Every owner-manager has experienced new employees enthusiastically jumping head-first into the task at hand — only to see that enthusiasm for their job morph into complacency over time.

Complacency on the job not only lessens the performance of an individual employee; it can also lead to accidents or legal issues if workers become used to the status quo and don’t recognize situations that fall outside the normal operational procedures.

Managing complacency is an ongoing process. Can you recognize its symptoms? Social scientists have identified 10 common traits that suggest an individual is complacent at work.

10 Common Traits Of Complacency

  1. An individual may seem disengaged from their work. They may not show enthusiasm for new projects, consistently applying themselves just enough to fill the day until it’s time to pack up for home.
  2. An employee may stop coming up with new ideas or adding their ideas to the project or task at hand, and simply nod in agreement. It might feel as if they don’t want to become involved in the process and are focused only on wanting to get the job done.
  3. If employees have stopped thinking about projects — evidenced perhaps by their not contributing comments or efforts — it’s a sign that they want to distance themselves from the job. This lack of involvement can have a negative impact on their co-workers.
  4. Most people want to be successful and proud of their achievements in the workplace. If you notice that the staff member is no longer interested in learning new job skills or taking courses that enhance existing skills, it’s a sure sign of possible issues.
  5. Individuals have their own style of accomplishing tasks or interacting with clients and fellow employees. If a person loses their sense of identity, they start to doubt how well they work in harmony with others. Thus, they may hesitate to get involved, choosing to withdraw from the process instead.
  6. If you conclude that an employee is not following procedures, not paying attention to detail or constantly making small errors, it implies that they are “resting on their laurels,” and have given up the desire to move beyond their current level of effort. Failing to follow corporate procedures or policies creates risk for the corporate entity that employs them, and reduces a team’s and business’s productivity.
  7. Risk-taking — that is, calculated risk-taking — is a regular part of everyday operations. If employees are not willing to reach out with new ideas or processes, and instead stay with the tried-and-true, it may be a sign that they have lost the desire to accept and deal with change.
  8. Consistently showing up late for work, delaying projects, taking longer-than-normal breaks, or maximizing time off from work is a strong indicator that someone has lost their passion for what they do at the workplace. In essence, they have lost the drive to perform their duties and could be on a downward spiral in terms of job performance.
  9. A disgruntled employee who consistently complains about company process or the job they are doing is often unhappy because the life and work decisions they made have led them to this juncture in their career. Rather than approaching management for other opportunities or accepting that this is their situation, their negative approach risks sowing a toxic and uncomfortable attitude within the broader workplace.
  10. If an employee spends an inordinate amount of time on the Internet, or in the coffee room griping about management or their differences with colleagues, they have likely fallen into a rut in their career. Employees in this stage are not only hurting their own prospects, they will also negatively impact on the morale of younger, more driven employees.

If you’re a manager, understand that complacency in the workplace is engrained in human nature. It is easy in all areas of life to continue on the same path without feeling the need to change. But it’s you who are responsible to keep employees motivated within the work environment, so you can ensure productivity, creativity, efficiency and harmony.


These practices can be your tools to help manage a complacent employee:

  • Offer incentives based on individual performance. People embrace working towards rewards, whether they are financial (as a bonus), material (think company watch), intangible (time off afterward to acknowledge a tough timeline) or the chance to advance in the future.
  • Provide constructive feedback that acknowledges a job well done — not just for new employees, but also the long-timers that we already expect are doing a good job. If you are dissatisfied with how they handled a process, outline clearly your expectations for improvement.
  • Arrange support if employees are feeling overwhelmed. When necessary, call in other team members to help, or seek temporary outside help. Such an approach not only indicates that you are empathetic to a specific problem but also promotes the concept that each employee has responsibility for other team members.
  • Always have an open-door policy that is highly geared toward engaging the employee’s feedback — whether or not the comments are positive. Moving forward depends on understanding how individual employees see the process and letting them provide input into how they believe things in the company should work. Let’s face it … even managers get complacent with the way things are and can start losing sight of new ideas.
  • Embrace team spirit. Encourage comradery among all employees, where it promotes a work process that builds on everyone’s ideas and contributions. Constantly reinforce the goals of the company and how each employee is an integral part of making it happen.
  • Provide opportunities for training that they feel will enhance their abilities and their value to the company.

Reducing complacency in the workplace is essential to maintain staff motivation and productivity, and to create a positive environment that provides all employees with the opportunity to contribute—not only to the organization but to their individual self-worth. If you want to reduce staff time off and turnover and provide a solid footing for an organization to move forward, use these insights to foster a team environment that encourages employees to meet the challenges at work while receiving constructive feedback and appropriate rewards along the way.

Disclaimer: Avisar Chartered Professional Accountant’s blog deals with a number of complex issues in a concise manner; it is recommended that accounting, legal or other appropriate professional advice should be sought before acting upon any of the information contained therein.

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