very poorly. I basically sat miserably in silence, because this person would do everything in their power to destroy you if you crossed her. And she complained non stop. Finally, I complained to my boss about my coworker’s constant complaining and negativity at lunch (coworker is 25 years my senior, and has been working at this organization for twenty years, whereas I was a recent college grad) because I did not know how to handle it. Well, somehow word got from my boss to the grand-boss, and instead of talking with my difficult coworker, the higher ups had an organization-wide meeting and basically scolded all of us, saying, “suck it up, buttercups!” Morale had been low across the board due to some sketchy, middle of the night leadership changes, but most of us had accepted the changes and moved on. That meeting made things worse. The great part is my coworker could not figure out who they were targeting. It was a disaster all around.

    1. Snark*

      …, that’s like a textbook example of taking a bad situation and making it ten times worse.

      1. Mischa*

        Yep. That organization was dysfunctional and toxic to an almost comical degree. So glad I got out when I did.

    2. Argh!*

      They may not have been targeting her. She may have been the latest in a string of complaints and was the metaphorical straw that broke the camel’s back.

  29. Annie*

    If I were Bob’s friend and coworker, I’d encourage him to start applying for new jobs outside of the company where he can work full time and get back to his former level/title. Since he has a job already, he can just look for new work quietly and hopefully the new job will be a better fit for him.

  30. Madwoman*

    How about suggesting Bob utilize the company EAP, loss of job or promotion can be just as damaging as any other loss in ones life.

    1. Kiki*

      Random question, how common is it for companies to offer an EAP? I’ve never worked for a company that did but see them referenced here often. Are they pretty ubiquitous and I’ve worked for odd companies?

      1. Natalie*

        I don’t know if they’re ubiquitous, but they seem to be a common feature included with whatever group health insurance the company is buying.

      2. Specialk9*

        I’ve always had them. I write plans that reference how to access EAPs… But I work for big corps.

      3. Argh!*

        In a largeish organization, yes they’re common. There’s a stereotype that they’re just for drug & alcohol abusers, but they also refer employees to therapists. Ideally, they would size up the employee (in one meeting! ha!) and know enough about local therpists to suggest a match.

      4. Zesty*

        Pretty common here in the UK, for professional roles or huge companies (local pizza store probably wouldn’t have one, huge chain supermarket might).

        I’ve used mine a couple of times in two separate jobs, they can be used for good or evil. The first time was when my mom had died two months earlier and I was off with completely unrelated chronic pain. I got signed off sick for a month as I was off work a lot with my disability but as the doc put ‘chronic pain and depression’ on my sick note, the company seized on that and made it a condition of my employment I attend counselling to show I was trying to ‘get better’ and be off sick less. I wasn’t depressed, I was grieving, and the grief wasn’t interfering with my ability to work. My physical disability was. I was straight with the counsellor who agreed it was way too early for bereavement counselling so we just chatted for the course of therapy to appease the company. I didn’t need counselling, I needed to and was in the process of trying to figure out what was wrong with me and get the appropate treatment.

        The second time with another company I approached them for a referral as a personal situation was causing me so much emotional pain I was finding everything including work hard, though I didn’t take any time off. The counselling was brilliant and helpful and they saw me very quickly. I’m a therapist so it really helped me to ensure I was in working order so I could continue to do the best for my own clients.

  31. Yet Even Another Alison*

    It sounds to me, from what is noted from OP’s letter, Bob is not valued at the organization. Maybe he was pushed down because of his age or his salary. To take someone from a full-time senior person and make them a part-time lower level employee is a significant sign – a sign they do NOT value you. Being over 50 and especially being over 50 and a woman will make this more likely to happen. And yes, it is discrimination and illegal but it still goes on. Bob may want to see a therapist – work through the bitterness, anger and other negatively – dust himself off, and find a place that RESPECTS and WANTS him.

    1. Specialk9*

      My boss was demoted from VP to a step below a Director, despite them trusting and relying on him for handling really sensitive high level issues. He kept a crazy good attitude, externally, and stepped up to the plate and added all kinds of new projects to his portfolio, and since got promoted to Director. I respect the heck out of this guy and have a lot of loyalty to him personally. I like my job but don’t have much loyalty to the company.

