What is ‘Quiet Quitting’ and How Should Leaders Respond?
‘Quiet quitting’ came into vogue as a result of pandemic-induced reflection by many American workers. Tired of ‘hustle culture’ and pandemic-related workplace uncertainty, some workers have taken to doing the bare minimum in their roles, negatively impacting the company in terms of reduced productivity, profitability, and high employee turnover. It’s estimated that half of the U.S. workforce is comprised of quiet quitters, according to a Gallup poll conducted last fall. Consequently, this is forcing business owners and managers to evaluate the factors causing workers to disengage and determine how to address and take steps to mitigate the issue proactively.
The importance of an engaged workforce
Organizations with high engagement levels routinely outperform those with lower levels on several important business metrics. The advantages of an engaged workforce include the following:
- Higher productivity
- Increased profits
- Greater employee retention
- Lower employee turnover
- Improved operational efficiencies
- Great customer satisfaction
- A strong brand reputation
With worker engagement on the line, it’s important to recognize that quiet quitting isn’t a challenge to be managed but an opportunity to seize. People are willing to apply themselves and give effort to their work if they feel valued when it comes to career growth, autonomy, and recognition – so view this as an opportunity to assess what kind of value and support you’re offering your employees.
According to a study by Asana, approximately 70% of knowledge workers across seven countries have experienced burnout in the past year. Considering a recent survey, according to Gallup, voluntary turnover alone due to burnout costs companies about 15% to 20% of their total payroll; it’s clear that not recognizing or addressing employee burnout or not championing employee wellbeing will be costly, with negative impacts to your growth and profitability objectives. The good news is that it’s entirely possible to re-engage and proactively prevent future quiet quitters by understanding what motivates them and listening to their needs. In fact, according to a panel of managers and human resources experts at the Davos World Economic Forum, it’s the responsibility of managers and business leaders to prevent quiet quitting in the first place. If you’re a business manager, owner, or executive, this is a great time to get a pulse on your organization and get ahead of the problem.
Identifying the ‘quiet quitter’ in your workforce
If you’ve noticed a specific person is disengaged or perhaps falling short of being the top performer they once were, that can be easy to recognize. Maybe an employee has stopped speaking up in meetings, ceased being proactive, and is generally doing the bare minimum. Other signs of a disengaged employee might include increased LinkedIn activity, less interest in professional development, low morale, taking more time off than usual, not attending company functions and generally seeming disinterested in work. You likely have a quiet quitter on your hands if you see a combination of these signs. When you’ve identified these signs and symptoms, allow RVR experts to help you address the root issue driving disengagement in your workforce.
6 common factors driving disengagement
- Poor job fit: Poor job fit occurs when a person is in a role that doesn’t match their natural strengths or fit their personal and professional needs and can happen to new hires and long-term employees.
- Ineffective leadership: Managers and supervisors lack leadership skills or aren’t understanding, empathetic, or supportive of employees.
- Lack of advancement and development opportunities: Most employees want the chance to advance, and those that leave or contemplate leaving cite a need for a clear career path and professional development opportunities from their employer as a reason for leaving.
- Burnout: This stems from an excessive or unmanageable workload for prolonged periods, changes to job responsibilities, and/or pressure associated with unreasonable time to complete tasks or projects.
- Compensation: Many employees are unhappy with their compensation and believe pay inequity exists. Further, they think they’re at a disadvantage over new candidates, often brought in at market rates, which causes animosity and distrust.
- Unclear expectations: One of the main stressors at work is employees not clearly understanding what their manager or employer expects of them and being subject to frequently changing or unrealistic expectations.
Employee engagement is a reflection of the employer
As the employer, company owner or manager, it’s important to consider your role in the quiet quitting environment in your workplace. Job dissatisfaction stems from poor work/life boundaries, unrealistic or unclear expectations, and a lack of support. ‘Quiet quitting’ isn’t a new fad, and it won’t go away without deliberate action from an employer. In 2023 and into the future, employees are setting firm boundaries and are unlikely to ‘go above and beyond’ unless they are truly motivated. Consider the following to improve employee engagement:
Right People. Right Role. People excel when the work they do aligns with their natural strengths. Leverage science-backed people data and assessments to understand your employees’ natural behavioral tendencies and evaluate the critical match between the job requirements. Having the right people in the right roles is a proven way to boost engagement, productivity, and the bottom line.
Touch base at regular intervals. Regular 1:1 meetings between managers and employees are elements of a sound performance and engagement strategy and strengthen transparency and trust, resulting in higher levels of engagement. These touch-base meetings help to enable open communication and collaboration and to get insights into the employee’s well-being. Additionally, they will help ensure expectations and goals are on track or need prioritization. 1:1s are also a great way to support learning and development. Once you understand your employees’ career development aspirations, you can help them achieve their career goals by integrating progressive learning milestones into your meetings.
