Opinion: Stop whining at work, Swedes!

Whining at work isn’t just bad for your colleagues, it’s bad for your health and a key goal for 2018 should be eliminating it from Swedish workplaces, argues author Christina Stielli.

Opinion: Stop whining at work, Swedes!
File photo of a Swedish workplace. Photo: Erik Mårtensson/TT

What is the boundary between an internal culture open to critical discussions – and destructive whining?

The answer can be as simple as this: is it a question of discussions designed to solve a problem, or just whining that doesn’t lead to anything more than a bad atmosphere and depleted energy?

With SIFO* recently carrying out a survey that shows one in four Swedes believe there is too much whining on the job, we should expect the issue to be given more attention.

Whining is one of our working environment's biggest problems.

The term 'whining' is defined by researchers as 'sweeping criticism without a clear recipient or criticism directed towards individual colleagues behind their back'.

Whining seems to be linked to certain specific opportunities and areas in the workplace, like at the coffee machine for example.

“We don't have any whining at my company any more, I took away the coffee machine,” a CEO I spoke with some time ago said.

The problem seems to be at its worst precisely in the places colleagues should take a break and gather their energy. The coffee machine and other staff areas.

But is it really so dangerous to air your frustrations a little at work? Shouldn't we avoid taking work problems home?

Research shows that yes, whining actually is dangerous in several ways.

At the same time as we permit or have a high level of acceptance for whining at work, we're still fighting against growing levels of calling in sick, a lot of which is linked to stress.

Whining directly impacts our stress level because our bodies and brains pay attention to something negative.

Whining means we dwell on that without finding a solution which in turn leans to an increased cortisol output, which can make us sick.

In other words we risk getting sick and more stressed by whining. Whining kills workplace satisfaction. At the same time it steals valuable time from us, time that can be used to solve the problem.

All workplaces have challenges and we need our energy to handle them in the best way. Whining can lead to calling in sick because of stress related illnesses, which the same whining can be a contributing factor to.

But where does all of this workplace whining come from? Whining has, according to Dr Robin Kowalski at Clemson University, five causes:

1. I want attention
2. I want to take away my own responsibility
3. I want to make someone jealous
4. I want to have power
5. I want to make excuses for poor effort

At a workplace and in a good workforce, where people strive for a prosperous working environment, there is no reason to allow regular whining.

We need concrete measures and consistent work to stoop whining, and that can be done step by step. A new year is a perfect opportunity to have a fresh mental start at a workplace and introduce new guidelines in the culture.

Here are some tips for the managers out there or for those who are employees and bothered by whining at your workplace, and want to bring it up with your employer:

Introduce zero tolerance to whining. As an employer it’s important that you work out guidelines for the internal culture, limit whining and create a more constructive context for vital critical discussions.

As an employee, it's important you take responsibility for how you speak about things and which conversations you contribute to. Think about how your whining is bad for both you and your colleagues' health, and that their whining is actually bad for yours.

1. The energy you spread – positive or negative – is contagious. That applies to everyone in the workplace. Highlight the good things. Speak about problems with a solutions oriented focus. A positive attitude does not depend on what has happened in life, but rather is something that you create every day.

2. Talk about the attitude and climate of discussion at the workplace. That is an equally natural and obvious part of working life as filing papers, admin routines and holiday requests are. We talk about all of these practical things but in many workplaces we forget to talk about mental habits.

3. Encourage each other to always bring up the positive things first. Start meetings by focusing on what went well the previous week, praise colleagues for their efforts, and take the negative things as secondary.

4. If whining happens in employee areas, create a whine-free zone there. Several companies I've visited did just that, it's easy: clearly mark the zones that should be whine-free or even better, make the whole workplace a whine-free zone.

The New Year’s resolution for 2018 should be creating a whine-free working environment!

* One in four Swedes say that there is a lot of whining at their workplace, according to a SIFO study for a PR firm. The study was carried out using telephone interviews between September 4th and 15th, 2017.

This is a translation of an opinion piece by Christina Stielli originally written in Swedish and published by SVT Opinion.

For members


Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”