Founder and Chief Culture Officer of Ideal Outcomes, Inc. Author of the new book “Culture Ignited: 5 Disciplines for Adaptive Leadership.”
The concept of “quiet quitting” has noisily entered the business lexicon hot on the heels of the “great resignation.”
But is it for real? And if so, what can corporate leaders do to turn disengaged employees into more productive team members?
The catchy expression was recently popularized on TikTok, and the hashtag #QuietQuitting spread like wildfire. One TikTok user (via Fortune) defined “quiet quitting” as not going above and beyond one’s basic workload: “You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the ‘hustle culture’ mentality that work has to be your life.”
Of course, there have always been workers who have done the bare minimum required and not invested extra hours and effort. But the aftermath of the pandemic and the increase in remote work has brought work-life balance into sharper-than-ever focus. And in my experience, people tend to become less engaged if their job doesn’t help them achieve what they want out of their personal lives as well as their careers.
“Quiet quitters” constitute at least 50% of the U.S. workforce, according to Gallup. Its research found that during the second quarter of 2022, the percentage of engaged workers remained at 32%, but those actively disengaged rose to 18%—what Gallup calls “loud quitters.” Of particular note is the finding that it is Gen Z and younger millennials (those under the age of 35) who mostly work from home have become increasingly disengaged since the pandemic.
Human resource professionals are alert to the danger. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management Research Institute showed that 51% of HR professionals are concerned about quiet quitting. And, of those who are seeing quiet quitting in their companies, 72% say millennials, in particular, exhibit this behavior.
What do these workers want? A survey by online career platform LiveCareer discovered that respondents place higher value—ranging from 91% to 94%—on their physical and mental health and family than they do on their work.
I believe these statistics underscore the post-pandemic exhaustion and uncertainty fostered by the challenge of dealing with the trend toward hybrid work. And from my perspective, it’s not likely to get any better anytime soon, which could cause conflict in the workplace. Forrester’s “Predictions 2023” (registration required) suggested, “As economic uncertainty enters the anywhere-work calculus, we predict that 40% of hybrid-working companies will try to undo their anywhere-work policies, telling employees to come into the office more frequently.”
In my experience as a culture change consultant, I’ve found that quiet quitting is a means of dealing with burnout, especially for the younger generations who are more vocal (especially on social media). The transition to remote work, blurring the line between home and work life, has only exacerbated the situation.
Some leaders make the case that having an organization full of quiet quitters is worse than dealing with actual resignations because of the extra burden placed on those colleagues willing to go above and beyond.
Here’s how I counsel my clients to prevent quiet quitting:
Allow your workers to have autonomy.
Give employees the freedom to make decisions, and don’t micromanage them. They want to know they are trusted and their judgments are respected. They want to be able to achieve objectives based on their desires, their values and their talent. They want a sense of empowerment and to feel that they own what they’re doing.
Make a point of sitting down with individuals to explore how they can contribute, give them the opportunity to show their abilities and provide ongoing feedback.
Create a sense of purpose.
I believe one of the key reasons for quiet quitting is that team members don’t have a sense of purpose. They put in their time and do nothing more because they don’t feel part of something special.
They need to feel that what they do makes a difference beyond picking up a paycheck. It’s up to leadership to establish the company 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 and explain how their work contributes to the company’s larger purpose.
Foster employee engagement.
In a September survey by the Conference Board, a nonprofit business think tank, 30% of employees said their level of engagement was lower than it had been six months earlier.
But why are your employees tuned out? You have to ask to find out. In my work, I use a variety of methods, including customized engagement surveys, employee satisfaction surveys and pulse surveys. Proactive one-on-one “stay interviews” can provide meaningful insights as well.
A top reason people quit their jobs is because of toxic company culture, so it’s essential to find out what employees are feeling—but I’ve found that many companies don’t take the steps to truly map the employee experience.
A common theme I’ve come across recently from surveys conducted with my clients is that workers in hybrid environments want to return to the office for one another—the social connection—more than to attend meetings. For them, that social connection, not necessarily the work itself, is worth the commute. Leaders need to make sure that this is maintained.
Listen, learn and implement.
Make a point of seeking ways for team members to give their input. Don’t do all the talking in meetings. Really listen to what they have to say, and show that you have learned from their contributions by initiating suggested actions. Or, on the other hand, let them know why certain proposals cannot be implemented.
While “quiet quitting” is the current buzz that went viral on social media, and we must acknowledge there have always been clock watchers. I believe this behavior has been amplified by the pandemic and the transition to remote work. Leaders must listen to and address workers’ concerns and develop corporate cultures in which everyone is proud to play their part.