Battling Complacency

07 Jan , 2021

Complacency is extremely dangerous in the workplace. We get so used to things being done the same way that we do not always look at the hazards in our surroundings. We may also underestimate the risk of tasks that we perform regularly or fail to notice a change in our environment when we become complacent in our daily routines.

Complacency can affect all levels of a company,  the worker, Supervisors and even management. 

We all become complacent with the hazards we must deal with on a day-to-day basis. Once you get used to the way things are, it is hard to treat the hazards with the same fear, apprehension and respect you did initially. Once things seem normal to you, once the fear and apprehension are no longer pre-occupying or totally pre-occupying, it is easy enough for anybody’s mind to wander. . . just think about driving. When you first started to drive, when you younger you were more fearful and careful compared to 10 years of experience. 

We all know that complacency is a big contributing factor when it comes to people getting hurt.

Warning Signs

  • Accepting Lower Standards of Performance: For example, not completing or following any inspection sheet, policies and procedures.
  • Erosion of Desire to Remain Proficient: Not making the effort to keep learning. 
  • Boredom and Inattention: It’s a chore to come to work day after day.  People don’t feel challenged.
  • Satisfaction with the Status Quo:  People resist change.  No continuous improvement.
  • Neglecting Personal Safety Items:  Neglecting even the smallest item of personal safety may be a strong symptom of complacency.

Four Major Causes of Complacency

Normalization of Deviance:  A long term phenomenon in which individuals or crews repeatedly “get away” with deviations from standards until it is no longer seen as a deviation; it becomes the implied standard.  You do something with out getting hurt, so you keep doing it.  And the more you don’t get hurt, the more you believe you can’t get hurt.
Systematic Desensitization:  When we hear a message repeatedly or have gradual exposure to a dangerous activity, overtime we become immune to the message or danger.

In attentional Blindness: In short, we see what we look for. When we are focused on one thing-getting a job done- we pay little attention to hazards that may be around us. We don’t recognize change of scope or other hazards introduced.  We expect what is “suppose” to happen; to happen.
Optimism Bias: “Rose- Colored Glasses”  We underestimate the likelihood of negative events.  “It will never happen to me.”

How to Battle Complacency

Recognize work tasks that you may so used to doing that you no longer take the same precautions when performing them. Think back to when you first got this job or the first time you did a specific task; were you more cautious or did you follow more safety procedures?
Audit yourself or even have a coworkers audit your work to see what your shortcomings may be when completing work tasks. Having someone else give you constructive feedback can help give you an honest look at where you can improve.
Situational Awareness: See the big picture, not just the details. Be aware of everything around you and how they might interact to create a dangerous situation.
Share the Mission— Remind employees of the company’s purpose and goals so they maintain a connection to the larger missions and emphasize that their behaviors have an impact.
Correct Poor Performance— Mentoring programs and coaching help employees identify, and change troubled practices and potential problems.
Analyze Close Calls and small injuries: This will help to prevent serious ones. Learn from our OOPS!  We need to analyze those incidents and near misses to see what the causes were and try to improve and prevent them in the future.  Review findings with all workers to keep them informed.
Reminders: Constantly remind employees about possible safety hazards and the consequences. If these hazards are on their mind it is more likely employees will think about them when performing a task.


Complacency on the job, injures and kills. And it spreads like a disease from one worker to another. One employee sees a co-worker taking a shortcut and figures, "If he can do it, why can't I?“  We can't afford to let complacency take over in our workplace. By using safety meetings and other training opportunities to get the message across that complacency is dangerous—as dangerous as any machine, chemical, or other recognized workplace hazard. Through a strong commitment to safety training and awareness, we can create a safety culture that seeks out and eradicates complacency, replacing it with an emphasis on alertness, planning, hazard identification, problem solving, and accident prevention.


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