Founder and Chief Culture Officer of Ideal resultsInc. Author of new book “Culture Ignited: 5 Disciplines for Adaptive Leadership.”
The concept of “quit quietly” has entered the business lexicon with great clamor shortly after the “great resignation”.
But is it real? And if so, what can business leaders do to turn disengaged employees into more productive team members?
The catchy phrase recently gained popularity on TikTok and the hashtag #QuietQuitting spread like wildfire. One TikTok user (via Fortune) defined “quiet stop” as not going beyond one’s basic workload: “You still perform your duties, but you no longer subscribe to the ‘busy culture’ mentality that work should be your life.”
Of course, there have always been employees who have done the bare minimum and not invested extra hours and effort. But with the aftermath of the pandemic and the rise in remote working, work-life balance is sharper than ever. And in my experience, people tend to become less engaged if their jobs don’t help them achieve what they want in their personal lives and their careers.
“Silent quitters” make up at least 50% of the US workforce, according to Gallup. The study found that the percentage of engaged employees remained at 32% in the second quarter of 2022, but the percentage of active employees increased to 18% – what Gallup calls “loud quitters.” Of particular note is the finding that it is Gen Z and younger millennials (those under 35) who primarily work from home, who have become less and less involved since the pandemic.
HR professionals are alert to the danger. A study from the Society for Human Resource Management Research Institute showed that 51% of HR professionals are concerned about quietly quitting. And of those who quietly quit their businesses, 72% say millennials in particular exhibit this behavior.
What do these workers want? A questionnaire from online career platform LiveCareer found that respondents value their physical and mental health and family more – ranging from 91% to 94% – than their work.
I believe these statistics underscore the post-pandemic exhaustion and uncertainty fueled by the challenge of coping with the trend toward hybrid work. And from my perspective, it probably won’t get better any time soon, which could cause conflict in the workplace. Forrester’s “Predictions 2023” (registration required) suggested, “As economic uncertainty creeps into the work-anywhere calculus, we predict that 40% of hybrid working companies will try to reverse their work-anywhere policies, telling employees to come to the office more often. “
In my experience as a culture change consultant, I have found that quitting quietly is a way to deal with burnout, especially for the younger generations who are more vocal (especially on social media). The transition to remote working, which blurs the line between private and work, has only exacerbated the situation.
Some leaders argue that having an organization full of silent quitters is worse than dealing with actual layoffs because of the added burden placed on those colleagues who are willing to go above and beyond.
This is how I advise my clients to avoid stopping silently:
Give your employees autonomy.
Give employees the freedom to make decisions and don’t micromanage them. They want to know that they are trusted and that their judgment is respected. They want to be able to achieve goals based on their desires, their values and their talent. They want a sense of empowerment and a sense of ownership of what they do.
Make it a point to sit down with individuals to explore how they can contribute, give them the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities, and provide ongoing feedback.
Create a sense of purpose.
I believe one of the main reasons for quietly quitting is that team members lack purpose. They put their time into it and do nothing because they don’t feel part of anything special.
They need to feel that what they are doing makes a difference beyond picking up a paycheck. It’s up to leadership to establish the corporate mission and instill that sense of purpose throughout the organization through one-on-one meetings, online chats, and town halls. Try to have at least one meaningful conversation each week with each of your direct reports, explaining how their work contributes to the company’s greater purpose.
Stimulate employee involvement.
In a Sept questionnaire according to the Conference Board, a nonprofit business think tank, 30% of employees said their engagement was lower than six months earlier.
But why are your employees disabled? You have to ask to find out. In my work I use different methods, including customized customer satisfaction surveys, employee satisfaction surveys and pulse surveys. Proactive one-on-one “stay interviews” can also yield meaningful insights.
A main reason people quit their job is because of a toxic corporate culture so finding out what employees are feeling is essential, but I’ve noticed that many companies aren’t taking the steps to really map out the employee experience.
A common theme I’ve come across recently in surveys with my clients is that employees in hybrid environments prefer to return to the office for each other – the social connection – rather than to attend meetings. For them, that social connection, not necessarily the work itself, is worth the commute. Leaders must ensure that this is preserved.
Listen, learn and implement.
Look for ways for team members to contribute. Don’t just speak in meetings. Really listen to what they have to say and show that you’ve learned from their contributions by initiating suggested actions. Or let them know why certain proposals cannot be implemented.
While “stopping quietly” is the current buzz that went viral on social media, and we must acknowledge that there have always been clock watchers. I believe this behavior has been reinforced by the pandemic and the transition to remote work. Leaders must listen to and address employee concerns, and develop company cultures where everyone is proud to play a role.