TL;DR The subtle analysis of not giving a f**k (at work)
Throughout many companies I’ve been with, I always stumbled upon this one person who did not care about his job. Great colleague, but whenever we were on the topic of work, he gave absolutely zero f**ks, not a single small one. For a person like me, who believes in always doing the right thing and the best I can, it was hard to understand how that’s even possible until I found myself in a similar place at one point. “How interesting” — that was literally the first thing that came to my mind when I realised it. That’s how I ended up with this blog post based on my experience, not a theory, about something I detest.
Why people don’t care and deliver poor results:
- Starts with the lack of motivation.
- Maybe they don’t like their job.
- Work they are involved with is boring and repetitive.
- They are paid unfairly or poorly treated within the organisation.
- Developed conflicts with other team members.
- Or likely have poor managers, which is probably the most common reason as none of the above should be an issue with the right person in the right place.
- and potentially many more…
I don’t want to focus on the WHY too much but instead, dig more into HOW people don’t care and what it means to the company. How the inner workings of the “I don’t give a f**k” attitude affect people in a team. If you are interested to learn what I’ve learnt, read on.
How I became One Of Them?
I took over a team of specialists but with one person who was not performing well. He was usually late for meetings, never listened, made the same mistakes repeatedly, always had excuses, didn’t care about the results, we couldn’t trust his work and ending up triple-checking whatever he completed. To make matters worse, he wasn’t a good communicator, and we felt he was permanently disconnected from the team — the “leave me alone” state.
When I approached him to address these issues, his brain said all the right things, but his heart wasn’t in the same place — his words didn’t match his actions. He was aware that after three months in the team, he still lacked attention to detail and not performed on the level as everyone else around him. Yet, as soon as we left the conversation, he was back in square one — not giving a fuck. I had a pretty good idea why that was happening, but at the same time, I felt I was missing something, something important. Why there was such a stark difference between what he says and what he does? If he is unhappy, why he won’t just leave? If he understands he is falling behind, why doesn’t he want to improve? At that point, I was pretty confident it was time to let him go, but I gave him the last, ultimate chance (he had too many already, to be honest), and I’m happy I did, as I found myself soon after in a similar situation — not caring.
Throughout the first day of my unpleasant state, I realised I knew somebody who didn’t care about his job too. Then, something clicked in my head, and I realised it was an opportunity to learn. So I let myself be in the moment, focused on understanding how I felt and identified the difference between typical me and my current state. Most importantly, I wanted to connect with my problematic team member by experiencing what he is going through to help me make wiser decisions in the future and be a better leader.
“A wise man dyes events with his own colour” — Seneca
It was an unusual experiment and proof that even when life gives us lemons, it is still up to us how we will take it — in my case, as an opportunity to learn or a perfect moment for self-pity. So I decided on the former and continued doing my job for the next few days with practically zero pleasure and motivation, but at the same time with excitement and curiosity.
How a person’s indifference affects our organisations.
There are many areas that are being affected directly and indirectly, but a particular one is affected the most— trust.
The very first issue that I identified was human contact. I usually like to talk to people (yes, an introvert just said that!), check how they are doing and where I can help. However, I didn’t want any of that when I hit my low, and the “Leave me alone, I’m busy” attitude was evident. If I could, I would put headphones on and slide throughout the day, focusing only on the tasks ahead of me. Of course, I remembered to take a lunch break and my walk. I still cared about that. That’s is the first resemblance I saw between myself and the aforementioned team member.
Usually, I am a very proactive person, and I know it sometimes looks scary to people around me as I can pick so many things at once, and I hate doing nothing. However, in the state I found myself in now, my proactiveness went down, and with that, I made no attempts to go above and beyond. Of course, that created a stark contrast and didn’t go unnoticed, as I’ve been asked multiple times if I’m OK. Guess who wasn’t proactive at all too?
I was slower with every task I picked up, and it took me longer than usual to complete them. Some people would argue that’s good because I was more focused, not in a rush, and won’t miss any details, but my slowness did not translate to a better quality. I saw a few things that I could probably do better but didn’t bother. Instead, I was demotivated, thinking, “I hope nobody will see”, and if they do, I will fix it.
During these few days, I had an opportunity to work on something new where a little bit of help from an experienced person would be beneficial, but I wasn’t bothered to ask questions. Of course, all went fine, but I realised that I did the same thing that was a significant issue to my underperforming colleague — he did something for the first time and wasn’t asking questions about how to do it right. Whilst my experience helped me to prevent disasters, he wasn’t that lucky in a couple of cases.
It doesn’t matter how slow I was or how much I didn’t care. I made sure the results of my work were good enough, but they were indeed not on the level of my expectations. In the end, I was almost ashamed of how low I performed, almost. My motivation was near zero, and it would be better if I took a few days off. But, at the same time, that means I wouldn’t be able to analyse what is happening to me to write this post afterwards.
Lesson learnt, actions taken.
After the valuable lesson, I understood my unmotivated co-worker, and since he was in this state for the last two months and no discussion helped to change his behaviour, it was time to let him go. He was gone by the end of the week — no negative impact on the team, and he took it very well, fully understanding why it happened.
Never let people in your team not care!
Most problems start with leadership, and if a team underperforms, employees are unhappy, and they lack motivation, you have to look at the team’s manager first. But, unfortunately, you have to look even higher in many cases, and it’s very often not a nice view. Overgrown structures and multiple layers of management often create obstacles and problems. They rarely genuinely care about their teams, understand their own role and what it means to be responsible for people they are supposed to lead.
Never let your team not care about their work. It will affect everything from the quality of your product or services to team morale and your happiness. However, if that happens, leave your ego behind and ask yourself, “Where I went wrong and how I can be a better leader?”. Demotivation is cancer and will spread quickly if not identified early and taken care of quickly.
Keeping teams happy and engaged is even more relevant in the context of people working from home. Many companies lowered their standards and expectations towards employees, and honest relationships are now less common than they used to be. Do you think that doesn’t affect people’s motivation? Are you sure people don’t take advantage of the situation? Once a team member hits his low, it will be harder to fix it when everything happens online.
A side note….
I realised that training new employees on processes and standards is less critical in preventing errors if all team members are motivated, committed and take ownership of their work. Of course, please don’t underestimate the value of well designed and solid onboarding process, but I guess that’s something for another post…
I am a London-based software engineering consultant and change-maker who helps companies solve genuine challenges and remove limitations. From guiding how a healthy organisation looks like, including the best structure, attitude and culture, to find the right balance between creative freedom, processes and true passion amongst teams. The #oneteam culture is at the core of everything I do and everything an organisation should strive for to succeed.
I help individuals to become better leaders and professionals. I’m coaching and mentoring software engineers and teams to help them reach their goals and prepare for the future unknown. I went through this journey myself, and I understand how hard it is to let go of who we are to become who we want to be.