Get Employees to Care … and End the Spread of Indifference

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She’s out there: That one indifferent employee who shows up for work … but isn’t really committed. She’s satisfied with mediocre … doesn’t really care about above … or beyond.

Will her presence on your team affect those around her? Will her apathy rub off on co-workers?

That depends, suggest findings reported in Psychology Today. “Exposure to apathy can decrease motivation for people who are already unsure of their commitment to a goal,” conclude findings by Pontus Leander, James Shah and Stacey Sanders.  A second study had the same outcome but, interestingly, showed the opposite effect on people who were strongly committed to a goal—seeing apathy actually made them even more committed.

Conclusion: When someone is “wavering in his or her commitment to a goal, seeing others who are apathetic nudges us in the direction of giving up,” reports Psychology Today. Conversely, when someone is highly committed to a goal, seeing others who are apathetic actually increases his or her commitment.

Indifference, as most of us know, is when someone doesn’t care about moving toward a goal. There’s a lack of interest. Maybe they’re still doing the work, but just enough to get by.

Even though you, as a boss or manager, can see it, there’s no real measure for indifference. How do you consider what didn’t happen? And yet, based on the findings noted above, it’s important to motivate that indifferent employee and think about who’ll be working alongside her.

What causes indifference and what can you do about it?

  • Stress and a lack of control                                                         
  • Give the worker more control. Make sure the employee has an opportunity to express ideas or concerns and give feedback.
  • Unpleasant consequences—doubt that your efforts make a difference, fear of failure
  • Value and recognize the employee’s effort—respond when he or she completes work you’ve requested. Make failure acceptable and a learning process. Do things that build self-esteem.

Let your employees know their efforts are indeed worthwhile—that their work is an integral part of the big picture. This can be as simple as noticing and rewarding their effort. Or it might be more complicated—helping boost sagging self-confidence or giving them opportunities to be more involved in decision making (and getting the credit that comes with it). People need purpose. They need variety. And they need to be noticed and valued.

Indifference in the workplace can be contagious, particularly to employees who are already feeling unnoticed and like they’re not part of something bigger. You can be the shot in the arm it takes to curb the spread of indifference.

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