Denver You’re toiling away in your cubicle with more work than you can handle, while the guy next to you is busy with his fantasy football team. It’s enough to make you want to punt his coffee cup out the door.
What’s the best way to complain to the boss? And should you even speak up, given an economy where companies are trying to do more with fewer workers?
Yes, you should complain, as long as you adopt a calm, professional manner, leave your ego outside the office door and don’t whine.
Here are some suggestions from human resources and workplace consultants about the right and wrong ways to approach the boss with a problem:
Is it legitimate?
Most of us have been irked by a situation at work, but not every annoyance should be taken to a supervisor, the pros say.
Consider this example: A male co-worker wears torn jeans and T-shirts or a female co-worker wears tight, short skirts. You think their attire just isn’t appropriate for the workplace.
If they work in a storage room or other place that is off-limits to customers, it may not be worthy of a complaint. If they work in public areas, it may be an issue, said Marie McIntyre, author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”
“If it’s just something that’s an irritation to you and you can’t find a business reason why it’s a problem, you may need to work on your own attitude about it,” she said.
It’s all about the business
Before you head for the boss’ office with a complaint, consider whether the problem affects the business and how your boss will react to what you have to say.
“You want to make it clear you’re complaining about something that has a business impact,” said Rachelle Canter, president of RJC Associates, a San Francisco-based career counseling firm. “If they think it’s just a personal conflict or some little peccadillo of your own, they’ll be less interested.”
Let’s say your company has cut staff 20 percent in the past year. Business is starting to pick up, so you’re being asked to do more and you’re getting burned out.
Don’t complain about working too hard for too little money and demand that the boss fix the situation. Do explain your concerns and offer suggestions to resolve the problem, such as adding some part-time staff to help with the workload, said David Lewis, chief executive officer of Operations Inc. in Stamford, Conn.
“The idea here, without just going down that one road, is come in with a plan, come in with a solution,” he said.
Plan, plan, plan
When you decide that your complaint needs to be addressed, strategize on ways to explain it in a professional manner.
Don’t storm into the boss’ office, your temper flaring or your heart in your hand. It’s unprofessional, will cast you in a poor light and you’ll probably find that your behavior has become an issue, too. Find a way to voice your concerns in a positive way.
Try a little role-playing, Lewis suggested. Stand in front of a mirror and practice, or bounce your thoughts off a friend, much as you would practice for a job interview.
Choose your time carefully. If there is a crisis on hand, ask if the boss has time in the near future to meet with you.
Another example: You’ve been passed over for a promotion in favor of a co-worker with less experience.
Don’t tell your boss you deserved the promotion because you have been there longer. After all, the boss already has made his or her decision.
Do approach it with a “look ahead” attitude. Say you were disappointed that you didn’t get the position and then ask what you can do to have a better chance when the next opportunity arises.
“It’s human nature to be upset about what’s happened in the past, but you kind of need to work on your attitude before you ever go complain to your boss,” McIntyre said. “The more time you spend complaining about what has happened in the past, the less that’s going to accomplish.”
Let’s say you don’t feel like you’re getting enough feedback from the boss. Sometimes, McIntyre said, you need to manage your boss as much as the boss needs to manage employees.
To improve communication, suggest that you would like to have his or her input, and ask if there is a regular time when the two of you could meet, McIntyre said.
“People often forget about taking the initiative when it’s a boss problem, but if you take the initiative, it doesn’t look like a complaint,” she said.