Venting at work is dangerous


“I have been so frustrated about my boss,” my colleague explained, “but thank goodness for one of my employees, who is a great listener and lets me vent.” Screeeach! (That was me hitting the brakes.) 

“What do you mean by, ‘venting,’? “ I asked. He went on to explain that he regularly went into his employee’s office and complained about his boss. After more prodding, he also told me about peers in the organization, who drove him crazy, and how he would openly discuss his frustrations with some members of his own team. 

What ensued was a lively discussion about the traps and pitfalls of confiding in employees about other employees, peers and senior leaders. All of it is dangerous on many levels. If you are tempted to let off steam like this, I hope you’ll reconsider.

Here are some experiences that may convince you otherwise:

I was conducting some interviews for a 360-degree feedback assessment on a manager we’ll call Stan. Several of his employees seemed very guarded in their comments about Stan. When I probed deeper, it turned out that they thought Stan had “loose lips” and “didn’t have good political skills” because he spoke to several of them about one of their peers on the team. He would share the team member’s performance problems with them and even shared some private health information. Ironically, Stan thought he was showing them how much he liked them and trusted them, but they saw it as unethical and unprofessional.

In another situation, a Marketing Vice President we’ll call Pete, was not shy about complaining about the IT department. He voiced criticism for the leader of the department and regularly pointed out other IT employees he thought were incompetent. It was no surprise that conflicts erupted between his department and IT employees. During a facilitated “mediation,” it became apparent that the employees in Marketing felt they had permission to finger point and refuse to collaborate with members of the IT department.

In another case, a Director we’ll call Tom, locked horns with the Director of Human Resources (Sue). Over time, Tom began to vent about Sue to another peer Director in Finance. Political alliances can shift, and when a new CEO took the helm, a reorganization at the top was imminent. The new CEO was keenly interested in collaboration and building a world-class team and he started asking a lot of questions about how the team functioned. When it leaked out that Tom had no respect for Sue, and had been voicing it to other members of the team, it didn’t look good for Tom. 

Finally, there was the case of the senior leader who regularly went out for drinks with his direct report’s employees, who were two levels below him in the organization. After a few vodkas, he would make “kidding” remarks about their boss, and even share his opinions about their boss’s weaknesses. Not only did this put these employees in a very uncomfortable position, it made their boss furious when he got wind of it. Needless to say, trust has completely broken down among all parties. 

So, the next time you need to vent, save it for someone safe. Sometimes that is a spouse, or a trusted former colleague, or a friend or relative. You may even have a personal “board of directors,” whose advice you rely on in career matters.

But whatever you do, don’t vent at work.  

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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