A curmudgeon may be known for saying Because I said so…  In this article, I am saying this because the research says so.  Yes, research provides solid reasoning for having at least 1 grumpy coworker on your team or in your department. I can provide 4 reasons to tolerate your grumpy coworker.

Side Bar:

One of the best things about celebrating the Grumpy Coworker is that your grumpy coworker will be the first one to be skeptical about a grumpy coworker being a good thing.  Yes, skepticism is one of the talents the curmudgeonly coworker provides (Series 1: My Inner Curmudgeon is Welcome at Work if you are unsure about the definition of curmudgeonly).

Here are the strengths your Grumpy Coworker brings to your team:


The grumpy coworker brings the correct mood to be analytical.  Research finds that when people are in a grumpy mood, they perform analytical tasks better. Besides being skeptical, you can use your grumpiness to proofread documents, search for numerical inconsistencies, review data for trends and patterns, and identify inconsistencies in new situations or processes that warrant more attention.  Because skeptics ask for proof, they bring critical thinking, innovation, and integrity to any workplace problem-solving discussion.

2. Status Quo Challenger

Grumpy people are more likely to speak up and open topics in conversations that others may be afraid to address.  Curmudgeons do not care if they are liked, or at least, liked by everyone all the time, so they are OK saying what needs to be said. Their intriguing comments can increase the engagement of other team members. Someone who is willing to challenge the status quo helps your team avoid Groupthink and is actually, ironically, a catalyst for positive change.  Organizations who listen to their grumpy challengers are more likely to be innovative and adapt to uncontrollable forces. And, also ironically, the curmudgeons’ workplace longevity is a testament to the qualities of resiliency and agility – not traits we usually associate with curmudgeons

3. Persistent

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, angry people are better at thinking innovatively for out-of-the box solutions and more likely to persist in the challenging work to implement those solutions. Angry is one step beyond grumpy, but I still felt the study was worth noting here. Curmudgeons have standards; they know how things should be done and they are willing to put in the time and energy to ensure those standards are being met on behalf of their team, department, organization.

4. Productive

In the United States, we tend to value more highly someone who is even-keeled as a team member than someone who is grumpy.  However, research shows that anger is the most productive emotion. Anger was the best emotion for problem-solving and overcoming a challenge – more so than cheerfulness, sadness, or apathy.  Again, grumpy coworkers may be more irritated than angry, but they are still on the right track.

Things can go wonky in the workplace.  The curmudgeonly grumpy coworker says This is wonky.  This needs to be fixed.  This is bordering on ridiculous.  We need to stop this. (As a closet curmudgeon these phrases are familiar to me) along with This is very frustrating.  This makes it difficult for me to do my work.  This does not mean that the situation will be fixed or even addressed although organizations are more likely to fix things when made aware that they do not work.  By stating their unhappiness out loud, the curmudgeon can help their organization fix process and be more efficient.

The curmudgeon is also more productive as an individual worker. The American Psychology Association states that by expressing anger and frustration, you can be more productive at work.  When you are unhappy and frustrated, but are afraid to express those feelings, you can waste energy on pretense.   Smiling and pretending that everything is OK when it is not, takes time and energy – time and energy that you are not using to get work done. Passive acceptance of bad situations is not necessarily positive.  Another study showed that women who are happy all the time at work are less likely to be promoted.

Side Bar:

Finally, a study that focuses on women as the main subject and not an afterthought 20 years after the first study.  While I wish it was something more positive, the curmudgeon in me is happy to see that I am on the correct track with expressing workplace frustrations when they occur.

In addition, expressing anger and frustration in a proper manner to the proper people means that grumpy coworkers are less likely to have it come out sideways at the wrong time and directed to the people who do not deserve to be on the receiving end of an angry outburst.

In summary, a grumpy coworker can help you be innovative, critical thinkers who are more likely to address problems and challenging issues so that they, their coworkers, and their organization can be more productive.

But, before all you curmudgeons out there start dancing for joy – wait… you would probably not do that – before you start waggling your finger saying I told you so, know that being grumpy all the time will decrease your impact.

Coming soon: Celebrating the Grumpy Coworker: Part 3 – Too Much of a Good Thing