As it appeared in the Daily Nation on September 4th 2018
Lucy Kiruthu

I was visiting an organization for the first time; it was evident that there was something hurting the business. The staff lacked enthusiasm; they seemed overly disinterested in what they were doing. When I sought to find out what was going on from a middle level manager, he simply said, “There is a lot of apathy over here”. Apathy at the workplace is described as a “don’t care attitude” or indifference in the staff. In organizations where there is no intentional effort to build a healthy work culture and an engaged workforce, such an attitude is commonplace and in some cases the leaders are oblivious of its presence.

As an outsider, it is easy to identify staff who do not really care. Such staff use phrases such as “I don’t care” “who cares” “why bother” “no one cares” “just going through the motions” “I feel nothing about my organization”. In their conversations with each other, with their customers as well as with the public at large, they express their lack of concern both in words, in their tone of voice and in their actions. Most of these staff may display the same attitude to their managers as well. However, some managers do not easily identify the problematic attitude or are not ready and willing to deal with the underlying issues.

In organizations where apathy is obvious, there are often unresolved deep-rooted issues. Some managers are aware of the unresolved issues. These issues make the staff feel like they are of no or little value to the organization. Sometimes, the “don’t care attitude” becomes a defence mechanism that the staff use against their managers. This results to the “us against them” mentality. If not dealt with, a don’t care attitude can spread like wildfire across the entire organization.

Widespread apathy among staff can be disastrous to customer experience and to overall business success. Therefore, when we see signs of apathy in our staff, we need to take action. First, we need to find out how the employee feel and second why they feel the way they feel. With a deeper understanding of the reasons behind the indifference, managers and business leaders can take a step in the right direction.

I believe that a number of leadership actions can subdue apathy. Staff who have bought into their organization’s vision and have clarity about the direction that their organization is headed are less likely to display apathy. In addition, staff who are more involved in decision-making feel valued. Keeping the staff fully informed about the changes likely to happen at their workplace can also lessen the likelihood of apathy. If your staff are displaying a don’t care attitude, take action today, if you wait, it might be too late.

I believe that, when at the workplace, we need to care about ourselves, our colleagues, our jobs and our organisation. We can only display such an attitude if we are self and socially aware. We all need to appreciate our individual responsibility in fighting apathy. By saying no to a “don’t care attitude”, we become happier, healthier and more productive.

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy