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When you start a new job, you learn how things are done in the company, and you learn how they are complained about too. Unpopular Culture considers why people complain about their work culture and what impact those complaints have on their organizations. John Weeks based his study on long-term observations of the British Armstrong Bank in the United Kingdom. Not one person at this organization, he found, from the CEO down to the junior clerks, had anything good to say about its corporate culture. And yet, despite all the griping—and despite high-profile efforts at culture change—the way things were done never seemed fundamentally to alter. The organization was restructured, jobs redefined, and processes redesigned, but the complaining remained the same.
As Weeks demonstrates, this is because the everyday standards of behavior that regulate complaints curtail their effectiveness. Embarrass someone by complaining in a way that is too public or too pointed, and you will find your social standing diminished. Complain too loudly or too long, and your coworkers might see you as contrary. On the other hand, complain too little and you may be seen as too stiff or just too strange to be trusted. The rituals of complaint, Weeks shows, have powerful social functions.