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Oscar the Office Grouch – How to Handle Grumpy Employees

The Office Grump

Is there an Oscar the grouch in your office? Chances are there is. In today’s post, we discuss the behaviours of the office grump. We discuss how to recognize such behaviors, possible causes and how you can handle these difficult coworkers.

Signs and Symptoms

The office grump, you know the person in your office for whom everyday at work is a bad day. We all have had tough days at work every now and then, sometimes even hating our jobs. Despite these occasional feelings of career disengagement, most of us are able to remain professional and courteous to our co-workers. For the office grump, it is different, he or she is almost always unhappy and directs this unhappiness towards others. In short, they are miserable and they want you to be miserable with them.

So how can you spot the office grump? It’s the person who never says greets others in the morning. They are irritable almost every day, they lack manners and are sharp when speaking to others. Frequently these office employees are like loose canons that over react to normal work situations and “fly off the handle”. They don’t trust your ability to do your job and believe that they can do your job better than you can. Worst of all they criticize your work openly.

Other signs include frequent absenteeism or “sick days”, tardiness, an increase in accidents and errors, and lack of decisiveness, enthusiasm and productivity.

Modus Operandi

The office grump often employs bullying tactics in the workplace to meet their objectives. Other tactics include but are not limited to throwing temper tantrums, belittling, threatening, undermining authority, spreading rumors and even physical violence and abuse.

What Causes Grumpiness

It’s hard to understand how what causes someone to be so unhappy at work and to direct it to others each and every day. Since we all have mornings where we dread work it can be hard to empathize.

For some, this grumpiness can be a sign of workplace depression. Depression is a mental illness that causes low feelings of despair, irritability, hostility, and fatigue. According to the statistics on depression in the workplace by the Canadian Mental Health Association, 1 in 20 workers experience depression at any one time.

Impact of Office Grumps

If you have ever had to work with a grumpy person you can appreciate the impact on a work environment. Office grumps can drain the work group of morale and cause tension. If not addressed, frustrations escalate among employees to the point where staff threaten to quit unless change is made.

The impact of a grumpy employee and depression in the workplace is even greater if the individual is in a leadership role. Turnover in the group can be very high and employee engagement low under their leadership. In addition, the work group is often not motivated from a lack of enthusiasm from leadership. This lack of motivation in turn, results in a low degree of productivity.


How to Handle Oscar the Office Grouch

If you are able, encourage the employee to talk to someone about this issue. If depression is a contributing factor, there may be option. According to the CMHA, 80% of people can recover from depression. Regardless of the cause, encourage them to speak to someone who can help.

If you are feeling depressed and it’s affecting your workplace, talk to your manager or HR department.  Many employers have EAP or Employee Assistance Programs in place to provide support and counseling.  You do not have to suffer depression alone, all counseling is provided by third party counselors and is confidential.  Companies like Ceridian, Wilson Banwell, Engagement Health, Grand and Toy provide third party EAP counseling services for grief and loss, addictions, depression, and so on.

If this employee is acting out his or her unhappiness by bullying others then address the behaviors directly without criticizing personalities. I have created some guidelines in this post on how to handle a workplace bullying.

Lastly, be aware of any policies in place that prevent workplace bullying and harassment. Many employers have anti-harassment and respectful workplace policies. These policies include helpful suggestions and a dispute resolution process. If you are not aware of these consult with the human resources department or your manager. If you are a bargaining unit employee, then you should consider consulting with your local union rep.

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