Apathy-at-Work

Keith, the Lead Developer for a funded SF startup, emailed me yesterday:

“I’m pretty bored at work. Yeah, I’m thinking of just quitting. There’s no energy here, and I’m not learning anything. Even the managers look bored. They announced we got a bridge round that gives us six months runway, and the managers weren’t excited at all. Maybe I don’t really care about “the mission” anymore.

Honestly, the only thing holding me back is those stupid algorithm questions in the tech interviews. I suck at those. I signed up for a Coursera class to brush up, so hopefully, I can quit in a month.”

I get an email from folks who want to quit their jobs pretty regularly in my Biggest Problem survey.

As this isn’t a one-off, let’s break it down and see what’s going on.

First, Keith says he’s bored. Then he says there’s “no energy here.” Next, that he’s “not learning anything.” He’s questioning if he “cares about the [company’s] mission anymore.” Finally, and I think this is important, the only reason Keith hasn’t quit is his lack of confidence about technical interviews. Yikes.

Literally, Keith is probably looking on Indeed.com right now. Or, taking off early today for an interview.

Don’t forget, Keith is a Lead Developer. He manages the work of others. I happen to know that Keith has a team of four in SF and another eight in Russia. So, Keith’s attitude probably isn’t only affecting him, but the whole team, and maybe other teams.

Takeaways First, when people disengage, they start thinking it’s time to leave. I have yet to talk to someone in the past five years who said, “I’m bored at work, and there’s no energy here, but I wouldn’t dream of leaving.” They are always thinking of leaving.

Second, I’d be shocked if Keith’s boss and his team have missed the change. It’s obvious when someone’s checked out, even if we don’t know why. Yet, no one has mentioned it to him. In fact, he was recently told he’s doing a great job at work.

Third, Keith’s chief complaint is about the environment he’s working in. The environment is low-energy, boring, and doesn’t offer learning opportunities. Of course, this is just his perception of the environment… but his perception is what matters if you want to keep him? If he sees it that way, then it’s true for him. HE’s feeling a lack of energy. HE’s board. HE doesn’t see learning opportunities. It doesn’t matter much if someone else sees things differently, HE has fallen out of love with the company.

Let’s go back to our definition of leadership: Leadership is the process of creating an environment where everyone can participate in solving the problems at hand.

That kind of environment is never boring, is energized, and offers continuous opportunities for learning.

It doesn’t just happen by accident but through intentional efforts. You have a great deal of control over the environment and can lead your team to create this productive environment.

Talk with them about it, and see where they are at. Maybe you have a Keith in your midst. Maybe you can talk with them today, and head off their resignation