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I work in gastronomy in a rather small restaurant. The co-worker I spend most of my work-day around has become more and more apathetic over the past few months. It was a very gradual change, so I am uncertain if it has to do with a specific event.

I generally enjoy my job and try to be in a good mood, both for the sake of the customers and for myself, but when I'm constantly confronted with my co-worker, who seems like really does not care at all for what he is doing, it bothers me greatly.

I have thought quite a bit about possible solutions, and here is what I have come up so far, with possible caveats:

Ignoring it

This is the approach I have gone with so far, but it's really not working out for me in the long run. I know that the work attitude of my co-workers is technically none of my business, but it is the absolute negative highlight of my job, every single day.

Get a different job

The town where I live in doesn't have any other restaurants. I don't own a car, and my income isn't enough to afford the continuous expenses of a car (fuel, repairs, insurance, etc.).

Public transport could be an option if there is no other way, but the bus stops every two hours in our town, which is less-than-optimal.

And furthermore, I like my job. Yes, the payment is bad, but I genuinely enjoy doing what I am doing. I would hate to change my job.

Talk to him about it

Not necessarily in a "Hey, your attitude is bothering me!"-way, but more in a "I noticed you're not really enjoying your job. Is there something on your mind?"-way. I'm split on this approach. On one hand, I feel like talking about it could be a way to identify potential issues. On the other hand, he could interpret it as me putting my nose into his private life.

Talk to our boss about it

It's a problem I have with my job, and talking to our boss about it could help. Or it could make things way, way worse. Like talking to my co-worker about it, just dialed up to eleven.

Is there any possible solution I am missing?

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    Does his attitude lead to work not being done that affects your work? For example if he is not attentive to his tables, then his customers start asking your for stuff? Or he does not do his side work, so there are no sliced lemons available? If not then do not try to be his counselor and DO NOT escalate to the boss. You think you have a negative situation now, you will have someone literally daydreaming about killing you. I suggest you put any time or effort into finding ways to not have this attitude affect you, learning techniques for yourself. – Damila Jun 4 at 15:15
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    but when I'm constantly confronted with my co-worker, who seems like really does not care at all for what he is doing, can you clarify what is the specific behavior that is the problem? Is the coworker complaining a lot? Or not doing their work well or at all? – Matt Jun 4 at 21:09
  • Could it be something at work that's causing your co-worker to act the way they are acting? – isaace Jun 4 at 21:46
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    @RobertS. OK, so... I'm probably crazy but after reading your question I am seriously considering whether your coworker is called Squidward Tentacles and you work in the Krusty Krab — and the fact that your own name is essentially Bob is not helping at all. – walen Jun 5 at 8:15
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    Is it a testament to how often people respond to WP SE questions with "look for another job" that the OP feels the need to explain why they don't feel that getting a new job is an appropriate response to having an unenthusiastic coworker? – Acccumulation Jun 5 at 18:32
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Not every job is everyone's dream job. If he is doing his work and getting along okay then leave the poor guy alone and focus on you. It doesn't sound like an issue that needs resolving. It is up to him what he does with his life.

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    I'm not trying to dictate to him how he has to live his life, and I hope it didn't come across as such. As I stated, it bothers me greatly to be confronted with a "Whatever, I wish I was somewhere else"-attitude all day. If it would be something I could easily overlook, then I would not have written this question. – Robert S. Jun 4 at 12:17
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    @RobertS. Not everything worth overlooking is easy to overlook. – Player One Jun 4 at 13:19
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    @RobertS. I upvoted this answer, because it captures everything I'd advise, especially the "focus on you" part. You can't control the attitudes of your coworkers, and trying to will only make you less happy. – Player One Jun 4 at 13:28
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    @RobertS. if you look at the later answers, no, this is not what everybody agrees on. Jumping in and telling someone that all problems are their own problems while throwing in some new age self help mumbo jumbo is the easiest and most unhelpful thing in the world. Just don't listen to answers that don't even tell you how to ignore the problem, if they started by telling you to ignore it. – Helen Jun 4 at 20:35
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    @Helen God I hope I am fortunate enough not to work for an employer who would fire me for having depression. – TheGirlHasNoName Jun 4 at 21:14
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I know that the work attitude of my co-workers is technically none of my business. . .

Correct. You add in a "but", and explain why you want to change your coworker, but those are your issues, not theirs. You already know the answer, don't make excuses around it just because you don't want it to be true.

