Should you be content with complacency?


Dr Amy Armstrong, Faculty and Lead Researcher, Ashridge at Hult International Business School

Contentment in your job sounds like a nice thing to have, right?

However, in the new world of work, as a team leader or team member, you cannot afford to be satisfied with complacency.

At Ashridge, we lifted the lid on team engagement in what we believe to be the largest UK study of barriers to team engagement to date and found that rather than being engaged, nearly a quarter of teams were actually stuck this zone of ‘contentment’ – a state of complacency.

If engagement is an active state that is related productivity and innovation, where team members choose to ‘go the extra mile’ because they want to, not because they are asked to, complacency is akin to being ‘satisfied’ which instead is a passive state that is related to employee retention, rather than to productivity and choosing to give the best of yourself at work.

Leaders set the tone

As we move into the new world of work brought about by advances in technology, the rise of the ‘gig economy’ and more flexible working arrangements, team-based work continues to rise. Many organisations are becoming less hierarchical, more egalitarian and collaborative, with performance now often being measured at the team level rather than that of the individual.

As a result, as a team leader or colleague, your skills in setting a tone and context for team engagement are more important than ever.

It is those companies where employees feel supported and trusted and feel safe to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work, are the organisations that crack engagement.

Warning signs of contentment

21 per cent of all the teams we studied were found to be in the Zone of Contentment. However contentment does not mean that you are engaged and want to do the best at your role/for your team or indeed are making any steps forward in your career.

So perhaps you need to take a long hard look at yourself and see if you recognise any of these warning signs in yourself or your teams:

  • Team members do not see their workplace as an environment in which they would ever feel engaged and instead find engagement in causes outside of work.
  • People lack proactivity and dynamism and are content with the status quo.
  • Team members come to work just to earn a wage and work is seen as a means to an end.
  • Despite not ‘going the extra mile’ as we would expect from engaged teams, people in contented teams are loyal to the organisation and are proud of their length of service.

Tackling complacency

What is important when you spot these signs, is that as a team leader or line manager you offer opportunities for conversations with team members to explore whether they have the potential for higher engagement.

It is important that team ‘contentment’ or complacency is tackled by varying the work, regularly introducing new projects and bringing in new recruits who can inject energy and fresh ideas.

By offering regular opportunities for development both on and ‘off the job’, team leaders can foster a climate of growth within their team.

On the plus side, if reserved for back office or support functions where routine and set ways of working are favoured over agility, innovation or creativity, teams that are in a ‘zone of complacency’ could provide a stable backbone to the business.

amy armstrongAbout the author

Amy teaches, consults and researches on the topics of resilience; engagement and compassion at work. Amy’s new book, ‘The Human Moment’ (due 2019) argues that organisations must find ways of becoming more compassionate in an age where our work is increasingly de-humanised.

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