  32. Anonymoose*

    This whole “quit or cope” attitude in the comments section disgusts me. All I am reading is a bunch of people who don’t care if their co-workers end up homeless or eating out of dumpsters, as long as they don’t have to listen to them complain anymore.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh come on. People deserve to be able to earn their own livelihoods without being subjected to constant negativity. And it’s not like the coworker is trying to organize a union; he’s just venting and venting and venting to someone who is being impacted by his negativity.

      “Quit or cope” isn’t cold-hearted. It’s the best possible approach for the coworker’s own quality of life. He’s miserable right now. It’s in his best interests to figure out what to do about that.

      1. Anonymoose*

        “People deserve to be able to earn their own livelihoods”

        Except Bob, apparently.

        1. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend*

          Except that Bob still has a job and livelihood. He just needs to not dump his (justified, I think) crappy feelings all over his coworker, who is not responsible for the horrible situation he is currently in. He needs to figure out another way to deal. That’s all. If he can’t quit, he should stop torturing himself and those around him.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Again, come on. Companies aren’t obligated to employ people in the same jobs indefinitely. And you left off the rest of the sentence, which was about doing your work without having to soak in a pool of negative comments from an unhappy coworker.

      2. Complainer*

        But would you say it’s being complicit in a horrible system that disenfranchises employees? I’m really sick of hearing stories about employers screwing over good employees (according to the OP, who said this wasn’t performance-related) due to their bottom line. I feel like Bob SHOULD unionize with a lot of other employees who’ve had their livelihood affected for the sake of the bottom line. This feels way too common in today’s world.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If businesses don’t look out for that bottom line, all the jobs could go away. There’s nothing wrong with making necessary financial decisions to protect the business as a whole, and we have zero insight into whether the company made the right call here or not.

          1. Complainer*

            I don’t agree with your second point, especially when it’s someone who’s been employed for 20 years and is a good performer. I think the employer owes it to their employee to do it in a way that shows decency and respect to someone who’s devoted 20 years to their organization, and it sounds like they didn’t.

            Also, it doesn’t even sound like the management handled it well, given the OPs comments above (hemorrhaging staff, people quitting in solidarity, etc.) Furthermore, I comment occasionally on this website because I get tired of some of the groupthink that happens here, often in respect to assuming the employee is at fault and giving a lot of the benefit of the doubt to the employer. It’s not even representative of most people in the working world, so I’m not even sure why it’s helpful to constantly iterate that perspective.

            Namely, I’m tired of the above comments making assumptions that the employee was at fault or somehow earned his current position. (i.e. Bob wasn’t job hunting because he was complaining and that he was a low performer because he was complaining, which the OP rebutted anyway). But, simultaneously, a good swath of the comments are willing to assume the best from the employer – they had a substantive reason to demote an employee who offered 20 years of their time to the company, etc. I’m not saying either one is fair, but it’s so far removed from how a good majority of the population approaches work and employment.

            These are real issues in our country and there’s a lot of anger towards employers and in some cases, it’s justified. I think in some ways, the comment section can be a bit naive in assuming the employer always has substantive reasons for their decisions. Or, furthermore, people misbehave when situations are crap and it’s not somehow a mark against their character or indicative of their overall performance. Sometimes people misbehave at work and it happens.

            Anyway, I like to offer a different perspective, since there’s so many people who aren’t on Askamanager that wouldn’t se eye-to-eye with the general perspective of this website.

            1. Specialk9*

              I saw a lot of comments from people assuming the company was being shady, ageist, squirming out of having to pay pensions, and the like. And plenty that Bob was hard done by. But also recognizing that it’s not a workable situation at this point.

    2. Yet Even Another Alison*

      To add to Anonymoose is stating…keep in mind that these complainers may want to quit but due to age discrimination CANNOT FIND ANOTHER JOB. Please don’t tell me about the recovering economy – yes, it is better than 2008 – 2010 but many companies would rather chew glass than hire anyone over 50. Before you flame me – consider this – do you think, I mean really think that Bob would be staying around for all these months if he could find another job?????? How many of you would voluntarily stay in a position like Bob has?

