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Apathy in the Workplace

A few weeks ago, I started thinking on the word "apathy", specifically towards our work. Apathy can be simply defined as a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. I certainly have preconceived notions as to the vast span of reasons why apathy can occur, but I was interested to see the perspective of others. So I took advantage of our social media platforms, and asked this question to the masses:

What do you believe to be a reason, or the primary reason for you or that you see, that apathy exists in the work environment?

The only post I remember receiving more comments was the "Happy Birthday" posts for my children. What does this tell us? It tells us that our workforce SEES and UNDERSTANDS apathy at work. Studies tell us that 70% of our workforce is disengaged. SEVENTY PERCENT. This means that our organizations are NOT working at optimal effectiveness, efficiency, and certainly not achieving the results that they are capable of achieving. Engaged employees are more productive, more creative, and give selflessly - just to name a few - therefore, for our organizations to operate towards in increased level of potential, we must determine how to decrease the apathy in the workplace.

From this post, there were well over 20 different reasons that were given. The LARGE majority of these reasons, leaders have complete control over. Things like lack of clarity, unclear expectations, don't feel listened to, poor communication, no accountability, lack of respect, over-worked...I could go on and on. However, there was one common theme that stood out above all others. It wasn't pay. It wasn't recognition or appreciation. It was a disconnection from purpose and lack of passion.

Guys, this is HUGE. Why so huge? Because it's easy to fix and it's such a deep-seated need in the human makeup, that you will get the biggest bang for your buck and the most return from your time investment by a few simple changes in how you lead. It's huge because we can often get overwhelmed by the number of things we need to focus on to be better leaders, but this response made up almost 50% of the responses given, so the law of priorities says put your time where you will receive the largest return.

How can you do this? Here are few simple ways:

  • Confirm Organizational Purpose - It is likely your company has a mission statement. And depending on your role within the organization, it is likely that you have very little influence on what that mission statement or vision is. It is also likely that, while many missions are solid, you may be in an organization that doesn't have a solid, purposeful mission statement. If you do great, that will connect you to the next point easily. If you don't, take some time to think about the purpose of your company. What do they do? What services do they provide to consumers? What would happen if your organization didn't exist for the purpose that it serves? The answer to these questions will give you what you need to move to step 2 - which is the "why" of the organization.

  • Connect Team to Purpose - The next thing you do with the information from above, is ensure that your team knows the purpose of the organization. Communicate it clearly and with passion and enthusiasm. Now you must connect your team with the purpose of the organization. How does your team support the purpose of the organization? What would happen if your team didn't exist? How would the purpose be met? Visualize life within the organization without it. There would likely be a huge gaping hole, and that hole is what connects your team to the organizational purpose. You may go as far as to write your own team's purpose, mission, and vision.

  • Connect People to Purpose - Now that you have clearly defined the organizational and team purpose, you must not stop there! Each person contributes to this purpose in their own way. Find it. Help them find it. Help them understand it and believe it whole-heartedly. Help them understand that their job matters and contributes to a higher purpose. One much needed tool in doing this is analyzing the strengths of each person and help them use their strengths towards the purpose of the team and organization. If you aren't sure what your teams strengths are, then use one of the many tools that exist to help you determine this (like StrengthsFinder, Standout, DISC, etc.). The use of their strengths in their jobs will help inspire and ignite passions within them. We all put more effort into what we do when it is something that we believe we are good at. One story I recently read about was a janitor for a hospital who was training a new person for the same role. She noticed that he seemed pretty apathetic about the job. She told him how critical their jobs are, and that if the rooms are not cleaned well, it could lead to a higher rate of infections - that the janitorial staff at that hospital were not in the cleaning business, they are in the business of saving lives! Now THAT is connecting an individual with a larger purpose.

As leaders, we cannot solely rely on the evaluation of employee engagement scores, as these often do not reflect the picture of what is really going on in our employees' hearts and souls. It doesn't address the innate need of each human being to be connected to something larger, something bigger than us. We must also focus on the connection of each individual to the purpose of the organization. Leaders must be capable of having the desire, skills, knowledge, and talent to manage this connection. If we tackle one of the largest reasons for apathy in the workplace, a disconnection to purpose, then we can truly begin making a difference in the lives of our employees and the results of our organizations.

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