How Apathetic Employees Cost You Money


Anna Johansson
Guest Contributor

Apathetic employees are hard to avoid entirely, but with the knowledge of their costly potential and a commitment to rooting them out, you will make your organization stronger.

While most retail managers understand (and directly witness) the threat of loss from theft or declining sales in slow periods, there’s a much stealthier – and in some cases costlier – source of loss lurking in your organization: employee apathy.

Toxic employees are easy to spot, since they usually loudly and publicly complain about their positions (or the workplace), but apathetic employees are particularly dangerous because they’re more difficult to notice. In general, they don’t care about their positions; they don’t see their job as different from any other, and have little to no personal investment in their roles.

These employees are costing you money, and it’s time you took action to prevent (or mitigate) those losses.

The Apathy Problem

So how is it that apathetic employees cost you money in the first place?

  • Less proactive action. Apathetic employees are less likely to take proactive action; in other words, if they see something wrong that could become a bigger problem later, they aren’t likely to attempt to correct the problem in the moment. They have no personal stake in ensuring the problem is fixed properly, nor are they concerned with the consequences of its eventual escalation. This often leads to more costly problems in the long term.
  • Lower productivity. Apathetic employees are also less productive. Depending on their specific function, they may take a longer time to do the same task as an active employee, or may pretend like they’re busy, despite not having enough work to keep them occupied. This means you’ll see a lower return on every dollar you spend on their wages.
  • Decreased reliability. Employees who don’t care about their position or your business may also be less reliable. They’ll be more prone to call off unexpectedly, or refuse to follow through on a previous commitment. This makes your life more stressful, but also adds costs in trying to find a replacement last-minute.
  • Lack of development and improvement. Only committed employees spend time and effort improving themselves, whether it’s learning a new skill or trying to perfect one of their daily tasks. Apathetic workers don’t have this initiative, and tend to remain stagnant over time, costing you that potential.
  • Poor customer interactions. Finally, apathetic employees are more likely to have a negative or empty attitude with customers. Without exceptional customer service, you’ll miss out on customer retention and increased sales. Even worse, if your employee offends or puts off a loyal customer, you could lose the customer forever.

How to Encourage Passion

Fortunately, there are some simple strategies you can use to eliminate customer apathy and encourage more passion from your workforce:

  • Hire the right people. Your first step is the most important; try not to hire apathetic people in the first place. Ask your candidates why they want to work for your brand, and get a feel for their attitude during the interview process. You want diligent people who are willing to work hard.
  • Listen to your employees. Take the time to listen to your employees’ perspectives and managerial feedback. If they feel heard and respected, they’re more likely to feel invested in the company. You may also discover new ways to make those employees feel aligned with the brand.
  • Make the job rewarding. Give your employees a sense of investment by making the job more rewarding. For example, you can give merit-based raises to reward reliable performance, or offer training and development that gives them a wider range of skills.
  • Communicate and show brand values. Be a brand ambassador, and communicate the values of your brand regularly. Encourage your other employees to do the same. If someone isn’t willing to embody those brand values, they may not be a fit for your company any longer.
  • Develop a sense of teamwork and unity. Take the time to make your employees feel they belong and they’re a part of a team. Host teambuilding events and allow time for your employees to get to know one another. That sense of unity can reverse a trend of apathy with relative ease.

Apathetic employees are hard to avoid entirely, but with the knowledge of their costly potential and a commitment to rooting them out, you can make your organization stronger. The process gets easier with every action you take, since attitudes spread quickly from person to person. Every apathetic person you remove or improve within your workforce has the power to improve the entire dynamic of your team. Keep at it, and soon your entire workforce will be happier, more passionate, and more productive.

About the writer: Anna Johansson is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.comForbes.com and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter @Number1AnnaJo and LinkedIn.

Join the #retail, #inspiringretail and #SmartStore conversations on Twitter @RetailNext, as well as at www.facebook.com/retailnext.