      1. Anonymoose*

        Exactly. Everyone here is assuming that Bob is doing nothing to get out of this job and find another one, even though most people would probably not stay in Bob’s situation if they had a choice. It’s far easier and more comforting to believe that Bob is lazy and morally deficient than he is facing a no-win-choice of staying in a job where he is neither valued or appreciated or quitting and ending up unemployed and homeless.

        1. Natalie*

          None of these possibilities require him to complain to his co-worker, constantly, for months. Nor does being compassionate and understanding require the LW to just quietly suffer through this unceasing negativity.

          1. Anonymoose*

            Please note where I said that LW should “quietly suffer” as I am pretty sure I didn’t. I actually agree with Alison on that part and think that the LW should enforce strong boundaries with Bob to protect their own mental health.

            That doesn’t change my opinion that the “quit or cope” concept is naive at best and cruel at worst.

            1. Natalie*

              Your first comment said that anyone bothered by the complaining “[doesn’t] ’t care if their co-workers end up homeless or eating out of dumpsters”, so it seemed like a reasonable inference.

              1. Anonymoose*

                No, my first comment did not say that. I did not say anything about those being bothered by the complaining. I referred specifically to people who adopted the “quit or cope” attitude, which is not the same thing as being bothered by it.

                1. Anonymous 40*

                  “All I am reading is a bunch of people who don’t care if their co-workers end up homeless or eating out of dumpsters, as long as they don’t have to listen to them complain anymore.”

                  You haven’t read a single person say or imply that.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  You wrote this: ‘“All I am reading is a bunch of people who don’t care if their co-workers end up homeless or eating out of dumpsters, as long as they don’t have to listen to them complain anymore.”

                  That’s a willful misinterpretation of what people have said here, and frankly it’s hostile enough to violate the commenting rules, which tell you to give fellow commenters the benefit of the doubt.


            2. Snark*

              You’re wilfully misreading the concept and the performative outrage is tedious. Stop doubling down.

              1. Anonymoose*

                You accusing me of performative outrage is really hilarious, especially given you had a table flip emoji as part of your user name at the beginning of the thread.

                1. Snark*

                  Oh, you mean the table flip emoji that Mike C. added temporarily to our screennames after we dug them up during the epic horrible boss thread yesterday? That one? Yup.

                  Seriously. Stop. You missed the point, you got pissed, you got corrected on what we actually mean, all good so far. But now you’re ignoring the correction and doubling down for absolutely no good reason, and that’s not a disagreement in good faith. Either you can’t admit you were wrong or you just want to be mad, but this is becoming more about you than it is about anything I’ve actually said.

                2. Anonymoose*

                  I know this post is old, and no one will probably read this comment, but just in case I wanted to apologize to Alison, Snark, and all the others who I unfairly and unkindly raged against here. Snark is absolutely right both about my reaction here being far more about me and my personal baggage and me wanting to be mad. This wasn’t fair to him or anyone else here, and I am sorry for that.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        The other big issue that older employees are facing in our current job market is that their tech skills are not always up to snuff because of how much technology has changed in the past twenty years. My stepfather worked in a skilled trade for nearly 40 years. Said trade is nearly non-existent now because of changing technology and he’s been chronically underemployed since his position was outsourced.

        However – none of these facts gives Bob the right to complain endlessly to the OP. Bob does need to figure out a way to cope with his current circumstances until he is able to change them.

      3. Snark*

        “To add to Anonymoose is stating…keep in mind that these complainers may want to quit but due to age discrimination CANNOT FIND ANOTHER JOB.”

        Well, then, again: what are their real, actionable choices? This might rub you the wrong way, but it still boils down to cope or quit. If you can’t quit, well, unfortunately, your choice is made for you. That is unfortunate and regrettable and sad, but sometimes, we all get faced with no-win choices. In fact, it’s what Bob is already doing, he’s just picking a really awful, toxic way to cope.

