There has been plenty of noise about quiet quitting in the leadership press over the last few months.
It’s a relatively new term and the trend is supposedly growing – although it could be argued that it’s actually a fairly well-established workplace phenomenon.
In case you’re not familiar with the term, it describes a situation where an employee has mentally checked out of their job and is simply going through the motions, doing the minimum expected of them while waiting for a better opportunity to take elsewhere.
If that sounds to you like old-fashioned employee dissatisfaction, you’re not wrong. But if nothing else, the term ‘quiet quitting’ amply describes how many employees react to deficiencies in leadership and management – because according to consensus in the press at least, that’s the cause of most cases of quiet quitting. But whether old or new, make no mistake – the problem is real. A 2022 Gallup poll suggested quiet quitters make up as much as half of the US workforce.
The obvious question, then, is: what can leaders do better to minimise quiet quitting – and, therefore, also prevent actual quitting?
This is a quandary addressed in several articles on Smartbrief. In one of them, Gloria St Martin-Lowry, president of HPWP Group, compares the growth in quiet quitting to the Great Resignation – the term used to describe the growing number of workers walking away from their jobs following the pandemic; both phenomena, the author argues, are born of a desire for more flexibility.
However, as St Martin-Lowry points out, flexibility can mean different things to different people – to some, it relates to location, while others crave a less rigid approach to the clock. It’s important, therefore, to ensure that your flexible working policies consider individual preferences rather than offering an ineffective one-size-fits-all approach.
St Martin-Lowry reminds managers that they have the power to create environments that promote and inspire high performance. And with that in mind, she offers the following three recommendations:
1. Be curious
Don’t simply make decisions based on what you believe; challenge your assumptions with a curious mindset. Involve employees in discussions and ask questions to gather information in your quest for the right solutions rather than those you’re just familiar with.
Encourage employees to be curious too. For example, pharmaceutical multinational Novartis sets aside 100 learning hours for employees each year, funding training as well as hosting webinars and events.
2. Focus on outcomes rather than process
Organisations can easily become tied up with procedure and process, meaning the “how” obscures the “why”. Giving employees flexibility sometimes means offering them the chance to produce the desired outcome according to the way of working they’re most comfortable with, instead of blindly following unnecessary rules because that’s the way things have always been done. Remember, though, that autonomy can only exist in a culture of accountability and commitment.
3. Show you care
If you want employees to stay engaged, you need to build relationships with them. That means showing you are both interested in them and have their interests at heart. Find out what makes them tick and get to know the signals that something might be amiss. Ask them if they’re OK and if there’s anything you can do to make their life easier. If you have a good, honest and open relationship with employees, you’re more likely to nip problems in the bud and ensure they feel connected to the organisation. An easy way to keep the lines of communication open is to schedule regular one-on-ones.
NO QUICK FIX
Also writing for Smartbrief, Liz Kofman-Burns, PhD – a sociologist and co-founder of DEI firm Peoplism – warns leaders that there is no quick solution to the problem of quiet quitting. However, she points out that years of research has identified proven strategies for improving employee engagement – and they have the added bonus of also increasing diversity, equity and inclusion.
Here are the four recommendations from Kofman-Burns:
1. Make expectations clear
The pandemic has meant many employees have stepped up and taken on responsibilities in new ways of working but the uncertainty and lack of physical togetherness has blurred the lines of expectations in many cases. It’s essential for workers to know exactly what’s expected of them if they are to stay engaged. Now is the perfect time to review and outline core competencies – but fairness should be borne in mind at all times during this process, and that means compensation might need to be reviewed too.
2. Create growth opportunities
Maybe not everyone can get a promotion but that shouldn’t mean growth opportunities can’t be made available to all. Research has shown that employees who don’t feel they have opportunity for growth are more likely to quit within nine months.
Make sure the growth opportunities you offer are fair and equitable. Don’t just focus on rising stars; endeavour to include everyone.
3. Build inclusion
Echoing the thoughts of St Martin-Lowry, Kofman-Burns emphasises the importance of relationship-building skills for leaders, but adds the caveat that the connection must be equally strong with all team members. For those struggling with this aspect, the author observes that management training can be highly effective in strengthening inclusion skills and teaching desired behaviours.
4. Foster feelings of belonging
Since the pandemic, being at work often means being at home – but whether the employee’s place of business is the office or the spare room, they should feel at home when they’re working.
It’s important for employees to have the chance to connect with each other, whether in person or virtually. This can range from events, groups and cross-team collaboration.
Make sure your efforts in this direction are fully inclusive and suitable for all. For example, if you’re arranging a social event, consider people’s family or religious backgrounds; ensure they’re not left out if, say, alcohol or non-office hours are involved.
Whatever the specifics of your engagement strategy, Kofman-Burns reminds managers that diversity, equity and inclusion are not “nice to haves” – they are an absolute must.