Most people will tell you that the opposite of love is hate but they’re wrong. Both love and hate require strong emotions – an investment of energy and passion either for or against a particular thing. The opposite of love is apathy. Loving your job is a great thing – having a true passion and enthusiasm for what you do will get you through situations when your skills are not quite up to scratch. Just ask some of the folks who read this blog who used to be on my team. I made plenty of mistakes as a manager. I was like Tarzan swinging through the jungle – sometimes I reached for a vine that was too far away and ended up flat on my face in the swamp below. But because I genuinely cared about my clients, my peers and my team members, they cut me a lot of slack, and many times they helped me climb back up the tree and start swinging again.
Apathy, on the other hand, is deadly. Not caring about your job, the quality of your work, your company’s performance or your team members will kill your career more effectively than spitting in the CEO’s coffee. Everyone goes through periods where they feel uninspired by their job. It’s natural to have some low spots, but when it becomes a permanent state of mind, alarm bells should ring. It starts with turning in something that’s not your best work and evolves into not giving a crap whether you get the job done at all. Left to fester it grows into resentment and actively destructive behavior.
As a manager you are responsible for monitoring your own motivation and that of your team. Apathy is contagious – if you are passing off crappy work as your best, you can bet that your staff will notice and think that if it’s ok for you, it’s ok for them. Before you know it your entire team is missing its targets, your top performers have hit the road, and no one is having any fun at all.
Breaking out of the apathy cycle is not as hard as it seems when you are in it. In fact if you wait long enough your employer will probably help you out by implementing solution #1 on this list:
1. Get Fired – Fail to care for long enough and you will be out on the street. There’s nothing like a little unemployment to focus your attention on what’s great about having a job. If you’d prefer not to go through the drama of a job search however, I suggest you try one of the other two options…
2. Get Excited About Something – Enthusiasm is also contagious. Sometimes all it takes is one project that you really like to make everything feel more interesting. Attend a conference, re-arrange your office, learn a new skill, change up your schedule – whatever it takes to shake your world up enough that it doesn’t feel quite so much like the Bataan Death March.
3. Find a New Career – If you’ve truly hit bottom because everything about your job and your company is out of line with your life goals, retrain and do something new. While many have lamented that the days of the 20 year career and gold watch retirement are gone, the big upside is that you can always try something different. Even the act of researching your options and taking a class in something that interests you outside of work can be enough to remind you how to have fun and be enthusiastic.
In addition to monitoring your own state of mind, keep an eye on your team members. One of the primary causes of apathy at work is burnout. If your top performer has been thrown into every nasty customer situation for the last year, she is probably not facing each day with joy in her heart. If the newest member of your group has been stuck with every piece of mindless busy work that hits your desk, consider giving him a challenge instead (in fact the top performer might enjoy a couple of days of mindless busy work as a break from the drama…). Make sure you ask how your team members about their stress and motivation levels at monthly goals meetings. Encourage them to take breaks and recharge, and where possible provide opportunities to do so through training or special projects. Be on the lookout for early signs of apathy in yourself and your team, and nip it in the bud before it takes you and your team down.