        1. Yet Even Another Alison*

          You missed the other part of my message. Given that Bob has been employed there 20 years, he is most likely close to or over 50 years old. Again READ my message – the reason Bob cannot just quit is there is NO PLACE FOR HIM TO GO. DUE TO HIS AGE. Not skills, not ability. Plain old age discrimination. And yes, there are people EXACTLY like him eating out of dumpsters due to age discrimination. Have some compassion for people. We all will age. Thank you.

          1. Anonymous 40*

            How do you know that? We don’t know where he lives, what industry he works in, where he lives, nothing. You can’t possibly make such a categorical statement about his employment prospects based solely on his age. Saying that nobody over 50 can find a job is simply untrue.

            1. yet another alison*

              Sigh…… I stated before, after being publicly demoted and being devalued as he was, it it is pretty safe to assume that Bob is there because hew cannot find anything else. No one will hire him….likely due to age discrimination. Please , before you comment, do a little research about this issue. And yes, I can make these statements. Tell me, would you hang around in Bob’s situation if you could find another job? And I never stated no one over 50 can find a job. Sheesh………

              1. Anonymous 40*

                You’ve repeatedly made a sweeping statement that he can’t find a job because of his age. His age is literally the only thing you know about the situation. It’s not “safe” to assume anything based on that little information. How you would react is irrelevant unless you *are* Bob. We don’t know how Bob has reacted. Assuming he’s acted exactly as you think you would have, and basing assumptions about the outcome of those actions based on your initial assumption, is not reasonable.

                We don’t know that he hasn’t looked for another job. We also don’t know that he has.

                If he has looked for another job, we don’t know how much effort he’s put into that search.

                If he’s put all his effort into a search, we don’t know why it hasn’t been successful.

                We don’t know if the positions he’s applied for have been filled by other 50+ year old applicants.

                We don’t know if HR systems are automatically rejecting his resume because it doesn’t have the silly keywords it’s looking for.

                We don’t know if he’s gone to interviews but not gotten the job because he’s been openly bitter at his current employer.

                And yes, we don’t know if he’s been passed over because of his age. But we *don’t* know that.

                So yes, you *can* say whatever you like, but you can expect others to point out your flawed assumptions. Rather than patronizing anyone who responds, you should consider what they’re saying. Nobody’s denied that age discrimination may be his problem but there’s nothing to support your fixation on it as the only possible cause for his situation.

                1. Yet Even Another Alison*

                  You have not answered my question: Would you hang around under the conditions Bob has experienced if you could find another job?

                2. Snark*

                  I would not. I would choose a constructive way to cope, if I couldn’t find another job. But I’ve known enough change-averse, inertia-driven people of all ages who’ve done absolutely nothing to change circumstances they hate – in the workplace, in relationships, in friendships, where they live – that I think it’s just as plausible that Bob is stuck in a recursive cycle of negativity and fear-based thinking and hasn’t pursued valid options that may be available to him. Probably more so, because being at the same job for 20 years does not bespeak a friendly relationship with change and novelty.

                3. Candi*

                  Another factor.

                  People on this site have mentioned in the comments about going on interviews to get out of toxic environments-while stewing, brooding, and otherwise internalizing negative reactions to those environments. Repeatedly they failed to get past phone or in-person interviews, even knowing how to interview inside the appropriate range of behavior.

                  Then they adopted healthier, more positive mindsets, pushing away the poison rather than consuming it. After the change in attitude, they quickly were able to get out of their awful environments.

                  Extrapolating, it’s likely that Bob is taking his now well-entrenched negative attitude into any interviews he has. This level would be affecting his hireability regardless of age.

                  A more positive mindset is not only necessary for his mental health and current job, but for his future.

          2. Snark*

            “Again READ my message – the reason Bob cannot just quit is there is NO PLACE FOR HIM TO GO. DUE TO HIS AGE.”

            I’m just going to repeat myself, since you seem dead set on ignoring what I’m saying.

