What to do about Apathy in the workplace

Browsing the pages of Management Issues recently I came across an old but still relevant post from Max McKeown entitled, A is for Apathy. You can access it here. It's worth a read and it prompted the following thoughts:
Someone once defined the opposite of love, not as hate but as apathy or indifference.  Apathy is a "state". In my view many working practices create conditions in which apathy can take hold, sometimes contrary to the best intentions of those in charge. Think of those stories we hear more and more of where adults are  treated like children, told that they can't do this and that. The stories depict a world of control and creativity curtailed.  Come to think of it, why would we want such a world for our children either?

High control workplaces may be appropriate in some sectors but in others may have more to do with a culture of low trust. Low trust environments may mean people learn to leave their creative selves at home and switch off their ingenuity at work. Not what we need in today's world.

So what to do about it?
If you accept that apathy is a state then you can change state. Do what you can to brighten your thinking and your immediate environment.

How? Think about these.
What were the hopes and expectations you had when you first started working here?
In an ideal workplace what would you be thinking, saying and doing?
Could you be the change that you want to see in this workplace?
Maybe? Could you for example do that by seeking to build rapport among co-workers and senior managers?

How about?
Noticing your co-workers more; finding plusses to praise; welcoming their contributions; practising attentive listening; encouraging; relating? Simply connecting?

This isn't about avoiding the reality of a negative environment through a naive form of positive thinking but it is about positive, possibility thinking. It's about exerting a positive influence and you have to learn to care enough to make it happen. When you do, people will notice and you create an upward spiral.
Of course, things may have got so bad that some just want an exit strategy, a divorce from their workplace. In this economic climate that may not be a choice they are able to make. In that case, they might need to follow the old adage "Love what you do until you can do what you love!"
Love after all is the opposite of apathy.

What do you think causes apathy in the workplace?  What suggestions do you have to overcome it?

Gravitational pull

At a working lunch today, we discussed motivation and engagement. We also discussed the role of environment. In so many areas of life WHERE we do what we do exerts a strong influence. My fellow luncher referred to this as the gravitational pull of the organisation. It takes a great deal of energy to get free from its hold. Yet if the organisational gravity is positive and value-rich it can help nourish motivation and engagement. If the plant is nourished in that way then it should grow tall and strong - high engagement.
An over emphasis on control of performance produces a different kind of gravitational pull - One that is harder to break free from and less likely to encourage flourishing. A phrase of Steven Covey's comes to mind when he said that this is a bit like pulling up the plant to see how the roots are doing.
Although middlefocus is concerned to help people be resourceful in workplace squeeze situations, I am also mindful of the 100s of companies that are great places to work. There are many insights and practices worth sharing from these organisations and I'll be keen to explore their gravitational pull.


Today differs from most other Mondays I have had over these past 25 years. I've taken a severance package from work and enter the world of freelance, turning my hobby into something more enterprising. I'm taking a new direction.
Leaving work and especially my colleagues was an emotional transition. I had timed it to coincide with a significant birthday and I had wanted to leave with a message to people I had worked closely with over the years. Here's what I wrote:

Hi there! - You will have heard the saying that one door never shuts but another opens.
That happens for me today when after close on 25 years I leave our organisation, closing this book and opening another.
One of my favourite actors is Alan Alda. He played Hawkeye Pierce in the television series M*A*S*H* and said this about doorways:
“Deep in our hearts we know that the best things said come last.
People will talk for hours saying nothing much and then linger at the door with words that come with a rush from the heart. Doorways, it seems are where the truth is told.”
I know about doorways:
Having closed down and ready for home, it usually takes another 20 minutes to get out the door.
Holding the lift doors open to finish a conversation. If it was you pushing the buzzer - sorry about that.
And those conversations that take place outside the front door? Been there too!
So in case I don’t get to cross your door today, I just wanted to say goodbye and wish you
All the best - Chris
Oh and by the way……………one last thing:
This place has been such an important part of my life and it has been an absolute pleasure to have worked with you over the years. Friendships made here are solid and enduring. I hope we can keep in touch.
It would be nice to keep a foot in the door. C.