The only conversational topic more boring than someone telling you about the dream they had last night? Moaning about their day at work. You know it’s brewing when your partner walks through the front door with a face like thunder, or you meet a friend in a bar at six, all geed up for a giggle over G&Ts, and in she stomps, furious and frazzled. And then it comes: a lengthy complaint about the latest outrage committed by their boss, a blow-by-blow account of who said what in the conference, or an in-depth appraisal of their desk buddy’s skillset or lack thereof. Yawn. You don’t really understand what they’re saying and you definitely don’t care. Instead, you’re thinking, "Can’t you tell me something interesting, like what Pret sandwich you chose today? And, yikes, I hope you don’t test me on this afterwards because I’ll be totally busted."
The paragraph above will come as a surprise to my husband and close friends because, erm, I’m a terrible post-work moaner, too (and a hypocrite with it). I know it’s boring, but I still do it. I like to justify it on cathartic grounds – a problem shared is a problem halved, right? Better out than in, yes? (Although, is that one about farting?) We tend to feel better for venting, for setting the world – or at least the accounts department – to rights. It’s an important part of decompressing after a day at the grindstone.
Except that’s not actually true. A growing body of research shows that that post-work grumbling isn’t cathartic, it’s counterproductive – and can negatively infect our mood the following day. A recent study published in the European Journal Of Work and Organizational Psychology asked volunteers to keep a diary over several days in which they recorded their mood and feelings towards work first thing in the morning and then again in the evening. Researchers noted that those who complained a lot about work in the evening tended to have a low mood the following morning too, while those who were more upbeat at 6pm were also perkier the next day.
I’m a terrible post-work moaner, too (and a hypocrite with it). I know it’s boring, but I still do it. I like to justify it on cathartic grounds – a problem shared is a problem halved, right?
“Complaining about how crap things are is like itching a wound that’s already infected,” says life coach Kate Taylor. “It may provide temporary relief but, ultimately, it does more harm than good. Constantly moaning creates a negativity spiral and that’s a big energy zapper. Instead, make a note of all the things that were positive about your day.” You can always do this mentally, rather than literally, if the thought of a cheesy, American-style gratitude journal brings you out in hives (or is that just me?).
Business psychologist Tony Crabbe, the author of Busy, suggests reframing: “The most effective way to deal with bad experiences is to reframe them. So, if you have a clash with a colleague, instead of venting reflect on what you can learn from it and how you’d respond differently next time.”
Tony also points out that procrastination can be useful in this situation (now there’s a skill I’d be highly endorsed for on LinkedIn). “We can’t stop moaning altogether, but we could procrastinate when the urge strikes,” he says. “Dutch clinical psychologist Ad Kerkhof found that getting people to schedule ‘worry time’ for a few minutes each day allowed them to put off fretting the rest of the time and improved their mood. We can do the same with moaning. Set an alarm for five minutes when you walk through the door and whinge to your heart’s content. When time’s up, stop and do something more positive.”
Meanwhile, Brooke McAlary is the author of Destination Simple, a new book about harnessing the power of small daily rituals to lead a less frenetic, more content life. She’s big on creating an “evening rhythm” to stop work stress impacting after hours. “It’s like a routine, but more flexible and life-proof. It takes into account everything that needs to happen – dinner, social engagements, chores – while leaving a little space for things that’ll have a positive impact on your mindset.” That will depend on the person, she says, but it could be a cup of tea before bed, 30 minutes to read a novel or prepping your gym clothes for the next day.
Personally, after a particularly bad day at the office, I head out for an “angry run”. I listen to loud, sweary hip-hop, do sprint intervals and get it out of my system, rather than bending my poor husband’s ear late into the evening. Which leaves all the more time for discussing the minutiae of Pret’s lunch menu. Crazy, crazy nights in the Potter household? Well, it beats moaning.
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