How to Turn Whines into Wins

by Beverly Kaye

For many companies, career development scores are often among the lowest on their employee engagement surveys. When asked why, it can often come down to a perceived “whine” by managers or employees alike. So, what’s an organization to do?

Instead of succumbing to fatalistic “here we go again” thinking, managers who realize that people complain about what they care about will ask the question “What can I do to keep you satisfied, engaged and on my team?” Leaders who learn to truly listen to what’s beneath the whine will gain deep insights into what’s most important to employees.

Here are five classic employee career development complaints and ideas on how to turn those whines into wins:

1) A whine for the future: “Things are changing so fast. I don’t know what to expect. Things seem so unstable. Rapid change creates uncertainty and fear in the workplace. In the absence of information, employees will make it up and often fill in the gaps with worst-case scenarios. Managers can:

  • Share information with your employees. This is even more critical during times of rapid change. The amount of information you share will vary depending on the organization’s culture and management philosophy. Keep in mind that certain information must be held in confidence. When approached about that information, be honest and tell employees that you aren’t at liberty to share it.
  • Help employees make more informed career development decisions. Share the organization’s strategic direction and goals, emerging trends that may affect career possibilities, and pass along articles that may affect career possibilities.

2) A whine of value: “I’m not using all my abilities. I’m not doing what I value. This isn’t what I came here for.” Address these whines immediately, as whines sour when they sit too long. Managers can:

  • Ask employees what matters most to them. Understanding this will help managers better utilize these employees.
  • Discover hidden or underutilized skills and abilities. Match these talents to business needs.

3) A brand of whine: “I don’t feel people recognize how much I have to offer or give me enough respect. Things can get so political here.” Employees may not be aware of their internal brand and how others perceive their strengths and weaknesses. Managing one’s reputation within the work context is a vital component to long-term success. Managers can:

  • Encourage employees to gather feedback about their strengths and weaknesses from a variety of work colleagues.
  • Offer frequent and timely feedback to employees regarding their personal brand.

4) A choice of whine: “I feel stifled, stuck and impatient. There’s nowhere to go, and management seems to assume I should just be happy to have a job.” When people feel taken for granted or that there are no opportunities for them, they often “check out” mentally and the manager loses out on their employees’ best work. Managers can:

  • Connect the employee’s plan to the organization’s strategy and identify options to enrich their jobs and careers.
  • Provide reality checks as goals are being defined. Help employees see that there are multiple ways to grow and develop.

5) A select whine: “There’s no plan in place for me, so I’m not sure how to make my goals happen.” Employees need to own their careers but they may need help creating and implementing a realistic plan that includes specific learning needs and concrete steps for achieving their goals. Managers can:

  • Be their sounding board, identify barriers that might derail their plans, and offer connections that support their career goals.
  • Support learning, encourage curiosity, and motivate employees as they pursue their own definitions of career success.

Successful managers will use career development discussions to turn whines into wins. Get started today!


This blog post based on concepts in a Talent Management magazine article titled, May I See Your Whine List? by Beverly Kaye.