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The Dangers of Workplace Complacency

Workplace complacency is a psychological state when employees tune out, stop thinking, and merely follow a routine. In other words, workers enter “autopilot mode” and complete tasks automatically instead of mindfully. Complacency can lead to underperformance, lower client satisfaction, and workplace accidents.  


Workplace complacency can not only be harmful to individual careers but to organizations as well. Healthy companies are dynamic, open to change, and mindful of labour and product quality. Company complacency means settling for “good enough,” while influential organizations adopt a “what’s next?” mentality. Employee complacency can limit a business’s success, yet many employers do not fully understand the extent of the problem or are blind to the warning signs.  


Effects of complacency at work 


Workplace safety and complacency go hand in hand. Oblivious employees are more accident-prone and less likely to point out hazards that could endanger coworkers. On-the-job complacency encourages shortcuts that could also jeopardize workers’ well-being. Meanwhile, conscientious workers care about coworkers and the company, and are compelled to protect and improve the community. 


Complacency can also lead to boredom, eventually morphing into employee disengagement and low morale. Workplace complacency kills innovation and creativity, placing organizations and individual workers at a competitive disadvantage. When workers fall into a rut, productivity tanks, and businesses suffer. 


Causes of complacency 


There are several possible causes of complacency at work. These reasons include the following: 


  1. Overconfidence: Employees who overestimate their abilities make little effort to develop or double-check work. Assuming perfection, these individuals reject analysis and growth. While dynamic employees understand there is always room for improvement, complacent employees believe errors are unlikely or impossible.
  2. Absence of accountability: When there is no consequence for subpar work or reward for exceptional achievement, employees may not feel compelled to exert extra effort. Worse still, the absence of accountability erodes trust and prevents effective teamwork.
  3. Slow growth: Employees can easily fall into a rut when companies grow slowly and rarely change standard operating procedures. Though every company may not expand quickly, attract hundreds of thousands of new clients, or revolutionize an industry, every organization can increase efficiency and enhance the atmosphere.
  4. Low standards: Leaders should set the bar high and demand the best of employees. A great leader pushes teammates to excel. Employees may settle for mediocrity when employers set low standards and have few expectations.
  5. Lack of autonomy: Employees should feel empowered, not powerless. A lack of independence can lead to learned helplessness or inaction caused by an apparent lack of control. Employees who feel without a voice or unable to make a difference will not strive for excellence, settling for “getting by” instead.

Workplace complacency can creep up on an organization, but observant and proactive managers can squash early symptoms. Acting quickly can stop the spread of complacency and reinvigorate the workforce. 


How to prevent workplace complacency  


Feedback is a powerful tactic for fighting complacency. Constructive criticism lays the foundation for reflection and positive change and assures staff that you know the current situation. A reminder of workplace visibility is sometimes enough incentive for employees to ramp up performance and display model behaviour. 


Providing regular feedback is a good idea for two main reasons. First, constructive criticism can prevent workplace complacency entirely, as reflecting and pushing for change can encourage a growth mindset among your team. Second, if you habitually give regular feedback, your team members will not feel singled out, or confronted, when you have notes. 


Nurturing a culture of accountability is another effective defence. When leaders do not address rule-breaking or underperformance and do not praise initiative, employees may adopt a “nothing I do matters” approach. Broken promises can lead to frustration and a lack of trust among teams, undermining the team development process. The best way to avoid apathy is to follow-up on actions with feedback. As a leader, you should seize learning opportunities that accompany mistakes and cheerlead your teams toward greatness. 


Repetitive tasks can lead to stagnation but change and learning are mortal enemies of workplace complacency. By shaking up the routine, you can snap your employees out of a trance and refocus the team. Cross-training, running team building or team-building games, rotating points on projects, and incentivizing continued learning and development are all methods of keeping your staff active and engaged. 


Organizations that allow workplace complacency risk getting left behind. Adapting to shifting circumstances is a must for companies, yet complacent workplaces adhere to the mantra “this is how we’ve always done it.” 


Pivoting allows organizations to stay healthy and relevant, and pivoting effectively depends on employees’ flexibility and willingness to change. Not to mention, complacency can affect a company’s overall performance and company culture. A quest for constant improvement creates meaningful work for employees, improved service and products for consumers, and better long-term health for organizations. 



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