The Triangle of Apathy

Triangle

I’m no expert in the workplace – I’m more of a victim.  That’s a lie – I am an expert, if only in my own mind.  I’ve even written books on it (Cubicle Warfare and Business Rules) I’ve noticed lately in speaking with people in a fairly wide range of organizations that they are growing apathetic towards their jobs and careers.

We all feel a twinge of apathy at work at one point or another.  It drains your productivity, but oddly enough, you don’t care.  You are demotivated to work harder, put in extra hours, to try and go above and beyond.  Everyone gets this feeling now and then – but it seems more prevalent lately.

I would offer you solutions, but tonight I prefer to whine about apathy rather than solve it (a symptom of my own malaise at work.)  Over the years I have learned that people digest business concepts best if they have a stupid, yet simple, graphic tied to them.  Thus I present the Triangle of Apathy (™ pending)!

So what makes people indifferent about their job or their alleged contribution at work?  Three things make up the triangle:

  • Managers that don’t or cannot lead
  • Inability to navigate your career
  • Uninspiring or no vision

Managers that don’t or cannot lead.  Let’s face it, many organizations don’t promote well.  People rise to management levels not based on their ability to lead or motivate a team, but on some technical skill.   The assumption that everyone can simply “pickup” a core management competency on-the-fly is a drunken fallacy.  Some managers couldn’t organize a good bowel movement, let alone lead a team.  We’ve all seen it.  This drives apathy because part of a suite of managerial acumen is being able to guide employees through change.  When that doesn’t exist, it provides a firm foundation for employee apathy.  “I turned to my manager for help and all she said was that she didn’t know what was going on either…’welcome to the club.'”  Spineless, uninspired, demotivated, or outright incompetent leaders disenfranchise their staff and spread apathy like a plague during the Renaissance.  (On top of a nifty graphic, you are going to get lots of pointless metaphors in this post as well – no extra charge.)

Inability to navigate your career.  I don’t really subscribe to the idea that you have a career – only a job…but that’s a different blog post. https://blainepardoe.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/a-critique-about-careers/  Let’s pretend, for the sake of argument you believe you do have a career, you delusional bastard.  Your organization probably feeds you this line, “You own your own career.”  Do you?  Really?  You see inconsistent promotions – where people are advanced because of favoritism rather than competency.  Your own job is threatened constantly with reorganizations and outsourcing to the point where all you do is worry if your head is going to be on the chopping block next.  Nepotism or cronyism are the drugs of choice when new exciting roles are created in your organization.  You see no path forward other than to do what you are doing to the best of your ability and pray that is enough.  These factors blend into a toxic, debilitating slushie of indifference, sluggish motivation, and organizational lethargy.

Uninspiring or no vision.  Tip for leaders here.  Just because you think you have a vision and articulated it; that doesn’t mean it actually IS inspiring or understood.  Even if you have communicated it, chance are your team has not personalized it.  People want to know what is in it for them.  They want to know what they will be doing or doing differently.  They want to know how success of the vision will be measured.  Generally, people want to be excited, but that means understanding them.  Many managers lack that connection and are blissfully unaware they lack a clue about their people’s motivations.

In some cases there is a vision – but it is so dull that it fails to shake the apathy of the staff.  Of course the worse scenario is when there simply is no vision for an organization.  Instinctively people have a need to comprehend that their contributions matter to something larger. If you deny them this, apathy sets up like concrete on a summer day.

So how do you overcome all of this?  Simply put, don’t rely on your organization to be the source of your personal motivation.  This is all on you.  Let’s face it, you are the one person you can actually rely on most of the time.  If that isn’t enough, build a network of your blasé co-workers and try to come up with ways to encourage each other.  Don’t rely on the leadership that got you into this dull mood to correct it, take matters in your own hands.  Whining does feel good, but only for a few minutes.  After that it is just draining.  Be supportive of your close co-workers, the ones that are not contemplating workplace shootings. Get together once a week to share news of what work you’re doing, where the obstacles are, and how you can assist each other.

Crap – I guess you do own this part of your career. Go figure.   I’d go correct it above but I would have to scroll all of the way up, and I’m still pretty unmotivated.

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