Workplace Whiners and the Other Coworkers You'll Know

Today in The Wall Street Journal Sue Shellenbarger discusses a type of coworker you've surely had the occasion to work with, assuming you've been working in an office environment for any time at all. This is, Shellenbarger writes, the "workplace whiner."

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Today in The Wall Street Journal Sue Shellenbarger discusses a type of coworker you've surely had the occasion to work with, assuming you've been working in an office environment for any time at all. This is, Shellenbarger writes, the "workplace whiner." Not only are such coworkers an inherent productivity problem—did you know that just listening to someone complain constantly can undermine your own performance?—but also, God almighty, they are annoying. You're just trying to complete that spreadsheet peacefully, a bagel and coffee by your side, and suddenly you have to listen to innumerable gripes about the office water bubbler temperature, really?

Shellenbarger points out, though, that it's not always so easy just to shut your ears and try to ignore. Listening and nodding can backfire and make you the subject of the complainer's next complaint. Telling someone they complain too much rarely goes well. And while the experts recommend "setting an example" and attempting to bond, that's not too appealing in the fifth hour of your coworker's screed about his or her latest perceived injustice. You can buy headphones, of course, but will they even work? All of a sudden, you're complaining, too!

Tips in Shellenbarger's piece to combat all this include changing the subject, zoning out, asking your whiny coworker what he or she plans to do about the issue or suggesting taking it to a superior, moving your desk to a complaint-free zone, and so on. Some bosses have even incorporated cash reward programs for workers able to keep from complaining or gossiping for a certain amount of time. But this got us thinking: Is the workplace whiner the worst sort of office inhabitant? There are plenty of others, too, and they are indisputably grating in their own ways. The list goes on and on, but here are a few.*

The Employee Who's Never Had a Bad Day in His Life. Arguably worse that the workplace whiner, this coworker is insufferably happy. Really, just thrilled, rainbows and teddy bears and cupcakes and roses, about everything. Mr. Sunshine, you call him, behind his back, but you could say it to his face because he wouldn't mind. He takes it all—compliments, criticisms, the fire drill, the fact that the only available coffee is hazelnut—in stride, and he has been known to laugh at his own jokes as hard as he laughs at those of others, but mostly, he's just a big grinning fool always on the verge of another positive statement or belly laugh. Especially egregious on a Monday morning, the EWNHABDIHL is, however, probably your best bet for happy hour drinks, and can stop a workplace whiner in his tracks because his mood cannot be felled by anyone. (You may have no idea what this person's job is. It doesn't matter.)

The Mopey Coworker. The proverbial Eeyore of the office, it's not that mopey coworker is whiny, mopey coworker is just a bit, well, mopey. If something good happens, mopey coworker worries what it will mean. If something bad happens, mopey coworker hunches over his desk with a worried expression and calls his or her family members to express those worries. If just work happens, mopey coworker works, but does it with furrowed eyebrows and an expectation of something to go wrong sooner rather than later. Mopey coworker needs a hug, but if you hug mopey coworker, he or she will only look mopier, suddenly full of concerns about what it all means and if the hug was good enough and also, is that cool with HR?

The One Who Lives for Lunch. Full disclosure: This writer is not immune to the joys of a good lunch. But the one who lives for lunch is the one for whom this joy has transcended normal lunchtime pleasures. This one has been known to begin to discuss lunch at an hour as early as 10 a.m. Lead-ups to the big decision-making play around noontime may include what he or she feasted upon the prior day, discourses about whether to walk to an establishment or order in, meanderings as to how the lunch has changed in the last ten years, especially in the publishing industry, and much Googling. After lunch, there will be talk of how the lunch held up to the promise of lunch. If the lunch is bad, this person may lapse into whiny coworking. (Sometimes the OWLFL is also a health fiend. Avoid at all costs.)

The Office Chatter. So much to say, has he! If you work in or near this person, invest in headphones, mostly so you can raise them to your ears passive aggressively in moments when you'd otherwise have little recourse, because the one thing you must not do with an office chatter if you don't want to chat is talk back. It only encourages him! Sometimes, though, the office chatter is a welcome diversion from the mundanities of office life, for at least, he or she has something to say, however inane it may be. Do you like the office chatter's shoes? He or she got them on sale! If the chatter talks nearly exclusively about people in the office to other people in the office, he may be the Office Gossip, and he may be worth listening to, because who doesn't need some office gossip now and again?

