Social Apathy

sad party

It’s the height of summer, and some employees are eager to celebrate the hot weather by kicking back with colleagues by planning work BBQ’s, hikes and charity events together. It all sounds fun, but not everyone is so keen, and many find this attitude confusing or deflating. This may be due to social apathy, and affects many people this time of year and can prevent you from making the most of the season.

Social apathy manifests in diverse ways

Social apathy refers to a lack of passion, excitement or even interest in social events. At work, apathetic co-workers tend to show little interest in social events planned by workmates or the organization. Generally, they don’t show-up to events planned by the Social Committee, and they don’t join in even when the boss invites them to functions. Apathetic behaviour can affect workplace morale, deflate and frustrate organizers of work events, and foster malaise.

Social apathy can be relateded to negativity, anxiety and depression

Disinterest in things that once interested a worker can indicate depression, and consistently avoiding get-togethers can be a symptom of social anxiety. But social apathy can occur when workers aren’t suffering from anxiety or depression. It can be an early sign something is wrong, either in a worker’s personal life or as a symptom of problems in the workplace.

Employee apathy can create its own problems too…

A lack of interest in workplace social events can be a symptom of feelings of powerlessness. Staff may feel they have little say at work, and attending a social function seems hypocritical to them. For them, it means putting on a happy face when they feel ignored or unheard. This takes effort and they feel it sends the wrong message. Apathetic workers may be signalling they aren’t going to take interest in a workplace that seems to take no interest in them. Other times, it can point to unresolved interpersonal conflict. employees don’t want to socialize with colleagues with whom they have beefs, and in other cases, it can mean workers are struggling personally. Apathy is sometimes linked to feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing or inadequacy. Apathy can also be a symptom of medical problems like thyroid disease or life transitions like menopause.

There are things employees can do when they feel apathetic

If you find yourself not attending things you would otherwise be interested in, it could mean you’re protesting something. If it’s difficulties with your supervisor or colleagues, think about how you could influence the situation. Apathy can take a toll on us, personally and feeling powerless can slide into feelings of helplessness. So, it’s important to take back some control over your life.

I once worked with an Analyst who stopped attending company social events. His boss remarked on it and he felt pressure to attend. Prior to avoiding work functions, he had an upsetting interaction with his boss where he felt unfairly criticized. Rather than attempt to correct his boss’s erroneous opinion with facts, he retreated.

Not everyone is a social butterfly

It’s true to say that not everyone will be interested in everything their workplace invites them to. It’s important not to confuse social apathy,  with picking and choosing what interests you. When it’s linked to feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness, social apathy can result in isolating behaviours, or a tendency to sink into negativity.

I worked with a staff person who was becoming increasingly disinterested in everything, and not just social events at work. She found herself meeting with a few colleagues to ruminate on how they were treated. At, first it helped, but it became a negative cycle and she felt trapped. She stopped hanging out with some of her colleagues and replaced the time spent with exercise. Things started to improve.

What can managers do if they notice symptoms of social apathy amongst staff?

Accept that staff might be sending a message. It could be they haven’t been consulted about what they think are fun activities to do in the summer and things are being foisted on them. Or, it might have something to do with how they’re treated. Perhaps a clique has taken over social planning and only the in-group attend. Rather than chalk it up to personalities or throw up your hands, try to identify the root causes. If there are cliques, unresolved tensions or you’re struggling as a supervisor, get help. Don’t fall into the trap of accepting powerlessness. Interestingly, if managers believe they can’t influence matters, staff will follow that example. Manager apathy can drive staff apathy.

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