unengaged employees

What does quiet quitting look like?
Lately, Rowan has felt utterly burnt out by her work. Boundaries have dissipated. Her boss now expects her peers and her to work around the clock and take on tasks well outside her job description. Rowan’s organization has operated with a sense of urgency for the past two and a half years since the pandemic hit and remote work became their new norm. At first, employees responded accordingly, working all hours of the day and night with gusto. But eventually, the stress of the job and pandemic living—with no end in sight—took a negative toll on overall well-being. And now, as she aims to regain some semblance of “normal” post-pandemic, Rowan is checking out on the work front. She knows she needs to stay put because of the looming recession, but she is tired of giving 110 percent with no reward or recognition. She has determined to do what she must to get by, and that’s it. Besides, her company can’t seem to get any new employees to stick around for too long, and with so many open positions, they can’t afford to lose her now.

Is quiet quitting real?

Rowan’s experience has been called “quiet quitting,” which Harvard Business Review defines as “opting out of tasks beyond one’s assigned duties and/or becoming less psychologically invested in work. Quiet quitters continue to fulfill their primary responsibilities. But, they’re less willing to engage in activities known as citizenship behaviors. For example, no more staying late, showing up early, or attending non-mandatory meetings.” This trend suggests many employees have experienced an imbalance in their relationship with employers. Managers might expect their people to invest more in their jobs without investing in their workers in return.

During the past few months, there has been much debate about whether quiet quitting is real. According to Gallup, it is real, with quiet quitters making up at least 50 percent of the U.S. workforce. What’s more, the proportion of engaged versus actively disengaged workers in the United States dropped to 1.8 to 1 in the second quarter of 2022, the lowest reported in almost a decade.

Others argue that quiet quitting should not receive the press it has because it is either not a real trend or simply an old problem in a new era. This Atlantic piece claims employees today are choosing not to give in to a “hustle culture” but instead to reclaim balance in their lives. And SHRM suggests quiet quitting is an age-old issue with a fancy new name. Employees have always sought to negotiate their job contracts with employers.

What can leaders do about quiet quitting?

Whether you believe quiet quitting is real or not, employee disengagement is very real. As many economists predict tumultuous times, investing in employees is always worth it. Here are three suggestions to address “quiet quitting” for the benefit of your employees and organization.

Get clear about boundaries.

The biggest problem with disengagement due to overwhelm is that employees don’t have a good sense of balance or boundaries. Perhaps they put undue expectations on themselves, or maybe managers are asking too much of them. Either way, organizations that communicate what they expect of employees and what they don’t will help keep employees focused on what matters most.

This clarity could mean HR takes time to revisit job descriptions or managers redefine their employees’ work scope. Additionally, managers must communicate which of the tasks on an employee’s plate are the biggest priorities at any given time. These priorities may shift weekly (or daily), so keeping conversations open is important.

And in this ever-connected virtual workplace, leaders should explicitly share what hours of the day they expect employees to be working. They should also share their expectations around nights, weekends, and vacations. But the most effective way leaders can indicate that they expect and appreciate a work/life balance is by taking downtime and vacations themselves. If you feel like you want to work “after hours, ” as an owner or leader,” consider scheduling emails and IMs to go out only during your stated work hours. These little things make a difference.

Make it personal.

Boundaries and balance are not one size fits all. Today people expect a personalized experience everywhere they go—even on the job. Managers should have one-on-one conversations with their employees and ask the following:

  • What brings you the most purpose in life, and how might your work contribute to such purpose-making?
  • What do you need (more of and less of) to feel engaged at work?
  • How can I better support you in achieving greater well-being?
  • How can I better support your success in work?

Employees will likely appreciate when the organization actively shows it cares about them as humans and wants to invest in their well-being.

Reward and recognize.

A challenging economy may make it difficult to increase pay or give bonuses. The good news is that many employees today care more about autonomy, time, and professional development than they do compensation. Rewards such as extra days off or a Door Dash gift card for lunch on the organization are unexpected and welcome gifts to employees.

In place of formal recognition programs where organizations praise employees for going “above and beyond,” recognition through ongoing feedback might be more meaningful. For example, managers can share appreciation with employees during weekly check-ins. Senior leaders could publicly call out behaviors and results that bring value to the organization. Building such recognition with continuous feedback will create a positive culture and engage employees.

What’s next for preventing quiet quitting?

Whether or not you believe the quiet quitting trend, chances are good that at least a few of your employees are checking out these days. Brighter Strategies has worked with many organizations on employee engagement. We’d be pleased to partner with you, too. Contact us today to learn more.

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It’s more fun to think about bringing in new employees than it is to think about losing valuable employees. However, offboarding employees is an important part of the employee lifecycle. This guide is designed to help you think through the necessary steps to say goodbye intentionally and productively.

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offboarding employees guide