I think there are a few things to consider when approaching this issue. One thing is that it is difficult for many people to hear what might seem like a 'generic complaint', and accurately determine how to respond. This can stem from an actual lack of empathy, a difficulty in reading others' cues, or simply a desire to avoid committing to a course of action that might offend. (For example, offering emotional support when someone wants advice can come across as condescending and unhelpful, and offering advice when emotional support is desired may seem cold and thoughtless. Responding to a complaint/expression of distress by proposing major structural changes could easily be seen as an overreaction). Sometimes it's easier and feels safer to do nothing, especially in a work setting where there is a perceived high social cost to getting it wrong and upsetting a coworker.
As the recipient of a complaint or expression of distress, I have gotten into the habit of asking, "Can I help you, or do you need someone to talk to about it?" In other words, "Are you hoping for advice/actions or emotional support?" If they say I can help, that usually also clarifies what kind of help they would value. This works really well in friends or family settings, but may seem too personal when applied to a work setting.
You are on the other side of this coin, making a bid for advice/support/change and finding that the people you approach don't know what to do, don't realize that they can or should do anything at all, or just don't seem to care. It's possible that they are being intentionally dismissive, but I think you will get better results by assuming that they want to be helpful, but are just missing the chance for a meaningful response by playing it way too safe.
The simple, but not always easy, way to improve the outcome of these conversations is to ask for what you want or need. You can slip this into conversation naturally, or be more direct, depending on your communication style and relationship with the listener. Let people know how you feel and what kind of outcome would help you with your situation or feeling. This involves being just a little vulnerable, and taking on some of that social risk that the non-responders are avoiding, but you might find it's very worthwhile. I've found it to be key in my personal relationships, where there is often a mismatch between one person seeking emotional support, and the other trying to 'fix it', or one person offering sympathy when the other just really needs some help with a hard task or some work taken off their plate.
In the most basic terms, the steps to having a 'needs conversation' are:
- This is my problem or situation
- This is how I feel about it or why it's a problem
- If you did this, it would help
For example, if you are burned out and need emotional support:
Hey work friend. You know, I've been really heads-down on this project
for over a week now. I feel like I haven't even seen the rest of the
team! I could use some actual human interaction. Want to walk over to Lunch Place with me at noon?
If you are struggling with a project and need advice or help
I've been working on Big Project for a while now, but I'm running into problems that I can't seem to solve.
I'm starting to feel frustrated and I could use your expertise.
If you are constantly running into the same problem and it seems like the answer is structural change:
I feel like I'm constantly fixing bugs for Big Project, and it's costing a lot of time and energy. Would you be willing to meet up with me later and talk about what we can do to put a Fix Our Process Issues plan into place?
This isn't meant to be an exact script, but to demonstrate how to express to others this is how I feel and this is the kind of support that I need. This not only breaks others out of the "afraid to do something wrong so I do nothing" pattern, but also positions you as a person who is not just a complainer, but actively seeking to improve their situation. As a general rule, 'complainers' develop a reputation for negativity, but askers-for-help are seen as people who are positive even when things are hard, and can safely be asked for help in return.