            “Well, then, again: what are their real, actionable choices? This might rub you the wrong way, but it still boils down to cope or quit. If you can’t quit, well, unfortunately, your choice is made for you. That is unfortunate and regrettable and sad, but sometimes, we all get faced with no-win choices. In fact, it’s what Bob is already doing, he’s just picking a really awful, toxic way to cope.”

            Now, would you PLEASE address THAT for a change?

    3. Menacia*

      So what is your suggestion to the OP? Not seeing one in your posting anywhere. The OP had no control over what happened to Bob, but she certainly has a right to a complaint-free environment. I care very much about my coworkers, and it’s hard to see anyone struggling , at some point though, they need to make a change if their situation is not working out. And if the choice is to stay, because there are no other options, then talk to your manager about how to make the situation palatable for both sides.

    4. Snark*

      Yes, it’s blunt and rude when directed at someone else, and I said precisely that when I introduced the phrase to the thread. But as a framing for people who are in Bob’s situation, I think it’s pretty useful. Cope or quit are are (within the bounds of decency and reason) your two choices when something at work irritates you so much that you spend months complaining to your coworkers. If you can find a way to make the situation tolerable, tolerate it; if the situation is intolerable, find a way to cope until you can move on. Inflicting endless negativity on your coworkers is not actually an option.

      OP, and everyone else in this thread, don’t want to see their coworkers eating out of Dumpsters, and I think you know that, and I think you need to give people the benefit of some doubt that we’re not actually scenery-chewing Disney villains.

    5. NW Mossy*

      I think you’re assuming a level of malice in the OP’s company and other commenters that isn’t justified by the evidence.

      We don’t know what all went in to the decision to cut Bob back to part-time and demote him. Maybe the choice was between that and laying him off, and this was actually the more compassionate option. Maybe Bob’s got a prior track record of complaining rather than acting and that hurt him in his reapplication. Who knows? Not us, and not the OP. Let’s give everybody the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming that this is a deliberate campaign to hurt Bob.

    6. Anonymous 40*

      “Quit or cope” doesn’t mean “your whining bothers me so either shut up or quit right this second but I don’t care either way.” It’s a pithy way to phrase the only two productive alternatives for Bob. It’s about addressing the practical reality of the situation to HELP Bob. It’s the exact opposite of the feeling you’re trying to put in people’s mouths here. It’s shorthand (not a script) for the advice the OP should give him as a caring friend. The alternative most likely to lead to him being homeless and eating out of dumpsters is the status quo of non-stop complaining. If Bob gets fired because he’s always complaining, how will that help him?

      And yes, maybe he’s already looking for a job and having no luck. But the OP doesn’t know that because he’s not discussing job search frustrations with her. So she doesn’t know if he’s chosen ‘quit’ as his LONG TERM option, but he clearly hasn’t chosen ‘cope.’

      That doesn’t mean what happened to him is right. That doesn’t mean he has to become Pollyanna. That doesn’t mean nobody has sympathy. It’s what every single person has to eventually do when something bad happens to them: either adjust to the new circumstances or change them.

      1. Anonymous 40*

        Here’s a decent analogy: “Quit or Cope” is “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” Telling someone who’s on fire to stop, drop, and roll doesn’t mean that you don’t care if they live or die, as long as they stop screaming in pain.

      2. Subsriba*

        Exactly. Quit or cope is saying that there are two valid options, not that quitting is the only option. If Bob looks at his situation and determines that quitting isn’t realistic (due to age discrimination or otherwise), coping is still a respectable and mature option.

        It doesn’t mean wimpily sitting back and taking whatever the company throws at him. It could mean joining a volunteer group and starting to regain his sense of being a valued community member, or taking up more exercise or a hobby he didn’t have time for before. If Bob is stuck with this job, I think it would be helpful for him to stop thinking of his life/identity/value as a person as being tied exclusively to his value to this particular company. That’s what people mean when they say he should “cope” with the changes.

