Late last year, Marshall Goldsmith reported on a study that found a majority of employees spend 10 or more hours each month complaining — or listening to others complain. Furthermore, the study finds that almost 30% of your employees will engage in the practice of complaining for around 20 hours per month. That’s half a week each month.

So, say your company has 1000 employees, then at the rates described in the study, your business will have absorbed around 72,000 hours of unproductive time each year. Even at a conservative rate of $100 per hour, that leaves your business with a $7 million deficit each and every year. What can you do about this?

Marshall Goldsmith suggests working with your direct reports, colleagues and peers and encouraging them to ask four simple questions before publicly making comment:

  1. Will this comment help our company?
  2. Will this comment help our customers?
  3. Will this comment help the person that I am talking to?
  4. Will this comment help the person that I am talking about?

And while this is a great starting point, I would go further. I would suggest that the person who is making the complaint needs to make a mental pivot and begin to redefine the problem that is at the heart of the situation. After all, no-one wants to live in comfortable misery.

However, leaders can also address this situation and have a clear impact on the productivity (and the bottom line) of their business unit. The secret (which is no secret), is to encourage a combination of listening and action. Complaints, when not addressed, tend to fester in your organization — sometimes even a simple acknowledgment of a problem can see it disappear altogether. Take hold of the issue by the horns — run through the four questions above; if warranted ask the hard questions, deal with the answers and move on. Encourage your executives to do the same.  But if you take no action, you certainly will have something to complain about!

Nina Nets It Out: Most organizations mask a culture of complaint that has a real cost to your business. Leaders need to set an agenda that can focus their teams, colleagues and peers around delivering value. Start with a “mental pivot.”