In 2013, a study done by Gallup looked at employee engagement. The findings suggested an avalanche of apathy in the workplace. Unfortunately, 70% of employees expressed being disengaged at work. Neither employee nor employer can feel good about these results. Having offices staffed with people stumbling disinterestedly through workdays isn’t doing anyone any favors. Digging deeper, the researchers found even more troubling information. A quarter of the disengaged were so fed up that they were what the researchers termed actively disengaged. These sad souls were open to stealing or disrupting the business in other negative ways. They weren’t just consciously checked out but had malintent. At best, the costs of lost productivity and higher levels of turnover were the primary pains associated with disengaged staff. Even though this research took place ten years ago, things likely haven’t changed.
Sadly, studies like that done by Gallup suggest most of our workplaces are full of zombie-like colleagues moving through their days like they are on autopilot. Their jobs having sucked their souls from them, these workers are left with little in which to look forward. Apathy is the characteristic that consumes these folk. Apathy is the emotion of no emotion. Apathy is expressed by showing no feelings, emotions, or interest. It is a general absence of concern. An apathetic person has thoughts like, Who cares? What’s the point? They have lost their belief in their ability to take constructive action. The loss of agency can precede the feelings of apathy. Alternately, the loss of agency can follow feelings of apathy. Apathy presents as an absence of aim. Those with it are without a purpose. They don’t have goals and, therefore, lack drive. Maxwell Maltz writes in the classic book, Psycho Cybernetics, “We are engineered as goal-seeking mechanisms. We are built that way. When we have no personal goal which we are interested in and which “means something” to us, we are apt to “go around in circles,” feel “lost” and find life itself “aimless,” and “purposeless.” We are built to conquer environment, solve problems, achieve goals, and we find no real satisfaction or happiness in life without obstacles to conquer and goals to achieve. People who say that life is not worthwhile are really saying that they themselves have no personal goals which are worthwhile.”
It is, by definition, the opposite of being engaged or committed. Apathy is an absence of passion. There are those that consider apathy as the most insulting of emotions. Writer, Leo Buscaglia, considers apathy as the opposite of love. He writes, “the opposite of love is not hate—it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn. If somebody hates me, they must ‘feel’ something…or they couldn’t possibly hate.” The absence of emotion reflects complete disinterest. In the workplace, apathy is demonstrated by the attitude of it’s not my job, who cares. Apathetic employees aren’t looking for problems to solve. They don’t see problems. They ignore most things and see their efforts as meaningless and irrelevant. They are trying to get through the day doing as little as possible. The late writer and physician George Sheehan notes in The Essential Sheehan, “Where there is no emotion, there is no motion either. What is missing is the spiritual energy called enthusiasm. It is from lack of enthusiasm that the failures of the spirit multiply during the day.”
Apathy is one of those things that we know it when we see it. The attitude of indifference shown by a shoulder shrug and expressionless face. A general absence of concern. It’s the opposite of someone that is goal oriented. Not only do apathetic individuals not care, but they also don’t care that they don’t care. It is hard to watch someone in this state. When afflicted with apathy we want to be anywhere but here. We watch the clock. Apathy is the kid in the car on the family summer road trip asking, “are we there yet?” over and over. It’s the kid at the sports program they just don’t care about asking, “when’s lunch?” Apathy is being disengaged. Those afflicted with this demonstrate a posture of who cares. They don’t look like they are having fun and it’s a drag being around them.
Autonomy is a key source of satisfaction in our lives. Without feeling like we have some ability to influence our workdays, we begin to act helpless. We are less willing to try, and apathy is a natural result. Steve Magness writes in Do Hard Things, “Lack of control extinguishes the flame of even the most motivated.” It’s this disengagement that follows the pursuit of mind-numbing bureaucratic policies that we’re wanting to avoid.
Mark Twain wrote, “To live a fulfilled life, we need to keep creating the ‘what is next,’ of our lives. Without dreams and goals there is no living, only merely existing, and that is now why we are here.” Goals give us a reason to get up and get going. In Transcend, Scott Barry Kaufman writes of research showing a connection between our moods and effort. Kaufman notes, “the more people valued their striving and the more effort they put into succeeding in their striving, the more they reported feeling ‘happy,’ ‘joyful,’ and ‘pleased.’” These findings are supported by Dr. Randy Paterson’s words in How to Be Miserable where Paterson writes, “People who have a sense of meaning and purpose in their existence are generally found to have greater life satisfaction than those who don’t.” In The Engagement Equation, authors Rice, Marlow, and Masarech write, “Engaged employees like the work that they do because it satisfies their values and interests. It allows them to use their unique talents (and, therefore, they are successful). It is stimulating and provides opportunities to grow. It matters—to other parts of the organization, to customers, or to the larger community. One way to describe this aspect of fit is meaningful work.” Kaufman goes on to observe, “The only happy people I know are the ones who are working well at something they consider important.”
