Employee Apathy: What Is It and Its Causes?

unhappy employee

Unhappy employees are easy to spot. They bicker, complain, and exhibit clear signs of frustration. But what about those who are silently discontent and do not care for what they do? They might be experiencing employee apathy, which is subtle and dangerous to any company. Find out what employee apathy is and its possible causes:

Employee apathy: Indifference to work and everything work-related

Apathetic employees are not angry or disgruntled. They normally carry out their daily routines at work, doing only the bare minimum required of their tasks and keeping distance from colleagues. They show up to work with the sole objective of making money and are uninterested in everything and everyone else that has to do with their workplace.

These employees lack initiative and motivation, and find no reason to put their best foot forward. Most do not start out as apathetic employees and it doesn’t happen overnight. Apathy can be likened to a disease, in that it develops over time. And just like diseases, it has causes.


As they say, “people do not quit jobs, they quit managers.” Although micromanagers have good intentions, being nitpicked and closely monitored can be demotivating. It is a way of telling an employee that their work and judgment cannot be trusted, giving them less control and triggering disengagement. It also makes them feel like they’re not valued. In the long run, this can cause them to quit for more autonomy.

Doubting the leadership

An employee does not have to adore their bosses to be happy. However, they should not believe that their leaders are incompetent. They will lose faith in where the organization is headed, and the severed loyalty causes them to follow half-heartedly. Worse, they may get subversive.

Lack of progress

According to a 2013 study, satisfaction beats salary, and people are willing to work for lower wages if the career is personally meaningful or allows good work-life balance. When a company has unnecessary rules or hierarchy, an employee may feel restricted. For example, if an idea they try to implement needs to go through countless layers of red tape, they may lose any passion or motivation they had. Employees tend to look towards the door when the company starts to feel controlling instead of efficient.

No action for poor performance

stressed employee

Your people analytics software may show how they are performing, but doing nothing about it can disappoint employees. People like to be rewarded and recognized for their contributions. If this does not happen, and the mediocre ones are treated the same as strong performers, your employees (no matter their performance) will shut off and do their jobs on autopilot. Not dealing with performance issues brings down the average and causes employees to work at the bare minimum.

Job insecurity

People start preparing to jump when they are on a sinking ship. Employees working for unstable companies or in expendable job will only invest enough to earn a paycheck, as they spend their energy looking for a job elsewhere.

Apathy spreads covertly in the workplace. It keeps productivity at minimum, encourages turnover, and hinders organizational growth. Address the things that cause employee apathy before it spreads in your company.

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