Complacency in the workplace often follows successful navigation through a highly competitive environment or crisis that threatens the company, as a collective sigh of relief. This is rooted in the belief that the organization is on the leading edge of success without ensuring that it is.


noun: complacency; noun: complacence

  1. A feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.

“the figures are better, but there are no grounds for complacency”

smugness, self-satisfaction, self-congratulation, self-regard;

What is complacency in the workplace?

Above we highlighted the meaning of complacency in the workplace. It is a dangerous state that can hinder growth, innovation, and productivity. But beyond corporate complacency, there is also individual complacency.

Individual complacency has many sources: absence of a major and visible crisis; many visible resources without clarity of the validity; low overall performance standards; narrow functional goals for each employee; poor KPIs; lack of sufficient performance feedback (internally and externally); low confrontation culture; positive messaging out of line with reality.

Lately, stress can lead to complacency in the workplace. When employees are overwhelmed by high levels of stress, they may become disengaged or adopt a mindset or resignation. This can hinder their ability to think creativity, take risks and be innovative.

Addressing these sources of workplace complacency is crucial for fostering a culture of continuous improvement by maximizing the potential of employees. By setting high performance standards, providing clear and meaningful feedback and recognition, and by promoting a culture of open communication, leaders and companies can help to mitigate complacency and inspire employees to strive for excellence.

What does complacency in the workplace look like?

Some common signs that employees are becoming complacent are:

  1. Become Disengaged: Complacent employees may show signs of lack of interest or enthusiasm in their work. They may become passive or disinterested.
  2. Stop Thinking: Employees may stop using critical thinking and accept the status quo without questioning or seeking innovative solutions.
  3. Stop Taking Initiative: Employees may tend to avoid taking initiative or going above and beyond their assigned tasks. They may become content with just doing the bare minimum.
  4. Don’t Invest in Themselves: Employees may resist attending training programs, acquiring new skills, or seeking growth opportunities.
  5. No Longer Manage Their Personal Brand: Employees may no longer focus on building a positive image or showcasing their skills and accomplishments.
  6. Take Shortcuts: Complacent employees may choose shortcuts or take the path of least resistance, even if it compromises the quality of their work.
  7. Don’t Take Any Risks: Employees may be unwilling to step outside of their comfort zone and explore new possibilities or ventures.
  8. Lose Their Passion: Complaced employees may lose their drive and become apathetic towards their work and the company.
  9. Become Disgruntled With Their Current Career Destination: Unhappy employees are one of the biggest corporate culture killers an organization can have. Feeling stagnant leads to high turnover.
  10. Lose Any Hope for a Brighter Future: Complacency in the workplace erodes optimism and hope.

All of these factors adds up to less innovation, less trust and psychological safety, and less loyalty. If turnover is on the rise, excitement is dwindling and your numbers are dropping, complacency may already have a strong hold on your team. Are you or your team members making decisions based on all the facts? Or, only to relieve a sense of anxiety?

complacency in the workplace

How does complacency kill productivity?

When complacency is prevalent, new initiatives do not take root easily, competition is not closely studied, and market changes are not examined for new approaches. Without intervention, resistance to change increases over time. Are the actions of you and your team members proactive or reactive? Consistent productivity should not manifest as frantic activity on a regular basis. Busy schedules do not always equate to productivity. Full calendars can kill productivity in its tracks, making everything seem urgent.

“True urgency focuses on critical issues. It is driven by the deep determination to win, not anxiety about losing. Many people confuse it with false urgency. This misguided sense of urgency does have energized action, but it has a frantic aspect to it with people driven by anxiety and fear. This dysfunctional orientation prevents people from exploiting opportunities and addressing real issues.” – John P. Kotter

Urgency comes from a greater purpose focused outward, to make good things happen while handling emergencies is a reactionary inward approach to saving ourselves from the daily crisis. A false sense of urgency drives us into a state of psychophysiological distress. If we experience this on a chronic basis, even our health will suffer!

complacency in the workplace

Does complacency have a hold on your team?

Don’t fret! All is not lost. You can re-engage your team in many ways. However, beware of pitfalls. Damage control can support complacency in an era when complacency can be deadly. Over 70% of all major transformation efforts fail because organizations do not take a holistic approach to change themselves.

Enter Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change:

  1. Create a Sense of Urgency
  2. Build a Guiding Collation
  3. Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives
  4. Enlist a Volunteer Army
  5. Enable Action by Removing Barriers
  6. Generate Short-Term Wins
  7. Sustain Acceleration
  8. Institute Change

Complacency is a major issue for organizations. There are no quick fixes; however, there are many tools that can help you succeed. Enhancing your company culture with an infusion of team building and employee empowerment will boost your bottom line.

How can team building help complacency in the workplace?

Team building activities and events can play a vital role in addressing and overcoming complacency in the workplace. Here’s how team building can help:

  1. Fostering a Culture of Collaboration
  2. Enhancing Employee Engagement
  3. Promoting Open Communication
  4. Encouraging Healthy Competition
  5. Developing Trust and Camaraderie
  6. Encouraging Risk-Taking and Creativity
  7. Reinforcing Organizational Goals and Values

Team building activities provide a powerful tool for combating workplace complacency. By bringing your team together to do things together outside of the typical work environment, it will create connections that help team members better understand each other, and company goals.


In the face of complacency, organizations must create a positive workplace culture that strives for continuous improvement, and empowers employees to pave the way for success. Understanding the meaning of complacency and how to stop it is it’s tracts is one of the most important things leaders to can to help create a healthier workplace environment. The best part, it’s never to late to start. At Team Bonding, we have been helping companies with team recognition for 20+ years. We have a wide range of events that can help you build a better, stronger, and more connected team. So get in touch with us today and recognize your team!

Samantha McDuffee

Team Contributor


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