  33. GrandBargain*

    I empathize far more with Bob than I do with OP, and feel that OP’s reaction is, at best, immature and insensitive. The organization’s process of declaring all employees redundant and asking everyone to re-apply for a job (is this a government organization?) is fundamentally flawed and unfair. OP may also want to consider that she is (for the time being) a beneficiary of this flawed process and bad management. It may well be that this “promotion” is no more about her and her qualifications than is Bob’s demotion.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you’re going to call a letter writer immature and insensitive, please explain why. (Regardless of whether the organization is in the right, do you really believe the OP is obligated to listen to complaining about it for months?)

    2. Anonymous 40*

      All that may be true, but the OP’s not responsible for any of it. She didn’t make the decision for the organization, nor can she do anything to change it. And really, the subject is almost irrelevant to the OP’s problem. Any topic that someone talks about nonstop, for months, to the exclusion of all else would bother their coworkers after a while. I think the OP is being very kind in considering Bob’s motivation here.

      1. Annie*

        Exactly – OP is not in a position where she can give Bob back his old job. I like Allison’s script to talk to him about what his plans are to change his situation. Because OP can help in that respect (if he wants someone to look at his resume or introduce him to a business contact) but listening to the same story for months on end isn’t productive. And yes, that would be the case no matter what he was talking about

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m not sure where you’re reading that in OP’s letter? I thought OP did a really fair job of explaining their sympathy for Bob and that this was a really crap way to treat people, even if OP personally benefitted (in part) from the rehiring process. And OP also left a clarifying comment that, imo, demonstrates true empathy and care for Bob. And the fact that OP is most concerned with helping Bob indicates genuine care for Bob, not simply a utilitarian way to stop the complaining. I don’t think any of those things are immature or insensitive.

      It would try the patience of a saint to be subjected to months of daily, day-long complaints, even if you completely agree with the complainer. I think we can demonstrate sensitivity and empathy for Bob while also supporting OP in finding a way to stanch the unending stream of negativity that is harming Bob’s psychological/emotional well-being and draining OP’s.

    4. GrandBargain*

      Perhaps “insensitive” wasn’t right. OP does seem to be aware of the unfairness of Bob’s situation. However, she doesn’t see that the way in which it turned to her benefit was simply the opposite side of the coin… her promotion was equally ‘unfair.’

      I do stand by the comment that she is immature. Here’s why. Some of the quotes from the letter include:

      “Things have settled down again now after what was obviously a difficult and stressful time for everyone…”
      “… everyone else has settled in to make the best of their situation…”
      “… implicit contempt for my own success and usefulness as an employee when compared to him…”
      “… I think management might already have had a quiet word with him about this attitude…”

      I can promise you that things have not settled down and not everyone is trying to make the best of the new situation. Not all are complaining in the way that Bob is, but you can be sure that the resentment is still brewing. This action by management is the kind of things that can produce a toxic environment for many years. Bob’s vocal carping is only one manifestation.

      OP takes Bob’s complaining as a criticism of her. That’s because she thinks she earned the promotion. I think not.

      Finally, why would she think there is any trust remaining between Bob and management? And, why does she see management retaining any sort of moral high ground here?

      Together those things indicate a kind of immaturity and self-absorption on the part of the OP.

      What can she do and what can Bob do? I really don’t have any idea. Bob has truly been treated unfairly and if OP is to be believed, management doesn’t seem to be interested in making it any better. OP isn’t in a position to make Bob feel better either. I’d just encourage her to not be complacent… perhaps to take her newfound expertise and begin looking for work elsewhere.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You actually don’t know these things. That’s one possible scenario. There are others. (For example, there’s no way you can know if her promotion was unfair, or if any objective observer would consider Bob’s behavior over the line.)

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP was pretty clear that they benefited from the company’s move, even if it was a stressful, life-changing time for people that resulted in net benefits to some (like OP) and net losses to others (like Bob). And I don’t think OP thinks there should be trust between Bob and management or that management has the moral high ground. I think OP is resigned to the fact that neither OP nor Bob has the power to change what the company did or what it will do going forward. I suspect they’re both still worried about keeping their jobs, given the experience they’ve been through.