Define expectations. Set measurable expectations and consistently measure performance. Regular meetings will ensure a mutual understanding of expectations and priorities, communicating effectively to motivate employees to grow and thrive.
Provide support. Managers need to help employees manage and prioritize their workload. Be reasonable in the work output and timeline by removing obstacles and distractions and giving employees time and space to perform to expectations. Provide staff with the tools they need to succeed — training, technology tools, and resources. At the same time, provide new and seasoned leaders with opportunities to develop their leadership skills; emphasize coaching and communication skills, high-performance team building, and employee retention strategies.
Recognize and reward. Design a recognition and reward program to drive employee engagement, performance, and retention. Recognition is a top driver of engagement; make it a point to recognize employees by openly acknowledging and celebrating their achievements, efforts, or behaviors that align with company values. Compensation and benefits are persuasive tools in your recruiting and retention efforts, and keeping pace with the fluid market is essential. Establish a compensation strategy that is relevant, motivating, competitive, fair, and equitable. Keep it current by integrating salary benchmarking analysis to evaluate your internal wages to the current market rates.
Solving the problem and setting expectations
Is ‘quiet firing’ the solution? To put it simply: No. You’ve probably heard about ‘quiet firing’ as a solution to quit quitting. This refers to employers treating employees poorly, e.g., asking them to work longer hours without compensation, reducing hours, not communicating with the employee, failing to meet with the employee, and more. Once you understand what’s going on with an employee or your team more broadly – it’s time to boldly re-engage. RVR works with clients to solve ‘quiet quitting issues by engaging employees and learning what motivates them. Maybe your employees need better work/home boundaries, flexible schedules, more time to complete projects – or perhaps just renewed clarity around work expectations. As you work to boldly re-engage them in the workplace, be clear about your expectations and provide a roadmap for how you’ll get there together.
If you know that someone is struggling, you should have an honest conversation with that person. Listen to their reasoning and consider if you could do more to support, engage and motivate this person. But how do you identify the problem if you suspect it is impacting an entire team or a broader swath of your staff?
Employee experience surveys to determine if there’s a systemic problem
Employee Experience Surveys measure employee engagement and provide insights to help you gather various perceptions employees have about their jobs, the workplace, and the company culture. Surveys can help reveal brewing problems that you might not yet be aware of and can help provide better context into issues you may already suspect. Using employee engagement survey results, you’ll acquire engagement trends and common themes at every level of your organization—a team, a department, or your entire company. The insights gleaned will allow you to customize your actions based on group strengths and needs. You don’t have to go it alone; RVR can guide you every step of the way. From survey setup to plan implementation, interpreting results, and identifying action steps to drive a high-performing, engaged organization.
Employees will inevitably leave, so plan for it
Despite your best efforts, employees will move on. Some departures are avoidable, and some are not. Some employees move on to start their own businesses, retire, gain new credentials, or move to a new industry; these are not avoidable. Others that leave fit into the avoidable category, including those departing because they are unhappy with their job or culture fit, feel unappreciated or burnt out. Some employees are influenced by trends like the Great Resignation or one of the latest, ‘rage applying,’ where, as an act of revenge, employees mass apply to various jobs in pursuit of higher salaries and better job fit. By implementing a sound employee engagement strategy and keeping a pulse on the employee experience, you will undoubtedly see higher levels of engagement and retention and fewer departures in the avoidable category.
With any employee departure, effectively managing employee transitions is an important and valuable investment for companies. Make every attempt to leave things positive with the departing employee, so they leave as an ambassador and be sure to provide motivational and resource support to the remaining employees. Remember how excited you were for them to come aboard – treat them with the same respect on their way out. This person will remember how you treated them, and they’ll either help promote your brand or disparage it – you strongly influence how they remember you and your company!
There’s a movement towards shorter tenures, and job hopping every few years is starting to become the norm and no longer carries a stigma. So, anticipate departures and proactively plan for this new reality by adjusting your recruitment strategy to reflect shorter tenures and continuously developing talent pipelines while also focusing on retention and engagement strategies.
Quiet quitters don’t have to be a drag on a company’s workforce. It’s a situation that can be challenging if you let it permeate and fail to address the root issues. RVR has helped numerous clients across industries overcome employee engagement challenges in the workplace, resulting in increased productivity, performance, and retention. By confronting the issue directly and working to boldly re-engage your employee or workforce, you can treat the quiet quitting movement as an opportunity to reconnect and realign with your team to reach your strategic initiatives and outpace your competition.
By: Karen Turner, Principal of RVR Consulting Group
RVR Consulting Group provides your company with resources to support your vision and generate faster returns. By operating from both a strategic and tactical position, we protect clients during critical periods of uncertainty. Our services include advising, talent acquisition, sourcing fractional employees, exit planning, and selling your business. Regardless of your challenges, our firm’s experience is structured to make the road to your objectives faster, simpler, and more profitable. Our goal is simple: help you maximize the value of your business.
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