Have You Become Complacent at Work?
Have you ever had one of those days where you have to drag yourself in to work and you plod through the day, counting the minutes until you can leave? An occasional day like this is normal—we all have them—but if it occurs more than just once in a while, you could be suffering from complacency. And if your entire team is suffering from complacency, woe to the work you need to accomplish.
Complacency refers to a feeling of satisfaction with the way things are, accompanied by a lack of awareness of potential or actual problems or dangers. Complacency signifies a missing spark, a lack of enthusiasm, a certain ho-hum-ness. “Complacency is saying you are happy with your life while ignoring the elephant in the room.”
Complacency is the opposite of a sense of urgency. According to Harvard professor John Kotter, who has written extensively on the subject, true urgency is driven by deep determination and is focused on accomplishing something important in the course of the day. Kotter uses the term culture of urgency to describe “a relentless, steady, purposeful culture that is pursuing our goals, purging irrelevant activities, and spending time on the important things.”
One of the key signs that employees have become complacent is that they are disengaged. It’s as if they’ve mentally checked out. They exhibit a striking lack of energy. They do what they’re told to do but don’t ask questions, express concerns, or raise challenges. They become distant. There’s a certain detachment to their behavior.
Complacency in the workplace can be caused by lots of things, such as not getting feedback from management, being forced to work on irrelevant activities, or having to do too many boring tasks. It can also be caused by an unfair distribution of work, constant criticism, or unrealistic management expectations. Actually, anything that kills employee morale can trigger complacency.
Benjamin Zander, coauthor of The Art of Possibility, emphasizes that complacency is very powerful. Therefore, you can’t simply make it go away. Instead, you have to replace it with something equally powerful. To defeat complacency, you have to use your mental and emotional energy to focus on overcoming it instead of worrying about its presence.
If you’re experiencing complacency, make a list of past successes, discover a new passion, or rediscover your passion for what led to your previous successes. Set new goals, along with a realistic timeline. And stop making excuses and do something. This last tip may be the most important tip of all. Doing something that energizes you is the way out of complacency.