        Is it possible that you’ve had an experience like Bob’s, and that might be framing how you’re reading OP’s letter and follow up posts? Because you’re reading in a level of selfishness/narcissism that doesn’t come across in the letter unless we assume bad things about OP. It’s certainly a possibility, but I think there are a lot of other scenarios that also explain what you’re observing without attributing malice, immaturity, or “self-absorption” to OP.

      3. OP*

        I’ve decided not to really respond to this post, given that I’m not really in a position to be able to defend my own promotion in an unbiased way, and (for obvious reasons) I’m not exactly going to be unbiased on the subject of my own narcissism and immaturity either.

        However, regarding management – I’m afraid I wasn’t clear enough in the original post, but it is worth noting that the ‘management’ I refer to is really our direct superiors (I suppose ‘Team Leaders’ might be a more helpful term?) who had no control whatsoever over who got hired, or indeed any say on the restructure process itself. So if it seems like I’m being too easy on them, believe me it’s NOT the people who ordered this whole mess of trouble that I’m trying to defend!

  34. Obi-wan's wife*

    I completely understand the OP. I totally get Bob. It’s a hard world out there and sometimes you get the short shrift. But like my husband says (he’s a therapist) the best response is always “You’re telling me this because…?”

  35. TootsNYC*

    If this were me, since I’m a friend of Bob’s, I’d probably also say to him: “Listen, I care about you. And I see that this situation, and your unhappiness, are changing the person you are. I’m worried about you. Please, please–would you see someone? Get a pro to help you figure out how to change your thought patterns, so you can be in charge of your own life, and your own emotions, again.”

    And I’d talk about cognitive behavioral therapy, and how it can really work.

  36. Soon to be former fed*

    OP, I suggest that you gently recommend that your coworker seek counseling, either through your company or other resources. Whenever someone cannot move forward or adjust to a life change, this is a useful thing to do. One more “I’m sorry this happened to you, but I won’t be listening to you talk about this anymore”, then you must nicely deflect each and every time when he brings it up again.

  37. Wintermute*

    I’d just like to point one thing out. Of course you can’t continue to let Bob vent to you forever, and you don’t want sympathy to him to be mistaken for disloyalty by your superiors, but it’s worth considering his points carefully, at least once.

    You may want to consider what Bob has to say despite the fact you’re doing pretty well at your employer right now. He comes at this with a big giant bias, sure, but he also was in a senior position and has a long tenure with the company, and that means he has a perspective that you, being junior and freshly promoted, lack. Sure it might be sour grapes but his warnings about bad management might have substance that’s worth paying attention to.

  38. Gadfly*

    So, Bob got screwed. Bob has every right to be angry. But complaining to the OP is not just wrong because of compassion fatigue, which others have covered enough. My theory/reading of this is that Bob also chose the wrong person to complain to from day one.

    The OP doesn’t really care. The OP can’t really care and basically said so themselves. Because if they do, they have to question what happened to them. And they want to believe it was merit, and that they were best for the position, and that the company was being fair about them.

    It is hard to deal with complaints. It is harder when those complaints challenge what you want to believe. It is hardest of all when those complaints challenge what you irrationally want to believe.

    In a way, the OP has been bought off by their promotion, and anything that challenges the reorganization is going to challenge what they want to believe about themselves. They are invested in believing it was fair. It is therefore personal and a threat.

    I don’t know if OP deserved the promotion. Maybe Bob deserved the demotion. But it really doesn’t matter emotionally. OP is in a postion to not just need to deal with survivor’s guilt, but thriver’s guilt. And Bob’s complaints means OP can’t ignore that the promotion (even if deserved) only happened as it did because Bob (and others) got screwed. There is a trauma to it

    Again, Bob’s complaining is a problem. But I think the OP better also sort out their own feelings before saying too much to to Bob. Because right now to me the letter does have an undertone of “too bad for Bob, he did get screwed, but I got mine.”

