The workplace has been in a state of constant disruption for the past two years. The pandemic revolutionised the work culture in a big way with office-based teamwork undergoing a transformation. Many businesses made remote and flexible working a core part of their workplace culture. According to McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey, more than half (58%) of Americans now have the opportunity to work from home, with 83% of the workforce saying that if the opportunity arises to work remotely, they would take it. This is a trend that is being echoed around the world, and for many, the pandemic was simply the catalyst for a cloud-based world we should already have been inhabiting.
Parallel to this shift was the so-called ‘great resignation’, which saw 41% of the global workforce actively considering their career options. This brought about a huge challenge for employers and HR teams who had to work hard on their hiring and retention strategies to attract and retain talent. This remains one of the key challenges as we move into 2023, as an increasing number of employees express concern over workloads and work-life balance that aren’t being addressed.
About 37% of the global workforce now feel their employers are asking too much from them, with one-in-five commenting that their employers have no regard for the work-life balance. More than half (54%) feel overworked, and 39% described their current state as ‘exhausted’ when asked about their work life.
This has given rise to ‘quiet quitting’, so prevalent that it was included in Collins Dictionary’s top ten words of the year for 2022. But what is quiet quitting, and what can employers and HR teams do to deal with it?
The sudden rise of quiet quitting
Quiet quitting refers to employees becoming disengaged from their work, electing to do the bare minimum of their duties. For some, quiet quitting is a response to burnout and fatigue. For others, it’s a serious sign of employee dissatisfaction and a general feeling that their needs aren’t being met and their voices aren’t being heard.
Data is thin on the ground, but a recent Gallup survey suggests that 18% of employees are ‘actively disengaged’ at work, while 50% are simply ‘not engaged’ – these are the quiet quitters. It seems that remote and hybrid workers under the age of 35 are driving the trend, perhaps because they belong to a generation where life-long careers and devotion to a single employer or company are a thing of the past. This generation of workers is used to ‘job hopping’ frequently to broaden their experience and portfolio, and it’s vital that businesses engage these employees directly in an effort to retain them as we move into the New Year.
The cost of quiet quitting
Looking at quiet quitting in isolation, it’s easy to attribute it to burnout or feelings of anxiety or stress. These factors are real and important, but they are the symptoms and not the underlying cause. Employees, much like the companies that employ them, have been through an extremely turbulent time. It’s pushed employees to re-evaluate their goals in life and reassess their sense of purpose and what drives them. In our society, this sense of purpose is inextricably linked to profession – so it’s vital that businesses take this on board and do their best to instill that sense of belonging and purpose.
If the passion is there, and the sense that they’re working toward a higher purpose and worthwhile goal, the engagement will naturally follow. The tide has shifted, and employers must shift with it and understand that if their employees’ goals align with company objectives, engagement and productivity will follow. If this isn’t accomplished, companies will have to get used to facing a low return on their investment when it comes to hiring staff. Retention levels will plateau or continue to fall, and collaboration and engagement will become something to strive for rather than a cultural baseline.
What can employers do to stem the tide?
There are some very practical steps that employers can take to counter the trend toward quiet quitting. For instance, becoming a “listening” organisation. That means being cognizant about employee differences and catering to them, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to the employee experience. In order to improve individual, team, and corporate performance, successful firms collaborate with their people to design personalised, real world, and inspiring experiences. For instance, some employees may have large families, children, or relatives they’re caring for, and offering flexible holidays would allow them to celebrate important occasions or take time off according to their schedules.
Companies can become listening organisations through a variety of means – one-on-one meetings with line managers, company-wide surveys, or anonymous pulse checks, or even enlisting a third party to objectively gauge employee satisfaction and help make new working policies. Having a high performance, high compassion culture is equally important. Continuous development through focus on skills, accelerated career growth, talent mobility, automation and leadership development is key to keep the workforce engaged and motivated. Upskilling and reskilling create a happier work environment that improves retention, attracts new talent, motivates employees to see a career advancement path, and gets them excited about new possibilities.
Most importantly, the kind of culture, warmth, learning and environment we can provide to our employees is key. They should resonate with your company values and leadership style.
A flat organisational structure with strong empowerment helps build an entrepreneurial culture that enables young talent to contribute ideas and have a bigger voice in decision making. Companies that foster a tech-led culture which embraces change and encourages innovation usually have happier employees than companies that don’t. The GenZ today demand flexibility in work that helps them maintain a work-life balance. Moreover, they also appreciate the welcoming culture of the organizations and a job that gives them a ‘purpose’ & ‘growth’ more than just pay. Companies should acknowledge all the new standards & have programs to cater to the needs of incoming young talent. They should create a culture of continuous learning and enable employees to evolve their skill sets and help them progress in their careers.
Last but not the least, leaders must demonstrate empathy to manage the rapidly shifting workplace dynamics. The rise of previously unheard-of health challenges, instability in the economy, and societal changes have intensified the focus on empathy among leaders as a fundamental competency. It is essential in promoting inclusion and diversity in the workplace, in addition to creating collaboration and cooperation. Empathy is at the heart of “people centricity”.
Quiet quitting isn’t simply a problem to be solved with blanket pay increases and incentives – it’s a nuanced response to trying times and companies need to address the underlying anxieties and concerns that employees have. Only then will they be able to stem the tide and create the collaborative, productive flexible workplaces of the future.