Don't get a different job. There will be miserable people everywhere you ever work. If you can't overcome it you will be running from it forever.

Don't talk to your boss about it. It is not your bosses job to legislate people's mood. By bringing them in they will have an unsolvable crisis that won't actually bring any resolution for you.

The only suggestion you made that is viable is to talk to the colleague. That would be a compassionate and potentially effective response. Just note that lifting people's mood can range greatly in difficulty. It could be as simple as being bored with the tedium at work and having a coworker interact with them in new and interesting ways could be very beneficial. It could also be major depression. Are you prepared to support someone through that? (It's hard.)

It's probably somewhere in between, but the point I am trying to make is that helping your coworker may require actual care and compassion, so don't do it for selfish and shortsighted reasons, as it won't end well.

It might also be beneficial if you sought counseling on your own. Anyone who works professionally with depression patients typically goes through therapy to help maintain their own peace of mind. Depression can absolutely have an impact on those around people who suffer from it, but there are techniques for dealing with that. These could be useful to you whether you try to help your coworker or not.

Good luck.

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    Definitely the better answer. If you wish to talk to him about it, you can. However, it should be out of honest compassion about the troubles he might be living. This also means that if he gives out the slightest impression that he doesn't want to talk about it, you'll have to drop the topic. – everyone Jun 5 at 8:04
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    Exactly my thoughts. OP has so far abstained from talking to the co-worker out of fear that he may be told to mind his own business. That may very well happen, but give the co-worker a chance to say so. OP already said he intends to approach the subject with empathy rather than confrontation, so try it and see what happens. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. – Steve-O Jun 5 at 13:38
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You seem to have thought things through well. I would encourage you to consider talking both to your colleague and your manager about the situation.

Talk to your colleague - Reaching out with an offer of support is great. But also don't be afraid to share your observations and how you are being affected by your co-worker's behavior. Few folks show up to work with the objective of being dead weight - your feedback could go a long way and lets your co-worker know that you care about the quality of their work. Try something like "I sometimes see you ..., it makes me think ... and makes me feel ...".

Talk to your manager - Your manager's role is to coach and direct you and your co-workers. Your manager may be avoiding the problem or entirely unaware of the behavior. If you feel like you have an open relationship with your manager, sharing your observations and feelings may help them understand they need to act, or may start a conversation that helps you better understand the behavior you're observing.

Best of luck. Food service culture is a challenge, but don't be afraid to push for a better environment for you and your colleagues.

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    This is really the best solution. It could well be that your coworker is having some life issue that's making work difficult for them at the moment, and your manager may or may not be aware of it. As other answers say, you shouldn't let someone else's mood affect your own too much. But if that mood affects the customers, then it's a work problem that everyone should work on solving, or at least ameliorating – user90842 Jun 4 at 16:48
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    No one said the coworker is dead weight or otherwise not meeting expectations. Being apathetic doesn't mean being incompetent. Indeed, he could be apathetic precisely because the work is unchallenging. – Derek Elkins Jun 4 at 22:04
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    If coworker is depressed I don’t think telling them they are making you depressed is going to help. – Notts90 Jun 5 at 8:25
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Just to combine a few answers here, the correct answer is probably "ignore it" but there are some cases where a different action would be appropriate.

Case 1: performance change. Is the performance of the coworker different, such that it leads to more work for you? Not attitude, performance. If they still get all their work done and do a decent job on their interactions with clients, then this is not the case. If their apathy is such that they are skipping tasks or being rude to clients in a way that you have to take care of, then this is something you can talk to your manager about. Keep this conversation about actions, not attitude - the additional tasks and responsibilities that you have had to take on in the past months to compensate for this coworker.

Case 2: you're genuinely friends. Are you friendly and close with this coworker (or used to be)? If so, you could talk to them directly about their attitude change, if and only if you approach it as coming from a place of concern for a fellow human, not a place of the personal annoyance you feel about this. The last thing a depressed person needs to hear is that their depression is bumming someone else out. If you can genuinely say something like "hey, I noticed that you seem to be a bit down lately, anything you want to talk about?" and can fully accept that "no" might be the answer, then ask it. You don't have to commit to being this person's therapist, but reaching out in a friendly compassionate way could help them, and lead to some clarity for you.