    I have been in this position. I got a raise and better duties because they eliminated a department. They told them just as the worst part of the year started (as Christmas and such was coming up), and dangled severences so they didn’t just walk. Played all sorts of mind games with them the way it was done. Not out of cruelty, but because they didn’t matter. They simply were not a consideration. But really, looking back, while that was awful I think what it did to those of us still there was in some senses as bad. We lost a bit of our humanity to be better cogs. And that lost humanity never came back to that job. Some people found it, but the job didn’t.

    It doesn’t matter that there were reasons to do it. The way it is done matters too. This sounds like it was done in the most generally demeaning way possible, which wasn’t a business necessity. They threw a few bones to a few people. Intentionally or not, it is a way to divide people. And to double down on the self doubt of people like Bob.

    Bob needs to quit or cope. But the same also is something for OP to be thinking about. Bob’s complaints aren’t just bothering OP because they are negative. The content of the complaints is bothering OP. Even if Bob never says another word, can the OP ever not see Bob’s presence as a rebuke to their claim of meritocracy? If Bob leaves, is that going to be enough for the OP to stop wondering about themselves and why they were promoted? Maybe. But as long as Bob is complaining, he’s puncturing that bubble. It is crazy-making like the Tell Tale Heart and not just the annoyance of something grating. OP really ought to think long term what it means to cope.

    On the flip side, I also would bet Bob is complaining to OP for similar reasons. OP won. If they agree with Bob it was wrong, it is validation and not just sour grapes. After all, it is to OP’s benefit to support it.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Just a quick note that it may be worth reading OP’s update in the comments—they’re pretty clear that they don’t think what happened to Bob was right/fair, even if OP may have benefitted from it. I think they’re now trying to balance the fact that their position improved against the feeling that what happened was not fair/right while also trying to keep their job. That’s a Scylla and Charybdis kind of situation.

    2. OP*

      Okay, I appreciate your opinion, and whether or not I deserved the promotion isn’t something I can really answer, given that I’d obviously be biased on the subject. I’ll admit you’re certainly right about the concept of ‘thriver’s guilt’, and that’s part of the reason that Bob’s complaining really gets to me – because it isn’t easy being told over and over again that an achievement I was extremely happy and proud of is something I don’t deserve, and reminding me that it has brought pain to other people. I know those things are true. I accept them, and I accept that the guilt I feel is a small thing to have to deal with when compared to the situation of someone like Bob.

      In a way I believe that’s why this situation has gotten to this point – because I felt that ‘lending a sympathetic ear’, as I put it, was really the LEAST I could do under the circumstances.

      So I see the truth in a lot of what you’re saying. And I’m glad I’ve seen several people here give advice about not taking these complaints personally, and remembering to not make it all about me. That is something I need to keep in mind.

      However, I do really want to strongly object to the idea that I in ANY way ‘don’t care’. As I said, I consider Bob a friend, I’ve worked closely with him for a couple of years now, and although his attitude is really getting me down, I care deeply about his happiness. I did say in my original post that I was hoping for a way to help him as much as to help myself out of this situation – I’m sure that sounds a bit trite, but I sincerely mean it. I don’t want to be miserable at work, but I don’t want Bob to be miserable either. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of control over how Bob feels, so I focused on asking for advice on how to help improve my own situation, because at the moment his unhappiness is seriously affecting me as well. Please don’t take this as evidence that Bob can just go hang as long as I’m happy, because that’s not at all how I feel.

  39. Sunshine*

    I think Bob should move on to another company and a better job. But I have a lot of sympathy for him. It’s worth remembering that this hasn’t just been a blow to his pride, but also his finances. He’s likely had to reconfigure his whole household, and I’d be astonished if that hasn’t caused massive tension at home. “Hi honey, through no fault of my own we have to sell the house / live off our savings / go into debt / sell the car!”

    I think most people would be bitter and unhappy about a large salary decrease and title drop. I actually think it would have been kinder to let him go altogether.

    1. Sunshine*

      But for OP; I think it’s worth remembering that Bob is complaining *to* you but not *at* you; as in I don’t think he’s trying to insult you, he’s just very wrapped up in how he’s feeling. I think if he can access counselling that would be very good for him, if he can’t leave.

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