An honest self-appraisal can provide the initiative and courage to make necessary changes, explains Kemetia Foley
Do you know what feeling I hate the most? Apathy. There are definitely days when I wrongly judge others in my workplace for their lack of engagement or interest, but most recently, I tend to recognize in others what I feel in my own bones. Ouch.
Apathy is defined as:
1. Lack of feeling or emotion: IMPASSIVENESS (e.g., drug abuse leading to apathy and depression)
2. Lack of interest or concern: INDIFFERENCE (e.g., political apathy)
Apathy, impassivity, and indifference all denote a lack of responsiveness to something that might normally excite interest or emotion. Apathy suggests a puzzling or deplorable inertness or lack of passion, as in “the problem of continued voter apathy.” Impassivity stresses the absence of any external sign of emotion in action or facial expression, as in “teachers frustrated by the impassivity of their students.” Indifference connotes a lack of interest in or concern about something, as in “the company’s apparent indifference to the needs of its employees.”
The Mojo Is Gone
A long tenure in a career field (mine is almost 30 years) can lead us to a host of emotions and behaviors that we may not be so proud to share. The only way I can improve is to share with others (trusted friends) exactly where I am at. No fronting. No trying to put on a good game face. No trying to fake my way through something I don’t know thoroughly. We simply must state the obvious. The mojo is gone.
The invigorating energy of learning new programs, new methods – the joy of engaging with colleagues – it’s just gone.
Colleagues, I encourage you to get some outside professional assistance if you are “frozen” and cannot discern what you feel or cannot feel any emotion for an extended period of time. These emotions can be heavy lifting and we often need assistance.
Is apathy the same as burnout? No, but it is one strong symptom of burnout.
Scenarios That Plant the Seeds for Apathy
These are examples of workplace scenarios that can plant the seeds for apathy:
- Staff policies that are not applied consistently or equally. Examples: reprimands for being late (or not); certain staff allowed to take extended lunches, but not others.
- Stepping in or stepping up to correct mistakes or lapses from other colleagues for supervisors
- Taking on too much responsibility as a means of “keeping the company afloat”
- Expectations of recognition for contributions above or beyond rarely, if ever, met
- Unexpressed frustration or resentment
How might that apathy show itself?
- Emotional outbursts at colleagues
- Bare minimum work product, less than stellar
- Frequently tardy to work or to appointments
- Unorganized workspace
- And my personal favorite: disdain (or also contempt)
Disdain (verb) is defined as:
1. To look on with scorn (e.g., disdained him as a coward)
2. To refuse or abstain from because of a feeling of contempt or scorn (e.g., disdained answering their questions)
3. To treat as beneath one’s notice or dignity
In my experience, disdain = overinflated ego or fear – or both. It makes itself known when these words or thoughts are coming out:
“Well, I told him how to fix it and he didn’t listen, so it’s his problem!”
“I did all the background, all the prep for this meeting and they didn’t use any of it. They will see.”
“Everyone always comes to me for help; they never go to her/him/they. I’m the only one who really knows what’s going on around here.”
It’s amazing there’s room for anyone else in the conversation when our ego is so oversized!
The bottom line is, what is the solution? Is there more than one solution?
Assess the Situation
Are you bored or burned out?
Are there things you want to change about your work, but you haven’t made the time or effort to do so?
Acceptance of exactly where you are doesn’t mean you have to like it. It means you have an opportunity to effect change in how you do your work and how you perceive it.
Are you sure that others in the organization are the issue, not you? In other words, are you part of the solution or part of the problem?
A great post from one of my favorite leaders, Dan Rockwell, suggests that we “get mad at apathy and embrace ambition for the work.”
Questions to Ask Yourself
1. Is this a problem for everyone, or just me?
Strategically ask a trusted colleague how they see the issue. I suggest writing it out several times so that the issue is defined, and it is not just a gripe about a colleague.
2. Do I have any immediately applicable suggestions on how to resolve the issue?
Take one challenge at a time. Do not try to “fix” an organization. Contribute to incremental improvement.
3. What parts of my work provide satisfaction and overall positive energy?
4. Are there other parts of my personal life (family, finance, or health) that are distracting me from my work?
5. Is it possible those distractions are feeding into the apathy?
6. Is my ego in the way?
7. Am I able to bring feelings into proper perspective?
Sometimes apathy is driven by a constant frustration that we cannot drive a decision to the outcome we wish.
I can handle work stress and volume; I can handle home stressors and challenges. What happens to me is that I cannot function at my highest when I am dealing with both at the same time. Does this happen to you? Either my laundry is all caught up, folded, and put away OR my desk is clean and organized. I cannot recall a time when I had both.
Here are some steps we can take to address the feelings of apathy:
1. Do a personal health check
Are you hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? Not getting enough water, vitamins A, C, & D? Consider scheduling a check-in with your general practitioner and let them know how you are feeling.
2. Schedule time for you
Just YOU. Take yourself to the movies. Get a massage. Journal. Schedule an extra appointment with your counselor/therapist. Take that personal day to sleep in.
3. Look at the assessment you did
Are there any apparent issues? Is your company chronically short-staffed? Is your supervisor unkind? Is it that you have asked for assistance at work, and though it’s repeatedly been promised, it’s never delivered? You realize you have done this job, which isn’t very interesting, too long? Can you make a list of things you can do on a daily basis to battle the apathy, or do you need to commit to doing your very best work until you can attain a new position?
4. Confide in someone
Whether it’s a friend, partner, or spouse; let them know you are struggling.
What NOT to Do
1. Complain to anyone who will listen
That solves nothing except that now you have vomited all over your colleagues. You are the only person that (temporarily) feels better.
2. Drink alcoholic beverages or ingest large amounts of pharmaceuticals
While that may help you feel better in the short term, the feelings after and the consequences can be harsh. And on top of that, the problem/feelings are still there. Same goes for binge-eating.
3. Quit impulsively
It happens; some days it will feel 100% justified, and it can be (personal safety or inappropriate matters in the workplace).
While there is not always a clear picture of what is happening when we are in the midst of these feelings, getting outside help, getting perspective, and evaluating our role in the current state of affairs with an honest self-appraisal can provide the initiative and courage to make any necessary changes.
“Apathy.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apathy. Accessed 13 Feb 2023.
“Disdain.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disdain. Accessed 13 Feb 2023.