If their attitude change hasn't caused more work for you, and you're not close enough to feel comfortable asking them about their mood change, then we're back to "ignore it". Ignoring something like this isn't something you can just turn on. You can't tell yourself "this doesn't bother me" and bam! immediately it stops bothering you, but this is something you can work on over time. There are tricks to stop being bothered by things you can't change. Here's what's worked for me in the past:

  1. When the external stimulus annoys you, take a moment to take a couple of deep breaths. While you're breathing, focus on something positive and reminding yourself that you don't have to get annoyed right now. This will get easier over time.

  2. Are there certain interactions with this coworker where they are less apathetic? Could you maximize the number of those sorts of interactions with them, and limit other types of interactions? If you don't have to interact with this person at their most apathetic, then don't.

  3. Is there a story you could tell yourself about this coworker that would make their apathy understandable for you? Maybe this coworker's apathy is annoying because it seems so inexplicable that they aren't loving the job you love. What if you knew that they were just dumped, or that they are depressed, or are going through some other stressful personal situation? Would that make you feel better about their apathy? If so, you don't necessarily have to know this about them. Just choose to tell yourself that story about them so that you feel better.

  4. Can you take a step back from your interactions and view them through an anthropological view? I've not used this with apathetic people before, but when I have to deal with other types of angry or difficult people, I try to take a step back and view the conversation almost like a scientific study, as in "how interesting that this person responds like this in this situation." Taking the step back and viewing the interaction through this lens helps me remain emotionally unaffected by the other person's emotional state.

  • I like the compassion option. It might work even if you don't have a great relationship, just showing concern and love and support can be helpful :) – rogerdpack Jun 6 at 19:45
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You should definitely try to talk primarily with him, or your boss.

  1. This coworker is part of your environment, and your environment is making you unhappy. The only one responsible for shaping your environment to suit your needs are you. Don't tie knots of yourself trying to avoid the real problem. It's absolutely normal to be affected by your coworkers.

  2. Your coworker is obviously not happy. He might or might not be willing to talk about it, but the least you can do is to show that you care and to give him a chance to ligthen his heart.

  3. The "It's none if your business"-approach is a dysfunctional, non-productive, fear-driven and unfortunately a way too common non-strategy. You are supposed to be a team. There is nothing ok with having apathetic and depressed coworkers. If it's bothering you, then it's your responsibility to yourself and everyone else involved to act upon the problems that you identify.

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Allowing another person to affect your state of mind is like attaching your anchor to another boat: you'll both be tossed around by the tide.

If you're unhappy with your environment, then change yourself or change your situation. Don't try to change other people. It's not your place, and it rarely works anyhow.

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    People don't "allow" others to bring them down. We can all be effected by those around us and to say "don't let it" is not productive or helpful. If the OP had conscious control over the impact of their coworkers mood then there wouldn't be a question. – TheGirlHasNoName Jun 4 at 15:27
  • @bruglesco If the OP can't be expected to control their own mood, why is the coworker expected to do any better? – user3067860 Jun 4 at 18:16
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    @user3067860 I don't suggest that the coworker should. The coworker didn't post here looking for help. I agree with "don't try to change other people" but this answer is basically "get over it". A useful answer would detail how to get over it. – TheGirlHasNoName Jun 4 at 18:27
  • @bruglesco I disagree. A person absolutely has control over whether to let another person's mood or disposition affect them. One "gets over it" by making a conscious decision to not let external forces affect internal feelings. – HappyGilmore Jun 4 at 21:35
  • @HappyGilmore That's not a General Law of Human Psychology. – wizzwizz4 Jun 5 at 10:47
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Let's flip this around. You have already said that you are happy with your job and the only thing you want changed is your co-worker. Let's say that that co-worker quits tomorrow and is replaced by a new co-worker.

Now let's also pretend that this new co-worker is even more happy with this job than you are, except that they have one problem: you just don't seem to enjoy this job as much as they do and they want that to change. They try to talk to you about it, they talk to your manager about it, they do other frustrating things that actually make you enjoy your job less.

Consider now, what do you think is the appropriate course of action? One person's apathy is another one's enjoyment. Leave your co-worker be and focus on yourself.

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    I actually like the thought process for this answer, but I don't like how... 'condensed' it is. That second paragraph just blazes through several concepts... have you thought about expanding it a bit, painting a more detailed picture, and then explicitly walking the OP through their questions? Because it's a great thought - reflecting the OP through the situation the other person is in, and pointing them back at the questions that might not sound as nice from the other side. – Kevin Jun 5 at 15:29

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