A way, therefore, to be happier is to become committed. Committed people aren’t disinterested. Their attention is fully absorbed on the task at hand. There’s nowhere else they want to be. Commitment fuels our participation in an endeavor. It provides motivation that drives persistence. It consists of three variables which can be consciously crafted. Commitment involves confidence in ourselves, a belief in the task that this matters to me, and a confidence in the system we’re following. Commitment can be expressed by the equation of C = MC2 where Commitment equals the product of This Matters to Me (M), Confidence in Self-C, and Confidence in System-C. Because the equation is the product of these three variables, commitment can be built by working on any of these components in any order.
The intensity of our commitment is reflected by the product of the components of the commitment equation. Our commitment can be viewed as the level of RPMs at which we’re willing to rotate? The intensity of our commitment is reflected in our answer to what are you willing to give? It’s a measure of how much we’re choosing to pursue something versus feeling like we have to. It’s what allows us to make changes and improvements and progress without relying on willpower or discipline. What are you willing to give? To what percentage of your output capacity are you willing to operate? How much of your engine are you going to use? The intensity of our commitment represents how hungry or thirsty we are. What is the level of our desire? At its most basic it is the difference between wanting something and needing it. Cultivating commitment is essential because as Stewart Emery, Mark Thompson, and Jerry Porras write in Success Built to Last, “It’s dangerous not to do what you love. The harsh truth is that if you don’t love what you’re doing, you’ll lose to someone who does!” Where “this matters to me” is felt, we feel like we’re right where we want to be. Life is a get to and is good. Flow follows focused effort. We want to be here. We want to do this. We become so engrossed that the effort is given freely and fills us with joy and energy.
Golf guru, Hank Haney, writes in The Big Miss, “Having dealt with a lot of high-achievers, I’ve learned that anybody who is really successful at anything has an incredible passion that is basically an obsession.” Stephen Covey in The Speed of Trust affirms Haney writing, “For the most part, the difference between those who change behavior and those who don’t is a compelling sense of purpose.” Those that distinguish themselves from the disengaged become high performers because they see the benefits of their this mattering more than the burdens they’re enduring. Emery, Thompson, and Porras write of high performers, “Their passions create meaning in their lives that is nothing short of lifelong obsession from which they seek no escape.” The benefit of cultivating commitment is that it provides an almost bottomless reserve of energy. In Living Forward, Michael Hyatt writes, “Pull power is essential to reach your goals. You need to see a future with such clarity and desirability that you will go through all the uncomfortable things life throws at you to attain it.” When our this matters to me combines, we find purpose that pulls as described by Emily Esfahani Smith in The Power of Meaning, “It is the forward-pointing arrow that motivates our behavior and serves as the organizing principle of our lives.”
In the classic, Man’s Search for Meaning, holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl writes, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.” To support his assertion, Frankl draws on research from Johns Hopkins University which asked participants what they considered important. The researchers found almost 80% of respondents offered finding meaning and purpose to be their primary goal. Finding what matters to us is a deep driver. We don’t want things to be easy. We want to be able to choose a goal for which we’re willing to sacrifice. This is what results in a life that’s nice. From Frankl’s experiences in a concentration camp and decades of observing others’ life experiences, he proposed three primary methods for developing personal purpose. Frankl believed we become motivated and fulfilled by performing meaningful work, pursuing deep human relationships, and finding purpose in pain. These drivers are closely aligned with those associated with self-determination theory.
Matt Fitzgerald a running enthusiast and exercise physiologist writes in How Bad Do You Want It? “In every race, something within each athlete (something we may now specify as perception of effort) poses a simple question: How bad do you want it? To realize your potential as an athlete, you must respond with some version of this answer: More. And then you must prove it. It’s easy in principle, hard in practice—much harder than figuring out how to train, what to eat, and which shoes to wear.” Fitzgerald’s words apply not just to athletes but to all of us in our lives. Life poses us the question of how bad we want something on numerous occasions. We answer with our actions. When we know what and why we want something, our willingness to do more will soar. Commitment is cultivated when we can absorb ourselves in something that matters to us. Developing our commitment leads to an increase in energy and enthusiasm. Creating commitment separates us clearly from those that don’t care.