I was fascinated to see an article on the ABC website recently citing the work of Dr Vanessa Pouthier. The article stated that Dr Pouthier had observed a group of employees in a health services environment and had concluded that the whingeing that she observed there helped the group to solidify their identity as well as some other benefits.

This seemed contrary to a number of psychology research findings, so I thought I would do a quick review and summarise the evidence. But first, what do we mean by whingeing? Let’s define whingeing as venting about things you don’t like at work without contributing to the solution of the problems.

  • There is a widely held belief that venting is good for you, particularly if you are a believer in Sigmund Freud. In truth, venting actually makes you angrier and less able to solve problems (eg Olatunji and Lohr, 2007). There is evidence that venting physically damages the hippocampus, and makes us hardwired for negativity. Venting, although it might feel good at the time, also increases the amount of cortisol in our blood, which is a cause of inflammation related health problems.
  • Emotions are extremely contagious (eg Hatfield et al 1993), so bringing our negative emotions to our colleagues simply brings them down, sharing the damage we have already done to ourselves. In a work group the presence of venting can reduce measures of engagement of staff, which can also affect productivity and quality of work.

The alternative is a solutions focus. Rather than complaining, we come up with practical measures to improve things. This tends to create positive and more optimistic mindsets, but also improves things.

Focusing on positive emotional responses such as gratitude for the good things in our lives increases our resilience and improves morale (eg Emmons and Crumpler, 2000).

A lasting message of the science of mental health is that wellbeing is very heavily determined by what you focus on. Whingeing focusses on the negative and has negative outcomes. Solving problems or contributing to their solutions increases resilience and psychological wellbeing. What’s your corporate culture like?

Emmons, R. A., & Crumpler, C. A. (2000). Gratitude as a human strength: Appraising the evidence. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19(1), 56-69.

Hatfield E, Cacioppo JT, Rapson RL (1993) Emotional contagion. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 2(3):96–100

Olatunji, B. O., Lohr, J. M., & Bushman, B. J. (2007). The pseudopsychology of venting in the treatment of anger: Implications and alternatives for mental health practice. Anger, aggression and interventions for interpersonal violence. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, 119-141.

Andrew Marty