The Antidote to Employee Apathy

June 6th, 2019

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Few things are more frustrating than working with an apathetic teammate who constantly needs to be prompted and reminded to do their part, step up, or follow through. Most employees don’t start out indifferent or slow to act, so how do we get there?

What apathy looks like:

  • Okay with being just okay (or even poor)
  • No urgency
  • No personal investment, excitement, or passion
  • Just going through the motions

Three main causes of apathy:

1. Expectations are unclear.

      • We haven’t defined what success looks like
      • The person’s role on the team is unclear
      • We don’t know what the “main thing” is
      • Too many cooks in the kitchen; whose direction do we follow?

2. Confidence has been lost.

      • Failed and scared to try again
      • Leadership tears down rather than builds up
      • Can’t see any small wins that encourage along the way

3. Employees are not empowered.

    • No trust
    • Not allowed to make decisions
    • Input isn’t solicited or welcomed
    • No one is listening

I’ve encountered my fair share of apathetic teammates over the years. It wasn’t that they weren’t smart enough or hardworking enough; it was just that over time they slowly stopped caring as much. Apathy begets apathy, and if allowed to continue, an entire team may adopt a dysfunctional culture where low standards are accepted and positive change may be unwelcome.

Simple actions for turning around apathy:

    • Exhibit only the behaviors you are okay with your team mirroring. What would the team look like if everyone behaved like you?
    • Be clear on expectations. Define and share each person’s role on the team. Identify what success looks like. Write down the three things that, if the entire team does them, the team will be successful. Then share those three things over and over and over.
    • Don’t just dwell on the mistakes. Share the learning opportunities gained from them. Talk about how we handle our failures and what we can do better next time.
    • Ask, “What do you think?,” then listen. Then, thank them for their input.
    • Don’t give rebuttals or make excuses when feedback is given.
  • Find the fun. It’s hard to not care when you enjoy what you do. How can you incorporate some fun into your work?