4 Savvy Ways To Beat Workplace Complacency

Carly Syms -

Team Lead for Marketing & VIP Customer Service

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Only 30% of U.S. employees are engaged at work. And worldwide, workplace engagement is just 13%. How can these numbers be so low?

As Thomas Edison once said:

“We shall have no better conditions in the future if we are satisfied with all those which we have at present.”

While low employee engagement is obviously a multidimensional problem with many root causes, we believe workplace complacency — when an employee’s disinterest or self-satisfaction exceeds their desire to work hard and innovate — plays a huge part.

Investing in your team’s success is a crucial way to battle employee disengagement and workplace complacency.

A complacent employee usually feels so comfortable in their position that they take their foot off the gas pedal and, in the process, decreases productivity and efficiency.

Of course, you probably want your employees to feel comfy at work, but not “putting their feet up on the desk and taking a three-hour lunch break” comfy.

We believe three main questions can help you battle workplace complacency:  

  • How can you motivate your employees to bring their best effort to work every day?
  • How can you get them to care about the quality of work they produce?
  • And how can you make sure your employees stay engaged and committed to your company’s mission?

In this article, we’ll share four of our favorite tips on how to nip workplace complaceny in the bud, or, better yet, make sure it never shows up at all.

Increase Workplace Accountability With Results-Only Meetings

Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford Motor Company from 2006-2014, might have orchestrated the most impressive turnaround of a business in the 21st century.

When Mulally first joined Ford, the company was struggling severely and on the brink of collapsing — the storied automaker was about to post an annual loss of $12.7 billion, the biggest loss in Ford’s history.

Four years later, Ford reported a $6.6 billion profit, which was the largest among its competitors and a $19.3 billion swing from when Mulally entered the company.

One of the major aspects of Mulally’s turnaround plan, among other things, was a weekly meeting called the Business Plan Review. Bryce G. Hoffman wrote an article for FastCompany detailing Mulally’s turnaround strategy, which included coverage of the Business Plan Review:

In Mulally’s weekly “Business Plan Review” meetings, each executive was required to provide a comprehensive update on the progress their division or department was making against the backdrop of his turnaround plan. Because all of Ford’s senior executives were required to attend every week, any discrepancies in the data were quickly exposed. And because no explanations were allowed in these sessions, everyone had an opportunity to concentrate on the facts of the company’s performance. “There’s nowhere to hide,” Mulally told me.

Note the fact that Mulally did not allow any explanations of the reported results — only the facts were relevant during these meetings.

It’s important to remember there may have been other times to discuss the status of metrics in relation to the company’s goals and strategy, but the BPR was intentionally only a time to focus on what was objectively happening – whether the company’s goals were being met or not. At the end of the day, results are the most important metric of a team’s performance.

Because the “Business Plan Review” meetings were weekly, an extra layer of accountability was baked into them, as no one would want to show up empty-handed. This accountability went a long way because, every Thursday, it showed who was pulling their weight, and incentivized employees to work hard during the week in anticipation of the BPR.

Under Mulally’s guidance, Ford employees didn’t have a chance to become complacent.

Remind Employees That Producing High-Quality Work Is In Their Best Self-Interest

In Cyrus The Great, the Ancient Greek philosopher Xenophon described how Cyrus — the legendary Persian monarch — maintained the loyalty of his followers:

“My father went on, asking, ‘Do you understand the basic reason why followers stay loyal to their leaders? And do you know the basic reason why followers desert their leaders?’

“‘The loyalty of followers comes from self-interest,’ I readily replied. ‘When they determine that their leader is no longer acting in their self-interest, their sense of loyalty collapses.’”

Every organization wants their employees to work hard. That’s a no-brainer.  

But how do you remind employees on a consistent basis that producing high-quality work will not only be a major benefit to the company, but also to themselves?

That’s a big question that goes beyond the scope of this article, but there are some practical strategies you can implement immediately to make sure employees know and remember why they should bring their best effort to work everyday.

First, make sure employees know of growth opportunities within your company. If your employees have the opportunity to advance professionally into a role with more responsibility, let them know about it and tell them what they’ll need to accomplish in order to secure that promotion. Alternatively, set target goals for your employees in their current position and offer bonuses if those targets are met.

Napoleon Hill once said:

“Everyone enjoys doing the kind of work for which he is best suited.”

As a reward for exceptional performance, give your employees opportunities to perform the work they most like doing.  

Lastly, it might help to remind each employee how their specific workload is helping to benefit the company. This could be easily done in a few sentences during a performance review, and can show employees the direct impact potential their work could have or is already having.

Increase Workplace Transparency

Workplace complacency can be thought of as a disconnection or disengagement from your company’s goals, and there are many reasons why employees might lose touch with their goals or faith in your organization.

A lack of transparency might be one of these reasons.

Management that doesn’t communicate with honesty, respect, and integrity is almost always going to be less engaging than their more transparent counterparts. Transparency generates trust, and most people will naturally want to work harder for an organization they can trust.

A practical way to increase transparency is to solicit honest feedback from your employees.

Make an effort to ensure people are happy in their roles — give them an opportunity to openly communicate anything problematic, and encourage suggestions for how to improve said problems or processes. Simply asking employees for their opinion sounds simple, but it communicates that you value their input, and that goes a long way.

Consider leaving this line of communication open year-round and encouraging employees to speak up whenever they feel concerns instead of simply doing this biannually or once every quarter. If people feel like their concerns are being heard and considered, they’re more likely to stay “awake” and not lull into a trance of complacency.

Hold Regular & Personal 1-on-1 Meetings To Set Goals, Increase Engagement, And Make Your Employees Feel Appreciated

Gallup recently published an article that proposed the question: should managers primarily focus more on employee performance or engagement?

To find the answer, Gallup surveyed 8,000 employees about their relationship with their manager. The data showed that the question was moot: successful managers readily implement aspects of both.

Most notably, Gallup found that there are three crucial aspects to great management – successful managers:

  • take initiative and get involved in employees’ work lives,
  • help employees set goals and prioritize their projects,
  • and hold employees accountable for performance.

Below are some of the article’s most telling excerpts that might be useful for keeping employees engaged in your organization.

“High-performance managers are involved in their employees’ work lives… when employees strongly agree that their manager knows what projects or tasks they are working on, they are almost seven times more likely to be engaged than actively disengaged. However, when employees strongly disagree with that statement, indicating they are largely ignored by their bosses, they are 15 times more likely to be actively disengaged than engaged. Ignoring your employees, it seems, is one of the worst things you can do to their engagement.

…High-performance managers help employees set goals and prioritize their projects. Employees who work for a manager who helps them set performance goals are 17 times more likely to be engaged than disengaged. In contrast, employees who strongly disagree that their manager helps them set performance goals are almost seven times more likely to be disengaged than engaged.

…High-performance managers hold their employees accountable for performance. It is not enough to be involved and provide direction. Great managers also ask their employees to take ownership of their success or failure. High-performance managers don’t allow a culture of excuses or poor performance; no one thrives in such a culture. When managers don’t hold employees accountable for performance, about seven in 10 employees (69%) are actively disengaged; only 3% are engaged.”

Gallup also recommends that one of the most effective ways to implement all of this advice is through holding regular 1-on-1 meetings with your employees, and the data backs it up.

“Regularly scheduled meetings with a manager are critical to an employee’s engagement. On average, only 15% of employees who work for a manager who does not meet with them regularly are engaged; managers who regularly meet with their employees almost tripled that level of engagement.”

Looking for more tips on battling workplace complacency and improving employee satisfaction? Check out these ideas:

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