The Fortress. This employee you may know (but not well, because she doesn't tend to offer up a lot of, or any, information) speaks with her eyes and her movements—quick, sometimes furtive—but rarely her mouth. She hardly talks, except to say yes or no, or maybe give a nod. Her eyes, however, betray little as well, and when you ask her to do something, those eyes will meet your own and you won't know if that's hate or love or apathy or disgust in them, or maybe this person is a robot, you really have no idea at all. The Fortress brings his or her lunch in Tupperware containers that you can never really get a glimpse inside, and is often also A Machine.

The Boss. We all have one, maybe two, even if the boss is yourself. Afraid to say more here. Not to be confused with The Office Know It All, who's not in the position of the boss but acts as if he is.

The Office Jester. The jokes never stop with the office jester, the nonstop comedic version of the office chatter. Whether he is truly funny or not doesn't matter, because you are in a confined space and you are his audience, regardless of what you wish. He will regale you with hilarity, therefore, and you're probably going to have to practice your fake laugh just because he is going to require it from you. You have no choice. Try to move desks. Check for whoopee cushion if you're of a certain age.

The Coffee Buddy. This is the person you get coffee with. (Related: The Lunch Buddy, the After-Hour Drinking Buddy).

The Sneak. Do you ever have the feeling someone is looking over your shoulder as you're reading blog posts when you should really be working? Or maybe you're gchatting or Tweeting and, wait, the eyes, you feel them again. You turn quickly to catch whomever it is and yet by the time you do the sneak is onto you and has yanked his eyes away. Don't throw away anything incriminating in the communal office trash; clear your browser history and cache occasionally, and always beware the sneak, who more than anything else just wants to know things and may also be the Office Gossip.

The Cubicle Decorator. You will know them by the pictures of cats/calendars/family photos/potted plant/a collage made by a niece or nephew/wedding and party invitations/special lamp brought in from home/adorably decorated Kleenex box/autographed copy of Who Moved My Cheese?/book of inspirational aphorisms. Essentially, anything other than old delivery food cartons, Post-its, a stained keyboard, and the general detritus of an office. The CD likes to make things "homey." (See also: The Cubicle Monk, who disdains any sort of frippery or decoration other than what is used plainly for the job—one pencil at a time, thank you; The Cubicle Slob, who is a pig; The Cubicle Jockey, who moves from desk to desk as often as he changes clothes; The Cubicle Prankster, who may decorate other people's cubicles without their consent.)

The Cubicle Lothario. Many people meet in the office and go on to date. After all, it's where you are a lot of the time. But the CL (and this can be a man or a woman) goes through office relationships and liaisons like they're going out of business, which the company, indeed, may be, if the nefarious cubicle lothario is allowed to roam free. Love is one thing; the CL veers toward lazy, and that's never good in the workplace—except for the purposes of the office gossip.

The One-Upper. Do you have two monitors? This person has three! See also Kristen Wiig's SNL character Penelope, imagined in an office environment. The one-upper can, however, out-whine the office whiner, which is a competition occasionally pleasurable to witness on a rainy Thursday afternoon.

The Luddite/the Neophyte. Hopelessly outmoded technologically or bright shining and new with all the gadgets of a tween, the luddite and the neophyte are opposite ends of the spectrum that neither of them quite fits. But for all of his or her modern-day paraphernalia and eagerness, or perhaps because of it, the neophyte does not quite understand how to function in an office environment, and is always saying the worst sort of entitled youngster type things, while the luddite might fit in seamlessly if he wasn't still trying to learn how to email. Be patient with both, each has the potential to change.

The Machine. This is the person who—you don't know how she does it, you really do not, but you think she might not be quite human—goes out drinking or dancing or partying every night of the week but wakes up in the morning fresh as a daisy and bangs out near perfect whatever it is she does, without a complaint, though with quite a lot of coffee or alternative caffeine resources. Not that that can be judged. The Machine is not to be trifled with, because the Machine is programmed to get it done, and get it done they will. You are allowed to fear and hate the Machine for that.

*The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event, except when they actually do exist.

Main image via Shutterstock by Lipik. Insets via Shutterstock by Goodluz; Flickr/Gord Webster.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.