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How to Get Apathetic Employees Engaged in their Jobs

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Apathetic employees can hurt productivity and customer service because they don’t care about doing their best – they do just enough to stay under the boss’s radar.

How can you tell if your employees are apathetic about their jobs?

woman looking bored with her job

Look at their faces. Apathetic employees have flat affect and blank stares when there is work to be done. You frequently find them engaged in nonwork activities, such as social media, personal phone calls and smoke breaks.

Motivated employees, on the other hand, look like they care. They are fully engaged in doing their work.

Apathy could be caused by:

  • Lack of clearly set goals
  • Unfulfilling tasks that don’t use employees’ talents
  • Inadequate equipment or resources for the job
  • Employees not feeling recognized for good work
  • Poor environmental conditions, such as too hot or cold, not enough light, too cramped work spaces
  • Inadequate supervision that allows some to slack off and undermines the morale of the rest

Here are some ways to reduce apathy and get your employees more interested in their jobs.

Figure out the sources of their apathy. Clearly, with so many different potential causes, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for apathy. Your first step has to be an assessment of the terrain. Get input from employees about what it would take to get them more engaged in their jobs.

Walk around and chat with individual employees, and sit in on team and unit meetings. Ask how they are doing, and if you get perfunctory “I’m fine” answers, push back that you really want to know how they are doing. Avoid threatening questions that imply that they are apathetic.

Ask questions like, “What would make your job more rewarding and help you enjoy coming to work?” Besides the information you get, employees will see that you are concerned about them. It can start to break their negative mindset that nobody cares.

Based on your assessment of what is causing the apathy, choose and implement some of the remaining ideas.

Get employees out of the office or plant. Have them visit customers, and let customers show and explain how your products or services are used. Employees should ask customers for ideas about how they could improve, as well as what they are doing well.

Take photos and videos or tell stories about the good things your employees are doing. Highlight how their work is benefiting customers. Post these in the workplace. This is another way to help employees see how their work fits into the bigger picture.

Invest in an upgrade of the physical environment. Paint the walls in bright, cheerful tones. Put up some artwork. Pipe in soft music. Adjust the lighting and temperature. Get ergonomically correct equipment and furniture. Provide break facilities with food storage and cooking facilities.

Improve the social milieu. Provide cross-training to alleviate boredom and promote career advancement. Give a lot of formal and informal recognition for good work. Set clear performance goals. Include employees in decision making when feasible. Plan some fun activities, such as a catered luncheon or an impromptu coffee and dessert “just to say thank you for the good work you are doing.”

These are just a few ideas for overcoming employee apathy. You need to match the solution with the causes. The results could pay great dividends for company performance.


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